MINNEAPOLIS – A judge on Thursday rejected defense requests to move the trial of four former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's death, and also ordered that all four will be tried together instead of separately.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ruled after defense attorneys had argued that pretrial publicity had made it impossible for the four men to get a fair trial in Minneapolis. They also cited a Sept. 11 hearing in which the men and their attorneys were confronted by angry protesters outside the courthouse, raising safety issues. Defense lawyers argued that witnesses could be intimidated, and jurors could be affected by chants from a crowd outside.
But Cahill said he was not convinced that moving the trial would improve security, and that he believes the jury can be protected from outside influences.
“No corner of the State of Minnesota has been shielded from pretrial publicity regarding the death of George Floyd. Because of that pervasive media coverage, a change of venue is unlikely to cure the taint of potential prejudicial pretrial publicity,” he wrote.
Cahill said he was willing to revisit the issue if circumstances warrant. Moving the trial away from Minneapolis to a less diverse area also likely would affect the makeup of the jury, though the judge didn't address that issue. In a separate order, however, he said the names of the jurors will be kept confidential, and that jurors will be fully sequestered during deliberations and escorted to the courthouse as a group.
The judge also ruled that the trial can be televised and streamed live, saying cameras will ensure the defendants' right to a public trial and the public's right to access during this time when spacing restrictions due to COVID-19 leave little to no room for spectators.
Defense attorneys also argued that the men should face separate trials, as each officer tried to diminish his own role in Floyd’s arrest by pointing fingers at the others. But Cahill rejected that too, saying the complications of separate trials were too great and that trying the officers together would “ensure that the jury understands ... all of the evidence and the complete picture of Floyd's death.
“And it would allow this community, this State and the nation to absorb the verdicts for the four defendants at once,” he concluded. Cahill said the critical evidence is the same for all men, and one trial would keep witnesses from having to testify multiple times.