Kueng and Thao reject plea deal offers in George Floyd case

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two former Minneapolis police officers charged with the murder of George Floyd told a judge on Monday they had rejected plea deals that would have resulted in three-year sentences, setting the stage for 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 were working with Derek Chauvin when he pinned Floyd’s neck with his knee for over nine minutes as the 46-year-old black man said he couldn’t breathe and eventually went still.

(Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via AP, file)

(Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via AP, file)

The killing, captured on bystander video, sparked worldwide protests and a reckoning with racial injustice. Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of second-degree murder last year and sentenced to 22½ years on the state charge.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill had set a limited window to accept a pretrial plea deal, and Monday’s brief hearing served to formalize the two ex-officers’ rejections of state offers.

“It would be a lie for me to take any plea offer,” said Thou, who held back worried bystanders as Chauvin pinned Floyd. Kueng did not give reasons for rejecting the state’s offer.

Thao, Kueng and Lane were found guilty 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 2½ years. Thao, who is Hmong American, was sentenced to 3½ years. Kueng, who is black, pinned Floyd’s back and was sentenced to 3 years. Thao and Kueng are appealing their federal convictions.

By rejecting the plea deals, Thao and Keung risk state sentences that could be significantly longer than their federal sentences if convicted on both counts. Assistant Attorney General Matt Frank pointed out during the hearing that the state’s sentencing guidelines recommend sentences of 12½ years for the murder count and 4 years for the count. manslaughter charges, but that prosecutors have already said they will seek longer sentences if they win convictions.

In Minnesota, assuming good behavior, defendants typically serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and one-third on parole.

Frank said plea negotiations began in earnest in May and continued into June. The offerings would have dropped the most serious charge of aiding and abetting murder, and officers’ state time would have run concurrently with federal sentences. Both defendants confirmed their understanding that the state has now withdrawn its offers.

“It is standard best practice to take a record in court when the state offers a plea deal, to ensure that the defendant’s decision is made freely and knowingly,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement afterward. “Defendants have the right to decline the offer and proceed to trial. The state is ready for trial.

During the hearing, Kueng’s lawyer, Thomas Plunkett, testified that 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 they rejected it. Frank has not commented on the alleged offer.

Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, said at some unspecified point they offered a 2-year deal, but the state rejected it. Frank said that was not how he remembered the talks and his recollection was that Thao’s offer included the charges being dropped. Neither side specified the discrepancies.

The trial is due 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 requires a three-year sentence. His sentencing is September 21.

Chauvin was sentenced to 21 years on the federal civil rights charge. He remains in the state’s maximum security prison in Oak Park Heights pending transfer to federal prison. The other three remain free on bail.

Timeline: Chauvin’s death, protests, riots, arrests and trial of George Floyd

It was late afternoon on Memorial Day 2020 and many Minnesotans had watched the normally active weekend cower from the growing pandemic.

George Floyd went to a grocery store in Minneapolis and bought some cigarettes. He was accused by employees of making the purchase with a counterfeit $20 bill and the police were called. Floyd was still there in his vehicle when two officers arrived. About 10 minutes later, Chauvin and another officer showed up and the situation began to escalate. Chauvin began kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he was face down in the street. Despite repeated pleas from Floyd and a growing crowd of bystanders to remove his knee, Chauvin continued as if frozen in position with no facial expression.

After more than 8 minutes, Chauvin finally got up and Floyd had become unresponsive. An ambulance was called and shortly after it was reported that Floyd was dead.

A video of the incident slowly spread on social media across the state, the country and the world. Viewers literally watched a man die slowly repeating “I can’t breathe”.

The now historic response began the following day.

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