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Judge hears arguments about possible prosecutors leak and coercion in George Floyd case

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Three former Minneapolis policemen accused of taking part in the killing of George Floyd claimed in court on Thursday that prosecutors leaked prejudicial information about the case and that they knew a key witness was coerced into amending his findings.

Tou Thao, 25, J. Alexander Kueng, 27, and Thomas Lane, 28, all fired and arrested days after Floyd died on May 25, have been charged with aiding and abetting the second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of Floyd.

Former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin was convicted on April 20 of murdering Floyd, 46, by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes, in a case that marked a milestone in America’s fraught racial history and a rebuke of law enforcement’s treatment of Black Americans. The death, captured on cellphone video, led to protests around the nation and overseas.

Kueng and Lane were the first officers to arrive outside the food store where Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Thao arrived on the scene with Chauvin after Floyd had already been handcuffed.

Attorneys for Thao, Kueng and Lane on Thursday asked Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill to sanction prosecutors, including state Attorney General Keith Ellison. The attorneys said prosecutors leaked “damning” information to the New York Times about Chauvin’s supposed plan to plead guilty.

In a statement, Ellison had earlier called the leak allegation “completely false and an outlandish attempt to disparage the prosecution.”

The defense attorneys claimed the leaked information would irreversibly taint a jury pool. The defendants’ trial is scheduled for Aug. 23.

Thao, Kueng, and Lane were not present at Thursday’s hearing, and no cameras were permitted in the courtroom.

Thao’s defense attorney also asked Cahill to drop all charges against Thao, and to rule that Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner, was coerced into saying that Floyd died of asphyxiation.

According to the motion the attorney filed before the hearing, Dr. Roger Mitchell, Washington, D.C.’s chief medical examiner, was planning to write an opinion piece critical of Baker’s initial findings. Thao’s legal team claimed Baker had changed his findings to avoid controversy, and that prosecutors knew about it.

It was unknown when Cahill would rule on either motion.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Julia Harte; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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