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Judge: Former cops in Floyd case will be tried together in Hennepin County

Judge Peter Cahill issued some big rulings on Wednesday night.
Lane kueng thao chauvin

The four former Minneapolis police officers charged in connection to George Floyd's May 25 death will be tried together in Hennepin County District Court, and the trial can be video recorded. 

That's according to several big rulings from Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill, which were filed Wednesday night. 

Here's a look at what Cahill has decided in this most recent round of rulings:

All 4 former officers will be tried together 

Cahill granted the state of Minnesota's motion to join the trials of Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng into one trial rather than conducting separate trials. 

In the judge's 51-page order, he says he decided this because "of the similarity of the charges and evidence against all four defendants."

Chauvin is charged with unintentional second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, while Thao, Lane and Kueng are each charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin on the unintentional second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. 

The judge adds that "critical evidence will be the same for all four defendants and all of it would appear to be admissible to prove the charges against all four defendants."

Cahill also notes that by joining the trials, eyewittnesses who will likely be called to testify, including at least one minor, won't be forced to relieve Floyd's death multiple times at different trials. 

The judge also says Chauvin, Thao, Lane and Kueng's defense "are not antagonistic but instead are mutually supportive," noting they all say they were authorized to use force and contend that Floyd's death was a result of underlying medical conditions and drugs – not by their actions. 

Lastly, Cahill says conducting four separate trials that involve the same evidence and witnesses would "result in unwarranted delay and impose unnecessary burdens on the state, the court and witnesses." 

He also says in he wake of "unprecedented" publicity the cases have received both locally and internationally, "if the trials were to proceed separately for each defendant, trial-related publicity surrounding the first trial (and succeeding trials) could potentially compound the difficulty of selecting a fair and impartial jury in all subsequent trials."

The trial will be in Hennepin County

Cahill denied the motions to move the trial out of Hennepin County, saying the trial will begin on March 8, 2021. 

The judge's order says:

"On the current record, the court believes a fair and impartial trial in Hennepin County can be had. Thus, Defendants' motions for change of venue should be denied unless and until probative evidence is developed to the contrary."

Cahill addressed the issues the former officers raised in their motion to dismiss including safety and pretrial publicity. 

The judge says moving the trial out of Hennepin County, to a smaller county, "will not assuage the defendants' security concerns but instead is likely to heighten those concerns because the relevant courthouse would certainly be smaller than the Hennepin County Government Center." 

Cahill writes he believes safety issues can be mitigated "to the point that a fair and safe trial may be had in Hennepin County and a jury can be insulated from outside influence and remain impartial."

The four former officers also cited pretrial publicity as a reason to move the hearing, saying it tainted the pool of potential jurors and a fair trial and impartial jury cannot be had in the county. 

Cahill cites several previous court cases in his decision to deny moving the trial based on pretrial publicity, writing "no corner of the state of Minnesota has been shielded from pretrial publicity regarding the death of George Floyd."

Video coverage will be allowed

In a rare move in Minnesota, Judge Cahill issued an order that allows the trial to be "recorded, broadcast and live-streamed in audio and video," but with specific orders on what can be filmed and what can't. 

Jurors will be anonymous, partially sequestered 

In another ruling on Wednesday, Judge Cahill ordered jurors to remain anonymous and confidential throughout the trial and jury deliberation.

And during trial, the jury will be partially sequestered with the order noting that the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office will arrange for vehicle parking for jurors at a "remote or nearby secure location" and "escort or transport jurors through non-public access portal to a designated jury room" in the county government center. 

The sheriff's office will keep the jurors secure throughout each day of trial, including breaks, and at the end of each day of trial, they'll be escorted back to their vehicles. 

During the trial, they'll be instructed to avoid media coverage and report back to the court about any attempts to contact them about the trail. Meanwhile, the court can order full sequestration at any time if the current plan isn't working. 

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During jury deliberations, jurors will be fully sequestered, except they'll be allowed to use electronic devices to contact family so long as they don't discuss the trial. 

In this order, Cahill released a daily schedule, which has the jury arriving at 9:15 a.m. and the trial beginning at 9:30 a.m. there will be a break from 10:40-11 a.m. and a lunch break from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Another break will be from 3-3:20 p.m. The trial will adjourn for the day at 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. unless the jury is sequestered, then a night session can be held from 6-7:30 p.m. 

AG Ellison responds 

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is leading the prosecution on this case. In a statement Thursday, he said: 

"I'm satisfied by the court’s decisions today. The murder of George Floyd occurred in Minneapolis and it is right that the defendants should be tried in Minneapolis. It is also true that they acted in concert with each other and the evidence against them is similar, so it is right to try them in one trial.

“These rulings reflect a measured and thoughtful application of the law. Taken with recent ruling sustaining almost all of the original charges against the defendants, including the most serious, the rulings today represent another significant step forward in the pursuit of justice for George Floyd and for our community.” 

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