MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Minnesota The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the third-degree murder of a former Minneapolis police officer is unlikely to change the cases against the three former police officers accused of George Floyd’s death.
Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting murder. Legal experts say last week’s ruling makes it highly unlikely that a third-degree murder charge would be added. Here’s a look at why, and where the cases stand.
The court threw out last week third-degree murder of Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer who shot dead Justine Ruszczyk Damond 2017 after she called 911 to report a possible rape behind her home. Noor remains convicted of murder and will be convicted because of this.
In its decision, the Supreme Court made it clear that a person cannot be prosecuted for third-degree murder – also known as murder with a corrupt mind – if his or her actions were directed at a particular person. The verdict resolves a long-running debate about whether a third-degree murder charge can be applied if a lethal act is directed at someone specific. Conclusion: It can not.
FIRST, DOES THIS DEREK CHAUVIN?
Not really. Fixed the former Minneapolis officer was convicted of third-degree murder in Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, he was also convicted of the more serious number of unintentional murders in the second degree. According to state law, Chauvin was convicted of that offense, so his 22 1/2 year sentence on that bill remains.
Experts say Chauvin’s third-degree murder is likely to be thrown out, either on appeal or by the judge. But it will have no real impact on his situation, unless his second-degree murder is in any way overturned on appeal. Experts like Minneapolis defense attorney Ryan Pacyga say that just won’t happen. Chauvin was also convicted of manslaughter.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER EX-OFFICERS?
Prosecutors had wanted to add charges of aiding and abetting the third-degree murder, but Mike Brandt, another Minneapolis defense attorney who has looked into the case, said there was no chance it would happen.
“You can not have corrupt murder if you direct your actions at a certain person,” he said.
Pacyga agreed, saying that in the light of the Noor verdict, “I do not see how the prosecution can ever justify trying to accuse any of Chauvin’s suspects of aiding and abetting a third-degree murder.” He said it was clear that Chauvin’s action was directed at a person.
Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe when Chauvin fastened him to the ground. Kueng and Lane helped limit Floyd; Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, and Lane held Floyd’s legs, according to evidence in court. Thao held back spectators and prevented them from intervening.
The Office of Justice, which is prosecuting the case, said it is studying the Supreme Court’s decision.
WAS THIS CHARGE ONLY POSSIBLE?
This was a legal issue even before the Noor ruling. Defense attorney Deborah Ellis argued before the Court of Appeal that it was legally impossible for Lane, Kueng and Thao to be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the third-degree murder.
She said that helping and being aware, accomplices, principle actors and accessories must all have the same attitude. She said that in order to help and suffer third-degree murder, “you must intentionally help … an irrational mood in someone else.” Court of Appeal Judge Renee Worke called her argument a “novel.”
Brandt said that a theory of aiding and abetting third-degree murder is theoretically possible, but not practical. He said that the person accused of aiding and abetting would need to know that someone else was committing an act that in itself was dangerous to others without regard to life – something Brandt called “a pretty high road”.
WHAT ABOUT FUTURE FALL FOR POLICE?
By arguing that Noor’s murder sentence should remain, prosecutors told the Supreme Court that almost all murders of officials are directed at a specific person. They argued that if the court ruled as it finally did, no officer would ever be prosecuted under the corrupt Minnesota Murder Act.
The judges said prosecutors were wrong. They said that everyone, including an officer, can still be convicted of murder with corrupt minds if they kill someone while showing indifference to people’s lives in general. The court also said that depending on the case, an officer could be subjected to another murder charge.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Chauvin is in custody for his murder and has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights. He also admitted that he had not committed a violation of a teenager’s civil rights in 2017 in a separate case involving a head protection similar to the one he used on Floyd.
Lane, Kueng and Thao are scheduled for trial in March for aiding and abetting. They also pleaded not guilty to federal charges of violating Floyd’s rights.
As for Noor, his case goes back to the district court, where he will be convicted of murder. With the time already served, he may be eligible for supervised release at the end of this year.
Find the AP’s full coverage of George Floyd’s death at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd