ST. PAUL, Minn. — Former Minneapolis police Officer Thomas Lane is hoping for a sentence Thursday that could let him go free after as little as two years in prison for his role in the killing of George Floyd.
His attorney, Earl Gray, has argued that the rookie was the least culpable of the four officers involved in Floyd’s death under Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee in May 2020, a killing that sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the world, and launched a national reckoning on race.
Lane is one of three former Minneapolis officers who were convicted by a federal jury in February of violating Floyd’s civil rights by depriving him of medical care. He faces a separate sentencing Sept. 21 in state court after changing his plea there to guilty to a reduced charge of aiding and abetting manslaughter.
Lane and fellow rookie J. Alexander Kueng helped restrain Floyd while Chauvin, who is white and was the most senior officer on the scene, killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly 9 1/2 minutes despite the handcuffed and unarmed Black man’s fading pleas that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin’s partner, Tou Thao, helped hold back an increasingly concerned group of onlookers outside a Minneapolis convenience store where Floyd tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill in August 2020.
Federal prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson to follow nonbinding federal sentencing guidelines and sentence Lane to 5 1/4 to 6 1/2 years.
But Gray has asked for 2 1/4 years. Under federal probation rules, and assuming good behavior, that would result in two years in prison. That happens to be what Lane is facing under his plea agreement on the state charge, which calls for a sentence of three years but likely would amount to two under the state’s parole system.
Gray argued during the trial that Lane “did everything he could possibly do to help George Floyd.” He pointed out that Lane suggested rolling Floyd on his side so he could breathe, but was rebuffed twice by Chauvin. He also noted that Lane performed CPR to try to revive Floyd after the ambulance arrived.
“Any reasonable person should just be disgusted, should be infuriated” that Lane was ever charged, Gray told jurors in his closing argument.
Lane testified he didn’t realize how dire Floyd’s condition was until paramedics turned him over. Prosecutor Manda Sertich countered that his expressions of concern showed he knew Floyd was in distress but “did nothing to give Mr. Floyd the medical aid he knew Mr. Floyd so desperately needed.”
When Lane pleaded guilty in state court in May, Gray said Lane hoped to avoid a long sentence. “He has a newborn baby and did not want to risk not being part of the child’s life,” he said.
Chauvin pleaded guilty to separate federal civil rights charges in December in Floyd’s killing and in an unrelated case involving a Black teenager. That netted a 21-year sentence when he appeared before Magnuson two weeks ago, toward the low end of the range of 20 to 25 years both sides agreed to under his plea deal.
Magnuson had harsh words for Chauvin at the hearing, saying, “You absolutely destroyed the lives of three young officers by taking command of the scene.”
Chauvin was already serving a 22 1/2-year state court sentence for second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. His federal and state sentences are running concurrently. While his plea agreement meant accepting nearly three more years behind bars than his state sentence alone, he’s expected to be safer and have more freedom in the long run. Minnesota corrections officials have kept Chauvin in solitary confinement in the state’s maximum security prison for his own safety, given his notoriety. He has not yet been transferred to the federal prison system.
Magnuson has not set sentencing dates for Thao and Kueng. But he has scheduled a hearing for Friday on objections by their attorneys to how their sentences should be calculated under the complicated federal guidelines. Prosecutors are seeking unspecified sentences for them that would be lower than Chauvin’s but “substantially higher” than Lane’s.
Thao and Kueng, who have turned down plea deals, are scheduled to go on trial Oct. 24 on state charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.