With delay on last trials in Floyd killing, Hennepin County District Court still has time to get the access question right

10 June 2022

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over the state prosecutions of the former Minneapolis police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd more than two years ago, this week put off the last of those trials to next January. His stated reason for doing so has nothing to do with public access to the trial, but his order does buy time for the court system to get this aspect right.

Jury selection was to begin next week for Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, who are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the Memorial Day 2020 death of Floyd, who expired with the knee of Derek Chauvin on his neck. Chauvin has already been convicted of murder. Another officer, Thomas Lane, pleaded guilty last month.

Cahill’s ruling, released Monday, said Lane’s plea deal — and federal convictions of all four on charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights — created “a reasonable likelihood of an unfair trial” were it to begin next week. Hence the six-month delay.

Cahill also refused to reconsider his ruling in April prohibiting live audiovisual coverage of the trial. The trial of Chauvin — and that of former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter, convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright — were livestreamed and frequently carried on metro television stations. But Cahill and fellow Hennepin District Court Judge Regina Chu held those trials during the pandemic, and ruled that livestreaming was the only way to provide the public access to the proceedings.

Cahill ruled in April that the receding of the pandemic takes away his discretion to permit the coverage. We disagreed then. We believe that the wider the public access to these high-profile trials, the more confident the public will be in the outcome.

The state court system is ponderously revisiting the issue of livestreamed trial coverage, and Cahill on Monday said that if the rules are changed by Jan. 4 he will revisit his April ruling. If that happens — and it should — livestreamed coverage of this important trial will be a feature, not a bug, of this delay.

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