Judge sets March trial for at least one Minneapolis officer charged in George Floyd death

It "remains to be seen" if all four defendants — Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — will be tried jointly or separately.

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By Gabe Gutierrez and David K. Li

MINNEAPOLIS — At least one trial of the police officers charged in the death of George Floyd, which touched off protests around the globe, was scheduled to start in March, a judge said Monday.

The four suspects appeared in Hennepin County Court, nearly one month after the fatal arrest where officer Derek Chauvin was videotaped putting his knee on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes as the man pleaded, "I can't breathe."

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said "it remains to be seen" if all four officers will be tried jointly. But Cahill set March 8 as the day that at least the first of these prosecutions should begin.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, while his one-time colleagues — Tou Thao, Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — face charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder.

Former Minneapolis Police officer J. Alexander Keung, center, leaves with his attorney Thomas Plunkett, left, after a hearing at the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility on June 29, 2020 in Minneapolis.Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

Kueng's attorney, in court documents filed on Monday, told Judge Cahill that his client will plead not guilty. The officer will argue he acted in self-defense and used reasonable, authorized force to detain Floyd.

"So I think my nephew's case is going to be a fight," Floyd's aunt Angela Harrelson said outside of court. "This is going to be, this is going to be a heavy fight. I see it right away, it's going to be a fight."

Kueng and Lane are both free on bail and walked into Cahill's courtroom with their lawyers. Thao, who is still in jail, joined his two former colleagues in court wearing an orange jail jump suit and face covering.

Chauvin, also in orange jump suit and mask, appeared before the judge via video conference.

"I have not commented publicly in any regard. I've done so out of respect for Mr. Floyd and his family and I'm going to continue to do that," Robert Pauley, a lawyer for Thao, said outside of court.

Former Minneapolis Police officer Thomas Lane, left, and his attorney Earl Gray leave the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility after his second courthouse appearance on June 29, 2020 in Minneapolis.Brandon Bell / Getty Images

Floyd's death has sparked worldwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality. Minnesota officials have launched a sweeping probe of the Minneapolis Police Department and city lawmakers have vowed to dismantle the department and create a new public safety apparatus.

Selwyn Jones, Floyd's uncle, said on Monday he finds it difficult sitting in the same courtroom as the men who allegedly killed his nephew.

"And this is just absolutely insane that we all gathered here to talk about my nephew getting murdered by a damn madman in the middle of the street for what reason, because of the color of his skin," Jones said.

Gabe Gutierrez reported from Minneapolis and David K. Li from New York