The three officers involved in the murder of George Floyd convened in a federal courtroom before Judge Paul Magnuson for the first time on Tuesday, January 11.
The officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao, face civil rights charges for participating in Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, at 38th and Chicago in South Minneapolis.
They are represented respectively by Thomas Plunkett, who represented former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor in the killing of Justine Damond; Earl Gray, who represented former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter; and Rob Paule and his daughter Natalie.
At the hearing, the judge discussed logistics, struck, and allowed motions from the defense and prosecution, generally pertaining to how the jury is selected. The judge also expressed concerns that the pandemic could have on those who are a part of the trial—particularly on himself—and implored counsel to move it along.
Motions denied include the defense’s request to increase peremptory challenges, which would allow them to strike more potential jurors from the pool. “We don’t need them,” Magnuson said. Both the defense and prosecution will have three peremptory challenges. The prosecution will also have six strikes, while the defense will have 10.
Also at the hearing, Judge Magnuson expressed concerns about how long the trial will be because of the overwhelming amount of evidence and witnesses, as well as what they will say, which could raise the chances of COVID transmission.
Judge Magnuson has a lung condition that makes it difficult for him to wear a mask, and he mentioned his 33-year-old granddaughter and one-year-old grandson both have it.
Prosecutor LeeAnn Bell assuaged his concerns, saying “We do not intend to call all 48 witnesses.” Magnuson also excluded certain witnesses, including the 13-year-old who witnessed Floyd’s murder.
Magnuson doesn’t anticipate Darnella Frazier, who recorded Floyd’s murder, will be testifying. He also requested the prosecution provide a synopsis of what the witnesses will testify about, and prohibited the firefighter who witnessed Floyd’s murder while off duty from wearing her uniform on the witness stand.
Magnuson denied Thao’s motion to allow proper use of force testimony without prejudice, as well as Kueng’s motion to allow testimony casting doubt on Floyd’s claustrophobia without a foundation. He also allowed a motion from the Minneapolis city attorney to quash a subpoena. “Why we need to get into detail is completely beyond me,” said Magnuson.
Trial logistics was also discussed at the hearing. The trial will start as planned on the morning of January 20 with jury selection. A total of 144 potential jurors will be subject to voir dire, or questioning by the court and counsel, throughout the day. They will be brought into the courtroom in batches of 36, the process repeating until 12 jury members are empaneled and six alternates are chosen.
Magnuson expects the jury to be empaneled by Friday, leading the way to opening statements on Monday, January 24. The entire day will be dedicated to opening statements, which the prosecution and defense attorneys for Lane and Kueng anticipate will take 40 minutes each, for Thao, 30 minutes.
As the trial gets underway and as the hearing concluded, Magnuson voiced concerns about “outside influences” impacting the outcome of the trial, which could be a reference to demonstrators who demand the conviction of the officers involved in Floyd’s killing.
“Anarchy cannot exist and will not be permitted to exist. Concerning because I don’t really care what issues exist or lack thereof, the rule of law must prevail,” said Magnuson. “We have got to have fair and impartial juries who will impartially decide cases, period.”
H. Jiahong Pan 潘嘉宏 is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.