A Minnesota judge on Thursday threw out a third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis cop in the case of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody earlier this year.
Chauvin, who was shown in video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for about eight minutes, still faces the greater charge of second-degree murder and also a charge of manslaughter.
Prosecutors often go for as many charges as possible so if a jury finds a defendant not guilty on a greater charge, said defendant can still be found guilty on a lesser charge.
All charges that were filed against Chauvin’s co-defendants and ex-police officers were left standing by the judge.
Cahill ruled that while third-degree murder is applicable in cases when a defendant’s actions could have harmed others, prosecutors are accusing Chauvin in the death of just one victim, Floyd.
“The language of the third-degree murder statute explicitly requires the act causing the ‘death of another’ must be eminently dangerous ‘to others,’ ” Cahill wrote.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is handing the case, said he was not bothered by the dismissal as a higher charge was still left in place.
“The court has sustained eight out of nine charges against the defendants in the murder of George Floyd, including the most serious charges against all four defendants,” Ellison said in a statement shortly after Cahill’s ruling.
“This means that all four defendants will stand trial for murder and manslaughter, both in the second degree. This is an important, positive step forward in the path toward justice for George Floyd, his family, our community, and Minnesota. We look forward to presenting the prosecution’s case to a jury in Hennepin County.”
However, law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and a former federal prosecutor, Mark Osler, said losing a lesser-included charge is huge setback for the state. Any jurors who may feel uncomfortable with convicting Chauvin of second-degree murder now have one less opportunity to convict the former officer of a serious offense.
“They wouldn’t have charged it if they didn’t want it going in front of a jury,” Osler said. “You always want to give options to a a jury.”