Kueng pleads guilty to state charges in George Floyd’s murder, Thao lets judge decide his case

One of two former Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd pleaded guilty on Monday, and the other officer agreed to waive his right to a jury trial that was scheduled to begin this week.

The decision by fired officer J. Alexander Kueng came as jury selection was about to begin in Hennepin County District Court. After Kueng’s plea agreement was announced, co-defendant Tou Thao told District Judge Peter Cahill that he would pursue a trial based on stipulated facts rather than a jury.

Attorney Robert Paule said this means Cahill will review all evidence in the Thao case, which will be received by November 17, and issue a verdict by mid-February.

The rulings avoid a joint trial that was expected to last until mid-December and involve dozens of witnesses recounting the May 25, 2020 killing of Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin in south Minneapolis.

Kueng admitted aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter, specifically being negligent and creating an unreasonable risk. His attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said the negotiated settlement included the dismissal of a second count of second-degree manslaughter.

Paule said Cahill would only return a verdict on the manslaughter count against Thao. If Cahill finds Thao guilty, the sentence could range from three to five years, Paule said. Until then, Thao will remain in separate custody at the Hennepin County Jail, Cahill said.

Plunkett says Kueng 3 12 The one-year state sentence will be served concurrently with the 3-year federal sentence he is serving in federal prison in Elkton, Ohio.

Chauvin was convicted last year of second-degree murder and manslaughter for pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes outside Cup Foods as Floyd pleaded for his life. Chauvin later pleaded guilty to federal charges for violating Floyd’s civil rights and is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Kueng, Thao and his colleague Thomas Lane were convicted of federal charges in a jury trial and are serving federal sentences ranging from 2 12 at 3 12 years. Kueng and Lane helped Chauvin hold a handcuffed Floyd to the ground while Thao held off agitated bystanders concerned for Floyd’s well-being.

They were each charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder and aiding and abetting manslaughter. If found guilty on both counts, they could have been sentenced to at least 16 years in prison.

Kueng, 29, and Thao, 36, had rejected an offer that Lane, 39, had accepted to avoid a state trial. This plea deal would have allowed them to serve their state sentences concurrently with their federal sentences.

Criminal defense attorney Michael Brandt said the two results reflect the different roles played by the defendants in the case. Kueng was actively engaged in restraining Floyd, which made him more culpable, he said, but Thao’s actions may not have met the elements of a manslaughter charge. Brandt said it was a strategic decision by his lawyer.

Thao’s attorney “hopes Cahill will be able to sift through the emotion of this case,” Brandt said. The facts aren’t really in dispute, he said: “For heaven’s sake, this is all on video. And Cahill lived the [Chauvin] trial, so he knows as well as anyone what the evidence is.”

Brandt added that everyone connected to the joint trial – lawyers, legal staff and the community at large – should be relieved by the decisions of the defendants.

“Witnesses definitely don’t want to come back to court and relive what they went through in the other two trials,” he said. “It’s relatively traumatic for the witnesses to have to go through this.”

Attorney General Keith Ellison released a statement on Monday thanking witnesses who were set to testify in the third trial related to Floyd’s murder.

“Kueng is now the second officer involved in Floyd’s death to accept responsibility through a guilty plea,” Ellison said. “This recognition will hopefully bring comfort to Floyd’s family and bring our communities closer to a new era of accountability and justice.”

The attorney general added that he looked forward to a speedy resolution of Thao’s stipulated bench trial.

Brian Peters, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, released a statement saying the defendants’ decisions mark “the closure of a painful time for our community” and state law enforcement.

“We need to ensure a relationship of trust with those we serve,” Peters said. “During these trying times, communities across the state stood with their local law enforcement. We want to take this time to thank you for your continued support, even when it wasn’t popular to do so.”

Star Tribune staff writers Paul Walsh and Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.

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