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Just before a trial concerning George Floyd's murder, an ex-officer pleads guilty

Tou Thao, left, and J. Alexander Kueng, are both former Minneapolis police officers charged in the May 2020 killing of George Floyd.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office
/
AP
Tou Thao, left, and J. Alexander Kueng, are both former Minneapolis police officers charged in the May 2020 killing of George Floyd.

Updated October 24, 2022 at 11:56 AM ET

It's been more than a year since former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 ½ years in prison for the May 2020 murder and manslaughter of George Floyd.

As a trial was set to begin on Monday for two ex-officers charged with aiding and abetting the manslaughter and murder of Floyd, one of the former officers — J. Alexander Kueng — accepted a plea deal that will require him plead guilty to one charge. And instead of a jury trial, Tou Thao's case will now be decided by a judge.

Floyd died after Chauvin pressed his knee onto his neck for more than nine minutes. The scene was captured on video by community members who expressed anger at Floyd's mistreatment by Chauvin and the other officers, and his death became a worldwide rallying point for racial justice and police reform.

Legal proceedings are ongoing for Chauvin and other former Minneapolis police officers who were part of the scene. Here's where things stand now.

J. Alexander Kueng

On Monday, a jury trial was set to begin in Minnesota district court for former officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao. Both had pleaded not guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting the murder and manslaughter of Floyd.

But on Monday morning, Kueng, 29, accepted a plea deal in which he will plead guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter of Floyd, and the charge of his aiding and abetting Floyd's murder will be dropped. The deal calls for Kueng to be sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, according to The Associated Press.

While Chauvin pinned down Floyd with a knee to the Black man's neck, Kueng knelt on Floyd's back.

In the plea deal read Monday, "Kueng admitted that he should have known about the dangers of 'positional asphyxia' due to his training as a police officer. He also admitted that he heard Floyd saying he couldn't breathe and had stopped talking, and that the 'restraint of Mr. Floyd was unreasonable under the circumstances' and unconstitutional," Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Kueng had rejected an earlier plea deal.

Kueng has already been convicted in federal court and sentenced to serve 36 months. He was found guilty of depriving Floyd of his "constitutional right to be free from an officer's unreasonable force when each willfully failed to intervene to stop ... Chauvin's use of unreasonable force," the Justice Department noted.

He began serving his federal sentence earlier this month at a prison in Lisbon, Ohio. Kueng's plea will allow him to serve his state and federal terms concurrently, the AP reported.

Tou Thao

Thao, 36, had pleaded not guilty to state charges of aiding and abetting the murder and manslaughter of Floyd, and jury selection for his trial had been expected to begin on Monday.

But on Monday morning, Thao agreed to a bench trial instead of a jury trial over the aiding and abetting manslaughter charge. The state agreed to drop the aiding and abetting murder charge if he received a conviction at the bench trial. Witnesses won't need to testify again, and instead attorneys will get evidence to the court by Nov. 17, according to MPR. Judge Peter Cahill will then get 90 days to decide the case.

The presumed sentence if Thao is convicted of the aiding and abetting manslaughter charge will be approximately 48 months, MPR's Jon Collins reports.

During Chauvin's lethal restraint of Floyd, Thao prevented bystanders from intervening.

Thao had earlier rejected a plea deal that would have required him to plead guilty and receive a sentence of 36 months. Thao said it would be a "lie and a sin" for him to plead guilty, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

The presumptive sentence if he had been found guilty of aiding and abetting murder was 150 months, MPR reported.

In July, Thao was sentenced to serve 42 months in prison on federal charges of depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights. He began serving his federal sentence earlier this month at a facility in Lexington, Ky.

Thomas Lane

Thomas Lane was sentenced last month to 3 years in prison, after pleading guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter in Floyd's killing. He held Floyd's legs while Chauvin pinned Floyd's neck.

Lane was already serving 2 ½ years for violating Floyd's civil rights, a federal charge. A plea deal will allow Lane to serve the federal and state sentences concurrently.

Derek Chauvin

Chauvin was found guilty in April 2021 on state charges of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced two months later to 22 ½ years in prison.

He has appealed the jury's verdict. As NPR's Bill Chappell reported in April, Chauvin is asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to do one of three things: "toss his conviction and send his case back to Hennepin County; reverse the result and order a new trial in a new venue; or order Chauvin to be sentenced to a lesser punishment."

In federal court, Chauvin pleaded guilty to violating a federal criminal civil rights statute in two separate incidents, and received a sentence of 21 years in prison.

"First, Chauvin pleaded guilty to willfully depriving Mr. Floyd of his constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer, resulting in Mr. Floyd's bodily injury and death," according to the Justice Department. "Chauvin also pleaded guilty to willfully depriving a then-14-year-old child of his constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer, resulting in the child's bodily injury."

The federal sentence will run concurrently with Chauvin's state sentence.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.