WASHINGTON: The former Minneapolis policeman accused of killing a Black man by kneeling on his neck will stand trial alone, without three officers accused of aiding and abetting the alleged murder, a Minnesota judge ruled on Tuesday (Jan 12), in part because of COVID-19 concerns.
Judge Peter Cahill said in his ruling that the space limitations in the court house "make it impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions in a joint trial involving all four defendants," given the number of lawyers and support personnel expected.
Derek Chauvin, who is white, has been charged with second-degree murder and other lesser charges in the May 25 death of George Floyd, after pinning his neck to the ground for nearly nine minutes. Videos of the incident set off nationwide protests over police brutality and racism in law enforcement.
Chauvin's criminal defense attorney, Eric L Nelson, was not immediately available to Reuters for comment.
Prosecutors were surprised by Cahill's ruling, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement that all four officers should face charges in the same trial.
"We respectfully disagree with the court's decision," Ellison said. "We believe that all four defendants should be tried jointly," he said.
Ellison said that the evidence against all the defendants is similar and that holding more than one trial could, "retraumatize eyewitnesses and family members."
Chauvin's trial is scheduled to begin Mar 8 and the other three officers will be tried in August, court papers say.