Kueng takes plea deal, Thao opts to have judge decide his fate in state trial

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On the morning jury selection for their state trial in George Floyd’s murder was set to begin, two former Minneapolis police officers changed course.

Just before 9 a.m., J Alexander Kueng’s attorney announced that he agreed to a plea deal, in which he pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter and had the murder charge against him dropped.

His sentencing date will be set at a later time but he’s expected to get around 42 months in prison and serve that while he’s serving his federal sentence.

Then, after a break of about 30 minutes, Tou Thao also changed course.

Thao opted to have a trial by stipulated evidence, meaning Judge Peter Cahill will decide his guilt based on the evidence provided. Thao also waived his right to have witnesses testify.

The trial by stipulation will focus just on the aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter charge he faces. Additionally, the state won’t pursue aggravating factors, meaning if he’s found guilty, he’d be expected to get a sentence between 41 and 57 months in prison.

Prosecutors say they’ll hold back on the murder charge until the court decides Thao’s guilt on the manslaughter charge and, if he’s found guilty of manslaughter, they’ll dismiss the murder charge.

While a trial by stipulated evidence typically leads to a verdict within a couple of weeks, the sides have set Nov. 17 as the deadline to submit evidence and proposals to the judge, who will then have up to 90 days to decide on the case.

Additionally, Thao opted to stay in custody at the Hennepin County jail rather than return to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.

“It’s unique but it’s not unheard of,” Rachel Moran, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS of Thao’s move.

Thao and Kueng each faced aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.

Moran says a trial by stipulated evidence means Thao isn’t admitting any guilt but acknowledges that the facts of the case are well-known and so the judge can just review the evidence and determine his guilt.

“We can anticipate Mr. Thao wanted to avoid trial because it’s a huge risk and he’s already serving a set amount of time in prison. But what he wasn’t willing to do was admit to anything at all,” Moran added.

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Paris Stevens, Floyd’s cousin and co-chair of the George Floyd Global Memorial, said Monday’s developments show progress and accountability.

“It means that there’s some continued accountability and that’s what’s most important,” Stevens told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

“For this case, I’m just so … it’s a relief that accountability is taking place. No justice, per se, because Perry isn’t here, but at least we have accountability,” she added.

The former officers were already tried and convicted in federal court, as was fellow former officer Thomas Lane, who opted to plead guilty to the manslaughter charge back in May. Former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted in state court and pleaded guilty to the federal charges he faced for Floyd’s death.

Thao and Kueng rejected a final plea offer in August that would’ve allowed them to avoid the state trial and serve their sentences at the same time as their federal sentences, although with Monday’s developments, Kueng will still be able to do that and Thao, if he’s found guilty, appears in line to be able to do that as well.

Kueng’s attorney had no comment as he left court Monday.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison released the following statement after court Monday morning:

“Today, as always, my thoughts are with the victims: George Floyd and his family. Floyd should still be with us. I think of him and his family every day.

“J. Alexander Kueng is now the second officer involved in Floyd’s death to accept responsibility through a guilty plea. That acknowledgement hopefully can bring comfort to Floyd’s family and bring our communities closer to a new era of accountability and justice.

“We look forward to a swift resolution of Tou Thao’s stipulated bench trial.

“I want to thank everyone who has worked so selflessly on this historic case for more than two years. This includes the staff of my office, the other attorneys who gave so generously of their time, and the investigators and staff of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. I offer special thanks to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman for his close partnership and the diligence and cooperation of his attorneys and staff. I also want to thank the witnesses who were prepared to testify at trial.

“Finally, I want to thank the Floyd family for their graciousness and generosity of spirit. They are a shining example of people who have turned a personal tragedy of immense proportions into a movement for justice for all that is far bigger than themselves.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman also offered the following statement:

“I concur with the statements of Attorney General Ellison. It is great to bring these matters to a just conclusion. This is true for all concerned parties, including Mr. Floyd’s family, the potential witnesses, and the community, as well as for public safety.

“I must congratulate Attorney General Ellison and his staff for their leadership on this effort. While this was a joint endeavor between our offices, Keith displayed remarkable leadership and a true commitment to bringing justice in this case. I thank him for our partnership.”

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman

The Floyd family’s legal team released the following statement Monday afternoon:

“The plea by former Minneapolis officer J. Alexander Kueng demonstrates that justice takes time to be secured but that, in this case, various measures of justice continue to be delivered for the family of George Floyd. We must never forget the horror of what we all saw in that 9-minute video, and that there rightfully should be both accountability for all involved as well as deep lessons learned for police officers and communities everywhere.”

Attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms