MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two former Minneapolis police officers charged with the murder of George Floyd told a judge on Monday they had rejected plea deals that would have resulted in three-year sentences, setting the stage for a trial in October.
Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng are charged with aiding and abetting both second degree murder and second degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. They and Thomas Lane were working with Derek Chauvin when he pinned Floyd’s neck with his knee for over nine minutes as the 46-year-old black man said he couldn’t breathe and eventually went still.
The killing, captured on bystander video, sparked worldwide protests and a reckoning with racial injustice. Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of second-degree murder last year and sentenced to 22½ years on the state charge.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill had set a limited window to accept a pretrial plea deal, and Monday’s brief hearing served to formalize the two ex-officers’ rejections of state offers.
“It would be a lie for me to take any plea offer,” said Thou, who held back worried bystanders as Chauvin pinned Floyd. Kueng did not give reasons for rejecting the state’s offer.
Thao, Kueng and Lane were found guilty in federal court in February of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Lane, who is white, held Floyd’s legs and twice asked if he should be turned on his side, and was sentenced to 2½ years. Thao, who is Hmong American, was sentenced to 3½ years. Kueng, who is black, pinned Floyd’s back and was sentenced to 3 years. Thao and Kueng are appealing their federal convictions.
By rejecting the plea deals, Thao and Keung risk state sentences that could be significantly longer than their federal sentences if convicted on both counts. Assistant Attorney General Matt Frank pointed out during the hearing that the state’s sentencing guidelines recommend sentences of 12½ years for the murder count and 4 years for the count. manslaughter charges, but that prosecutors have already said they will seek longer sentences if they win convictions.
In Minnesota, assuming good behavior, defendants typically serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and one-third on parole.
Frank said plea negotiations began in earnest in May and continued into June. The offerings would have dropped the more serious charge of aiding and abetting murder, and officers’ state time would have run concurrently with federal sentences. Both defendants confirmed their understanding that the state has now withdrawn its offers.
“It is standard best practice to take a record in court when the state offers a plea deal, to ensure that the defendant’s decision is made freely and knowingly,” the prosecutor said. Gen. Keith Ellison in a statement afterwards. “Defendants have the right to decline the offer and proceed to trial. The state is ready for trial.
During the hearing, Kueng’s lawyer, Thomas Plunkett, testified that Ellison, at an unspecified point in the negotiations, offered Kueng a deal that would have resulted in 2 years in prison. Kueng confirmed that Plunkett told him about the offer and they rejected it. Frank has not commented on the alleged offer.
Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, said at some unspecified point they offered a 2-year deal, but the state rejected it. Frank said that was not how he remembered the talks and his recollection was that Thao’s offer included dropping the charges. Neither side elaborated on the discrepancies.
The trial is due to begin on October 24, with opening statements on November 7.
Lane avoided a state trial by pleading guilty in May to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in a deal that requires a three-year sentence. His sentencing is September 21.
Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years on the federal civil rights charge. He remains in the state’s maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights pending transfer to federal prison. The other three remain free on bail.
Associated Press writer Amy Forliti contributed to this story.
Find full AP coverage of the murder of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd