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Federal trial for former MPD officers in George Floyd case starts this week

Legal experts expect a swifter trial with the other former MPD officers pointing the finger at Derek Chauvin as their best hope at acquittal.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The federal courthouse in Saint Paul is just as fenced in and secured as the Hennepin County Government Center was for Derek Chauvin's trial. But what goes on inside the courtroom for the other three former Minneapolis police officers will be much different.

Millions of people watched at least portions of Derek Chauvin's murder trial in state court as it was live streamed and televised. But for the other three officers charged in George Floyd's death, the only images coming out of federal court will be sketches. For the public, just reporters — mostly in an overflow room — will watch the proceedings.

The evidence will be much the same.

"We will be seeing Chauvin front and center on those videos," said former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger.

Heffelfinger said even though Chauvin already pleaded guilty to his federal charges and won't be in court, he essentially will be on trial. 

"The three defendants left here, to be blunt, they'll be pointing fingers at Chauvin, 'We tried to stop it, Chauvin wouldn't let us. Chauvin's responsible'" Heffelfinger said.

Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng are accused of "willfully" failing to intervene when Floyd couldn't breathe.

"The 'willfulness' I believe is going to be a challenge for the prosecution in this case. Remember these officers did not put the knee to the neck. And in two cases, they were trainees," Heffelfinger said.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Kelley said the three officers have a stronger defense than Chauvin did.

"Yes, much stronger defense. It's interesting because the charges are a little different in this case." 

Kelley says Judge Paul Magnuson holds a lot of power, and if he instructs the jury that the officers had a duty to intervene, they might have trouble getting an acquittal.

Kelley and Heffelfinger both say the trial will be shorter and move more quickly than Chauvin's case. And they point out the jury will consist of people throughout the state — not just Hennepin County.

Jury selection is set to begin Thursday and could be wrapped in two or three days.

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