Derek Chauvin was ready to plead guilty to third-degree murder over the death of George Floyd last spring. Then Bill Barr, U.S. attorney general at the time, reportedly put the kibosh on the deal at the last second because the situation was developing far too quickly.
According to a late Wednesday report by The New York Times, Chauvin was prepared to serve over 10 years in a federal prison because he believed the evidence against him was “devastating.”
The arrangement was made between the soon-to-be-fired Minneapolis Police Department officer and local leaders keen on stemming the tide of protests that had already set the Twin Cities literally ablaze—a rising tide that would soon sweep the nation as the largest protest movement in American history.
Barr’s approval was paramount because Chauvin had asked to serve his time in a federal prison and would only take the charge if the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) would agree not to bring federal Civil Rights charges against him over Floyd’s death three days prior.
Citing three anonymous “law enforcement officials,” the Times reports Barr disagreed with the plea bargain because it was too soon to make a judgment call and because such a low-bore charge was unlikely to satisfy the throng of protesters who had taken the streets.
“His lawyers were trying to rush us, and we didn’t want to be rushed,” a DOJ official later confirmed to NBC News.
The original article by Tim Arango notes:
An official said Mr. Barr worried that a plea deal, so early in the process and before a full investigation had concluded, would be perceived as too lenient by the growing number of protesters across America. At the same time, Mr. Barr wanted to allow state officials, who were about to take over the case from the county prosecutor who has had tense relations with Minneapolis’s Black community, to make their own decisions about how to proceed.
Barr’s decision is likely to reverberate for quite some time.
Last fall, Chauvin’s third-degree murder charge was dismissed by Judge Peter A. Cahill in what at least one former prosecutor termed a “stunning blow” to the prosecution at the time. Chauvin’s second-degree murder charge, third-degree assault charge and second-degree manslaughter charge were left undisturbed.
Law&Crime Network host and former Morris County, New Jersey prosecutor Bob Bianchi stressed that second-degree murder charges are much more difficult to prove and convict on—adding that the prosecution would “have to appeal” the court’s decision to toss the lesser murder charge. Appeal they did.
On Thursday, that appeal was denied.
The state recently tried to have the third-degree murder charge reinstated for Chauvin—as well as new third-degree charges of aiding and abetting murder added for the other three officers involved in Floyd’s death—based on recent precedent in the Minneapolis Court of Appeals.
That case, State v. Noor, held that “a conviction for third-degree murder under Minnesota Statutes section 609.195(a) [depraved-mind murder] may be sustained even if the death-causing act was directed at a single person.” The decision was explicitly marked “precedential” and would seemingly have been the answer that the prosecution was looking for. Not so, according to Judge Cahill.
“The State is correct that if the Court of Appeals’ published February 1, 2021 Noor opinion is precedential, this Court is now duty-bound to follow it and grant the State’s motions to reinstate the Murder in the Third Degree charge in State v. Chauvin and to allow an amendment to the complaints adding aiding and abetting Murder in the Third Degree in the codefendants’ cases, State v. Thao, State v. Lane, and State v. Kueng,” the opinion notes. “However, the Noor opinion, while published and labeled as ‘precedential,’ does not become final and have precedential effect until the deadline for granting review by the Minnesota Supreme Court has expired.”
In other words, it was simply a matter of poor timing.
And that defect is unlikely to be cured in time for Chauvin’s trial, which is set to begin in March.
The opinion notes the timelines here:
Noor’s window to file a petition for review will not close until March 3, 2021. (“A party petitioning for review to the Supreme Court from the Court of Appeals must serve and file the petition for review within 30 days after the Court of Appeals files its decision.”). Thomas Plunkett, counsel for Kueng here is also counsel for Noor. He advised this Court, in writing on Feb. 5, 2021, that Noor intends to file a petition for review with the Minnesota Supreme Court. If a timely petition for review is filed and the Supreme Court grants review, the Court of Appeals’ opinion will not obtain precedential status. At best, from the State’s perspective – that is, so long as a petition for review is timely filed in Noor on or before March 3, 2021– the Noor decision would obtain precedential status only if and when the Supreme Court denies the petition for review, and such an order virtually certainly would not be issued until sometime after March 8, 2021, when the trial in State v. Chauvin, is currently scheduled to commence.
[image via via Minnesota Department of Corrections]
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