More than 350 possible witnesses named for upcoming trial in Floyd murder

J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao
This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minnesota on June 3 shows J. Alexander Kueng, from left, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. They have been charged with aiding and abetting Derek Chauvin, who is charged with second-degree murder of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by the Minneapolis police officers on May 25.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP | 2020

As the second anniversary of George Floyd's murder approaches, prosecutors and defense attorneys are preparing for the state criminal trial next month of the three former officers charged in his death.

Former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane are charged in Hennepin County District Court with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing. They were each previously convicted in federal court last winter for violating Floyd's constitutional rights, but remain free on bond because they haven't been sentenced yet by the federal judge.

Prosecutors filed a prospective witness list Monday that includes more than 350 names, although it’s likely only a fraction of those people will testify at the state trial of the former officers next month.

Possible prosecution witnesses include bystanders to Floyd’s killing, notably Donald Williams and Darnella Frazier, whose cell phone footage of the officers restraining Floyd went viral in the days following his death. Both have testified previously in the case.

Prosecutors also may call former Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo and other high-ranking officials in the department, as well as state and federal law enforcement agents.

They’ve also included the defendants in their witness list, although the three can’t be forced to testify against themselves. All three defendants chose to testify in their federal trial this winter.

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A document filed by Kueng’s lawyers lists 65 potential defense witnesses. That includes Minneapolis first responders, medical personnel and prosecutors including Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

One of the possible expert witnesses on the defense list is former Maryland medical examiner David Fowler, who was extensively criticized for his testimony during the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of Floyd’s murder last year and sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.

In another recent filing in the case, prosecutors asked Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill to rule that a recent state report about systemic problems in the Minneapolis Police Department should be excluded. They’re also seeking to limit testimony that Floyd was suffering from a controversial condition called “excited delirium” when he was detained. 

Another possible exclusion would be any references to “riots or protests” and to terms like “cancel culture," topics that defense attorneys have brought up during previous trials on these cases, sometimes arguing that jurors fear repercussions for their verdict.

Defense attorneys have filed their own documents asking the judge to limit what prosecution witnesses can say, including offering their own opinions about whether the former officers’ use of force was justified according to their personal ethics.

Cahill ruled last month that this trial will not be livestreamed, and that members of the public won’t be allowed in the courtroom proper. Defense attorneys are also arguing that their clients’ civil rights are being violated by this “closure of the courtroom.”

MPR News is part of a coalition of media organizations that has been arguing in court that the trial should be further opened to the public and livestreamed.