A judge on Thursday granted prosecutors’ request to add a third-degree murder charge against a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death, a move that offers jurors an additional option for conviction and finally resolves an issue that might have delayed his trial for months.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill reinstated the charge after the former officer, Derek Chauvin, failed to get appellate courts to block it. Cahill had earlier rejected the charge as not warranted by the circumstances of Floyd’s death, but an appellate court ruling in an unrelated case established new grounds for it.
Chauvin already faced second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Legal experts say the additional charge helps prosecutors by giving jurors one more option to convict Chauvin of murder.
The dispute over the third-degree murder charge revolved around wording in the law that references an act “eminently dangerous to others.” Cahill had earlier dismissed the charge as not appropriate for the case, where Chauvin’s conduct might be construed as not dangerous to anyone but Floyd.
But prosecutors sought to revive the charge after the state’s Court of Appeals recently upheld the third-degree murder conviction of another former Minneapolis police officer in the 2017 killing of an Australian woman. They argued that the ruling established precedent that a third-degree murder charge may be brought even in a case where only a single person is endangered.
Arguments over when precedent from former officer Mohamed Noor’s case took effect went swiftly to the state’s Supreme Court, which on Wednesday said it would not consider Chauvin’s appeal of the matter. Cahill said Thursday that he accepts that precedent is clearly established.
“I feel bound by that and I feel it would be an abuse of discretion not to grant the motion,” he said.
Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the Black man’s neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race.
Jury selection resumed Thursday with a sixth person chosen, a man who described himself as an outgoing soccer fan for whom the prospect of trial was “kind of exciting.” The pool so far includes five men and one woman. One man is white, but the others’ racial backgrounds have not been disclosed in court.