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Judge denies prosecutor effort to add third-degree murder charges in George Floyd case

Derek Chauvin is still charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers face aiding and abetting charges.
Former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.

Former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.

A judge has denied prosecutors' motion to file third-degree murder charges against all four former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's death. 

Attorney General Keith Ellison's office filed the motion last week following the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that upheld a third-degree murder conviction against former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond in July 2017. 

Derek Chauvin, who video showed kneeling on Floyd's neck for almost eight minutes, had originally been charged with third-degree murder, as well as second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the third-degree charge, citing Minnesota case law that has regarded third-degree murder as a "death-causing act" not directed at a single person. 

In Noor's case, the court of appeals upheld his third-degree murder charge, ruling that "third-degree murder may occur even if the death-causing act endangered only one person." 

While Ellison argued this ruling set precedent for adding the third-degree murder charges to all four officers, Cahill said in his ruling that the Court of Appeals opinion isn't final until the window for Noor to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court expires on March 3. If it did become precedent, Cahill acknowledged, the court would be "duty-bound to follow it." 

However, Cahill argued, it's unlikely for the ruling to become precedent by Chauvin's March 8 trial. If Noor's attorneys appeal to the state Supreme Court as they have indicated they will, state prosecutors would have 20 days to respond, and the Supreme Court would have 60 days to decide whether to review. 

Without a precedent, Cahill maintains that a third-degree murder charge cannot be used when "the death-causing act was solely directed at a single person and was not eminently dangerous to others."

"This Court believes its earlier decision ... dismissing the charge of Murder in the Third Degree was correct and nothing in the majority opinion in Noor persuades the Court otherwise," the document reads

Chauvin still faces charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng — face aiding and abetting charges.

It was reported by the New York Times on Thursday that in the week that followed Floyd's death, Chauvin had expressed willingness to agree a plea deal that would see him plead guilty to third-degree murder, but this deal was nixed by then U.S. Attorney General William Bar, who allegedly feared that the deal – which would have included a 10-year prison sentence and an agreement not to file federal civil rights charges – would be seen as too lenient during the ongoing civil unrest.

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