The former Minneapolis officer who kneeled on George Floyd‘s neck stripping him of life and dignity, will be tried separately from the three officers accused of aiding and abetting, according to a report by NBC News.
Derek Chauvin‘s trial is scheduled to begin in March 8 according to a Tuesday ruling by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who citied COVID-19 restrictions as reason to separate the trials.
Cahill’s ruling obtained by Reuters claimed space limitations in the courthouse would “make it impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions in a joint trial involving all four defendants.”
The other officers, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, who stood idly by as Chauvin issued state sanctioned violence, will be tried together in August.
Prosecutors were surprised with the decision to separate the trials and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison responded to Cahill’s ruling in a statement.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision to sever three of the defendants from the other and its ruling on the timing of the trials,” Ellison said.
“As we argued several months ago, and as the judge agreed in his November ruling, we believe all four defendants should be tried jointly.”
Ellison went on to say that holding separate trials could have harsh effects on family members and witnesses, forcing them to relieve the incident and subsequent aftermath more than once.
Chauvin’s lawyer declined to comment on the ruling.
Video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while he desperately pleaded for mercy, crying out “I can’t breathe,” more than once. Floyd’s death reignited the call to the Black Lives Matter movement following other high-profile deaths of Black community members in early 2020 like Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
Chauvin was terminated from the force shortly after the harrowing video circulated on social media and faces up to 40 years in prison if he is found guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter.