By Brendan O’Brien and Julia Harte
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A judge postponed the trial of three former Minneapolis policemen accused of taking part in the murder of George Floyd to March 2022 after they said that prosecutors leaked prejudicial information about the case, according to media reports.
Tou Thao, 25, J. Alexander Kueng, 27, and Thomas Lane, 28, all fired and arrested days after Floyd was killed on May 25, have been charged with aiding and abetting the second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of Floyd.
Former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin was convicted on April 20 of murdering Floyd, 46, by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes, in a case that marked a milestone in America’s fraught racial history and a rebuke of law enforcement’s treatment of Black Americans. The death, captured on cellphone video, led to protests around the nation and overseas.
On Thursday, attorneys for Thao, Kueng and Lane raised concerns that information had been leaked that would taint the jury pool, and that a key witness was coerced into amending his findings.
The attorneys said prosecutors leaked “damning” information to the New York Times about Chauvin’s supposed plan to plead guilty and asked Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill to sanction prosecutors, including state Attorney General Keith Ellison.
In a statement, Ellison had earlier called the leak allegation “completely false and an outlandish attempt to disparage the prosecution.”
Cahill postponed the trial from August 2021 to March 2022, the Wall Street Journal and other news media reported.
On May 25, Kueng and Lane were the first officers to arrive outside the food store where Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Thao arrived on the scene with Chauvin after Floyd had already been handcuffed.
Thao, Kueng, and Lane were not present at Thursday’s hearing, and no cameras were permitted in the courtroom.
Thao’s defense attorney also asked Cahill to drop all charges against Thao, and to rule that Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner, was coerced into saying that Floyd died of asphyxiation.
According to the motion the attorney filed before the hearing, Dr. Roger Mitchell, Washington, D.C.‘s chief medical examiner, was planning to write an opinion piece critical of Baker’s initial findings. Thao’s legal team claimed Baker had changed his findings to avoid controversy, and that prosecutors knew about it.
It was unknown when Cahill would rule on that motion.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien, Gabriella Borter and Julia Harte; editing by Jonathan Oatis)