MINNEAPOLIS — Two former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s killing told a judge Monday that they have rejected plea deals that would have resulted in three-year sentences, setting the stage for 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 more than nine minutes as the 46-year-old Black man said he couldn’t breathe and eventually grew still.
Bystander footage captured the killing and led to protests around the world. Chauvin (white) was sentenced last year to 22 years and 1/2 on the state charges.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill had set a limited window for accepting a plea deal ahead of trial, and Monday’s brief hearing served to formalize the two ex-officers’ rejections of the state’s offers.
“It would be lying for me to accept any plea offer,” said Thou, who held back concerned bystanders as Chauvin pinned Floyd. Kueng did not give his reasons for rejecting the state’s offer.
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Thao, 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 if he should be turned on his side, and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years. Thao, a Hmong American was sentenced for 3 1/2 years. Kueng, who is Black, pinned Floyd’s back, and was sentenced to 3 years. Thao, Kueng and others are appealing against their federal convictions.
In rejecting the plea agreements, Thao and Keung are risking state sentences that could be significantly longer than their federal sentences if they’re convicted on both counts. Assistant Attorney General Matt Frank pointed out in the hearing that the state’s sentencing guidelines recommend sentences of 12 1/2 years on the murder count and 4 years on the manslaughter count, but that prosecutors have already said they’ll seek longer sentences if they get convictions.
Minnesota’s criminal defendants are typically sentenced to two-thirds in prison, and one-third of their sentences on parole if they behave well.
Frank claimed that plea negotiations began in May, and continued throughout June. The offers would have dropped the most serious charge of aiding and abetting murder, and the officers’ state time would have run concurrently with the federal sentences. Each defendant confirmed they had understood the withdrawal of offers by the state.
“It’s a standard best practice to make a record in court when the State offers a plea agreement, in order to ensure the defendant’s decision is freely and knowingly made,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement afterward. “The defendants have a right to decline the offer and proceed to trial. The State is ready for trial.”
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During the hearing, Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said that Ellison at one, unspecified point in the negotiations, offered Kueng a deal that would have resulted in 2 years in prison. Kueng stated that Plunkett informed him about the offer. He said they declined it. Frank declined to comment on the purported offer.
Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, said that they, at an unspecified point, proposed a deal for 2 years, but that the state rejected it. Frank said that wasn’t how he recalled the discussions, and that his recollection was that Thao’s offer had included dropping the charges. The discrepancies were not discussed by either side.
With opening statements on Nov. 7, the trial is set to start Oct. 24, and end in October 24.
Lane avoided a trial in the state by agreeing to a plea bargain in May for aiding and abiding second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of three years. He will be sentenced on Sept. 21.
Chauvin was sentenced on the federal civil right charge to 21 year imprisonment. He remains in the state’s maximum security prison at Oak Park Heights pending his transfer to federal prison. He is currently free to be released on bail for the three other men.
Associated Press journalist Amy ForlitiThis story was contributed by you.
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