MINNEAPOLIS — Two former Minneapolis police officers have been charged The killing of George Floyd told a judge Monday they rejected plea deals that would have resulted in three-year sentences, setting up 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 worked together Derek Chauvin when he pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes until the 46-year-old black man said he couldn’t breathe and eventually passed out.
The murder, captured on video by a bystander, sparked protests around the world and an outcry over racial injustice. Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of second degree murder last year and sentenced to 22 1/2 years on state charges.
Hennepin County Circuit Judge Peter Cahill had set a deadline for accepting a plea deal before trial, and Monday’s brief hearing served to formalize the two former officers’ rejection of the state’s offers.
“It would be a lie for me to accept any plea offer,” said Tee, who stopped concerned bystanders as Chauvin pinned Floyd. Kueng did not give his reasons for rejecting the state’s offer.
Tao, Kueng and Lane were convicted in federal court in February of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Lane, who is white, held Floyd’s legs and twice asked him if he should be turned on his side, and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years. Thao, who is Hmong American, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years. Kueng, who is Black, pressed Floyd’s back and was sentenced to 3 years. Tao and Kueng are appealing their federal convictions.
By rejecting the plea deals, Tao and Keung risk state sentences that could be significantly longer than their federal sentences if convicted of both charges. Assistant Attorney General Matt Frank pointed out during the hearing that state sentencing guidelines recommend sentences of 12 1/2 years on the murder charge and 4 years on the manslaughter charge, but prosecutors have already said they will seek longer terms sentences if they get convictions.
In Minnesota, with good behavior, defendants typically serve two-thirds of their sentences in prison and one-third on parole.
Frank said plea negotiations began in earnest in May and continued into June. The proposals would drop the most serious charge of aiding and abetting murder, and the officers’ time would run concurrently with their federal sentences. Both defendants confirmed that they understood that the State had already withdrawn its offers.
“It is standard best practice to make a record in court when the state offers a plea agreement to ensure that the defendant’s decision is made freely and knowingly,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement afterward. “The defendants have the right to refuse the offer and proceed to trial.” The state is ready for trial.”
During the hearing, Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said 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 that they rejected it. Frank did not comment on the alleged offer.
Tao’s attorney, Robert Paul, said they at an unspecified point offered a deal for 2 years, but the state rejected it. Frank said that’s not how he remembers the discussions, and that he remembers that Tao’s motion included dropping the charges. Neither side elaborated on the discrepancies.
The trial is scheduled 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 calls for a three-year sentence. His sentencing is on September 21.
Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years on federal civil rights charges. He remains in the maximum security state prison in Oak Park Heights pending transfer to federal prison. The other three remain free on bail.
Associated Press writer Amy Forlitti contributed to this story.
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