MINNEAPOLIS — Hours before jury selection for their state trial was scheduled to begin, former Minneapolis officer J. Alexander Kueng pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting manslaughter in George Floyd’s killing and Tou Thao agreed to a stipulated evidence trial.
Kueng and Thao were both charged with aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
The plea deal for Kueng calls for 3 1/2 years in prison, or 42 months, with prosecutors agreeing to drop a count of aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
According to KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse, who is inside the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, two-thirds of Kueng's sentence will be served in prison according to Minnesota standards and served concurrently with his federal sentence.
However, Kueng will get credit for time served in a federal facility and time served prior to serving his federal sentence.
Kueng will be sentenced in the state case after at least 90 days.
According to court records, Thao will remain in custody in Minneapolis and will not return to a federal prison facility until the court has ruled on the stipulated evidence trial for the aiding and abetting manslaughter charge. Judge Peter Cahill will have 90 days to review the body of evidence, arguments, and written closing statements from the prosecution and defense before making "material factual determinations regarding the events prior to rendering a decision." A jury will no longer rule on Thao's case and there will be no new witness testimony.
If found guilty, a sentence within the guidelines ranges from 41 to 57 months, with 48 months being the presumptive sentence. If Judge Cahill finds Thao guilty of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter, the state would agree to dismiss the aiding and abetting second-degree murder charge.
Kueng and Tou Thao have already been convicted on federal counts for violating Floyd’s civil rights and have started serving those sentences. Many witnesses that were expected to testify at the state trial already did so at both their federal trial and at the state trial against their former colleague, Derek Chauvin.
Kueng, Thao and Thomas Lane were working with Chauvin on May 25, 2020, when Chauvin, who is white, used his knee to pin Floyd’s neck to the pavement for more than nine minutes as the 46-year-old Black man said he couldn’t breathe and eventually grew still. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back.
Kueng and Thao were offered plea deals earlier this year, but at the time both rejected offers for three-year sentences that would have been served at the same time as their federal sentences. Thao told Cahill: “It would be lying for me to accept any plea offer.”
That set them apart from Lane, who pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting manslaughter and got three years.
Kueng and Thao reported to federal prison earlier this month to begin serving their sentences for violating Floyd’s rights. Kueng is serving three years at federal prison in Ohio and Thao is serving 3½ years at a facility in Kentucky.
Lane is serving his 2 ½-year federal sentence at a facility in Colorado. He's serving a 3-year state sentence at the same time.
Chauvin was sentenced to 22 ½ years on the state murder charge and 21 years on a federal count of violating Floyd’s rights. He’s serving those sentences simultaneously at a federal prison in Arizona.
In a statement following Monday's developments in court, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said his thoughts are with George Floyd and his family, saying he "should still be with us. I think of him and his family every day."
"J. Alexander Kueng is now the second officer involved in Floyd’s death to accept responsibility through a guilty plea," Ellison said. "That acknowledgement hopefully can bring comfort to Floyd’s family and bring our communities closer to a new era of accountability and justice. We look forward to a swift resolution of Tou Thao’s stipulated bench trial."
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who's representing George Floyd's family, released a statement alongside co-counsels Jeff Storms and Antonio Romanucci: "The plea by former Minneapolis officer J. Alexander Kueng demonstrates that justice takes time to be secured but that, in this case, various measures of justice continue to be delivered for the family of George Floyd. We must never forget the horror of what we all saw in that 9-minute video, and that there rightfully should be both accountability for all involved as well as deep lessons learned for police officers and communities everywhere."
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) also released a statement following Kueng's guilty plea and Thao's decision to waive a jury trial.
"Today marks the closure of a painful time for our community and Minnesota law enforcement," MPPOA Executive Director Brian Peters said. "As law enforcement, we must ensure a trusting relationship with those we serve. During these difficult times, communities from all over the state have supported their local law enforcement agencies. We want to take this time to thank you for your continued support, even when it wasn’t popular to do so."
University of St. Thomas law professor Mark Osler noted that the conclusion of testimony in the criminal cases means that witnesses won't be retraumatized and another jury won't have to sit through the evidence. After two and a half years of state and federal legal processes, all four officers have been given prison time.
"In terms of having all of those involved be held accountable, that's pretty rare, when we're talking about a murder by the police," Osler said. "So this is an important threshold that's been crossed."
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