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Judge dismisses third-degree murder charge against officer in Floyd death

Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill on Thursday dismissed the third-degree murder charge against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who in May knelt on the neck of George Floyd for more than eight minutes, killing him and igniting a summer full of nationwide protests decrying police brutality and systemic racism.

Chauvin still faces the more serious charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Cahill also ruled against dismissing the aiding and abetting charges against J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — the other officers involved with Floyd's death.

Cahill's decision comes after a pre-trial hearing in September during which Chauvin's counsel along with the attorneys for Kueng, Lane and Thao, moved to have all charges against the officers dismissed.

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Chauvin’s attorney unsuccessfully tried to argue that Floyd had died of a drug overdose, not from Chauvin’s actions.

"Put simply, Mr. Floyd could not breathe because he had ingested a lethal dose of fentanyl and, possibly, a speedball," Chauvin's attorney said in the court filings. "Combined with sickle cell trait, his pre-existing heart conditions, Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl and methamphetamine most likely killed him."

Floyd's death was ruled a homicide, and a Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office autopsy report revealed he died from "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression."

The rulings are the biggest developments in the case since proceedings began this summer.

In a statement, Attorney General Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonProgressives unveil Biden Cabinet wish list Officers involved with George Floyd killing will stand trial together in Minneapolis, judge decides Trump lashes out at state officials over virus restrictions at Minnesota rally MORE (D), whose office is heading the prosecution of the officers, said that Cahill’s decision was an “important, positive step forward in the path toward justice for George Floyd, his family, our community, and Minnesota.”

Cahill has yet to decide whether the four officers will be tried together in a single trial and if the trial will take place outside of Hennepin County, issues that were also presented at the pre-trial hearing last month. Regardless of how the judge decides to rule on the final two issues, Cahill has said that the trial will begin in March.

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Chauvin was released from jail at the beginning of the month after posting a $1 million bail. 

Chauvin was seen in bystander footage kneeling with his knee on Floyd's neck while trying to arrest the man on May 25. Chauvin applied pressure for several minutes while Floyd made repeated appeals to the officer, telling him that he could not breathe. Floyd then became unresponsive and was pronounced dead after he was taken to the hospital. 

Floyd’s family, represented by civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, has previously said that they want to see first-degree murder charges brought against Chauvin.

“For Chauvin to leave his knee on George’s neck despite warnings and evidence that his life was in danger — and to continue that course for many minutes — demands a first-degree murder charge," Crump said in June. "For George Floyd, the ambulance was his hearse."

Updated at 11:55 a.m.