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Minnesota court rules judge must reconsider third-degree murder charge in George Floyd case

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that a lower court must reconsider a third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is due to go on trial next week for the death of George Floyd last May.

Increased security measures are taken at the Hennepin County Government Center and surround area ahead of the trial of former police Derek Chauvin, who is facing murder charges in the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., March 4, 2021. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

Chauvin’s trial was due to begin with jury selection in Minneapolis on Monday but that could be delayed as Judge Peter Cahill of the Hennepin County district court must now weigh again reinstating the third-degree murder charge.

Chauvin already faces a more serious charge of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison, as well as a charge of second-degree manslaughter. State prosecutors want the jury to also be able to consider a third-degree murder charge, which carries a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

Videos show Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on a sidewalk outside a grocery store on May 25 as he pleaded for his life and then stopped moving. Police were arresting him on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill at the store.

The death of Floyd, a Black man, outraged people around the world and helped fuel one of the largest protest movements ever seen in the United States, with daily demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

Lawyers for Chauvin, 44, have told the court they intend to argue that he acted appropriately according to his duties and training as a police officer.

State prosecutors had originally included the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, under a statute with a complex recent legal history.

Lawyers for Chauvin had successfully argued it should be dropped on the basis that the statute requires the “death-causing act” not be directed at a single individual. It is often used in instances where someone uses deadly force against a crowd of people, for example.

But the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently ruled in a separate case that third-degree murder could be applied even if the “death-causing act” is directed at a specific person, and ruled on Friday that this precedent binds the district court.

In its order, the appeals court said Cahill could still consider any additional arguments offered by Chauvin’s lawyers for having the third-degree murder charge dropped. His lead attorney, who could also appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court, did not respond to a request for comment.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison welcomed the appeals court ruling in a statement, saying it “reflects the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Chauvin.”

Three other police officers at the scene face charges of aiding and abetting the murder of Floyd in a separate trial due to start later this year. All four police officers were fired after Floyd’s death.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen in Minneapolis and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Dan Grebler and Sonya Hepinstall