A judge on Thursday granted prosecutors’ request to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged in connection with George Floyd’s death.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill added the charge after Minnesota’s Supreme Court denied an appeal from Chauvin Wednesday. Cahill had earlier rejected the charge as not warranted by the circumstances of Floyd’s death, but an appellate court ruling in an unrelated case established new grounds for it. Chauvin already faced second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.
Potential jurors in Chauvin’s trial return Thursday to continue the selection process. Five jurors had been seated by Wednesday after just two days of screening by Cahill, Special Attorney for the State Steven Schleicher and Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson.
The dispute over the third-degree murder charge in Chauvin’s case revolves around the conviction of another former Minneapolis police officer in the unrelated killing of an Australian woman. The appeals court affirmed Mohamed Noor’s third-degree murder conviction in the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
Cahill reiterated Thursday that Noor and Chauvin are factually different cases, but because the Court of Appeals has defined that third-degree murder can be targeted at a single person, the judge is bound by the law in Minnesota right now.
“I am granting the motion because although these cases are factually different – that is Noor and the case before us – I don’t think there is a factual difference that denies the motion to reinstate,” Cahill said.
“When the intent is directed at a single person, then third-degree murder may apply,” the judge continued, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. “Single acts directed at a single person fall within the gambit of third-degree … accordingly, I am bound by that.”
The state argued that the Noor affirmation established precedent for the third-degree murder charge under the circumstances of Floyd’s death. If the Minnesota Supreme Court had taken up Chauvin’s appeal, it might have meant months of delay in his trial. After their ruling, the Court of Appeals rejected as moot the state’s request to pause the trial pending the appeal.
Cahill finished by saying the third-degree murder charge reinstatement does not apply to the case against Chauvin’s three other co-defendants – Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao. Cahill will address that at a later date. They are scheduled for trial in August.
Floyd’s May 25 death last year sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race. In moments captured on cellphone video, Chauvin could be seen holding his knee against Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes.
Days after Floyd’s death, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged Chauvin with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. On June 3, 2020, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison added a charge of second-degree murder against Chauvin.
On Oct. 22, 2020, Hennepin County District Court upheld the charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter against Chauvin – in addition to the charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter against his co-defendants. But Cahill dismissed the charge of third-degree murder against Chauvin at that time.
In a precedential opinion on Feb. 1, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the conviction for third-degree murder of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in the 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. The court also ruled that Minnesota’s third-degree murder statute is applicable in the case of force being applied to a single person, a summary provided to Fox News by Ellison’s office said.
In response, on Feb. 4, state prosecutors moved to reinstate the charge of third-degree murder. On Feb. 11, the district court denied the motion. The state filed a notice of appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Feb. 12. The Court of Appeals held oral arguments on March 1. On Friday, March 5, the Court of Appeals ruled that the district court erred in not granting the state’s motion to reinstate the charge of third-degree murder against Chauvin in the death of Floyd.
On Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied Chauvin’s petition for review of the Court of Appeals decision. In response, the Court of Appeals ordered judgment in its March 5 ruling to be immediately entered. On Thursday, the district court reinstated the third-degree murder charge.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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