MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Five former Memphis Police officers have been criminally charged so far in the death of Tyre Nichols. Experts who spoke with WREG questioned whether all the charges will stick and get a guilty plea.
In a press conference the day charges were filed, District Attorney Steve Mulroy said he was confident in the charges against the five former officers.
Second-degree murder is the most serious charge facing the five former officers, Demetrius Haley, Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith.
You can see all of them in various parts of the video released by Memphis Police showing Tyre Nichols’ last moments of life in January. Nichols was pulled out of his car, violently kicked and beaten, and offered no medical assistance before he died a few days later.
Defense attorney Michael Working, who is not involved in this case, predicts the five former officers may try to make a jury think they are not guilty of such a strong charge.
“There could be jurors who think by running away, Tyre Nichols provoked this excessive force and voluntary manslaughter is a potential outcome,” Working said.
The defense attorneys for former officer Emmitt Martin III has already started to paint a picture that his client was provoked.
“The car did some movement between lanes enough that he hit his lights. Mr. Nichols did not stop,” Martin’s attorney William Massey said.
Experts also questioned whether the other charges against the former officers will stay relevant, including aggravated assault, official misconduct, official oppression, and aggravated kidnapping.
“The charge of aggravated kidnapping is very new in the field of prosecuting law enforcement,” Working said. “That caught a lot off guard. Officers generally have the right to restrain someone’s liberty by arresting them.”
Kidnapping would be the toughest charge for the state to prove, Working said.
“If it was a legal detention to begin with, it became illegal at a point and was an unlawful detention,” Mulroy said.
Most officers nationwide do not face legal repercussions for deaths and injuries, including the cases of Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
When officers do get indicted, outcomes are far from guaranteed; six officers faced charges in Baltimore for the death of Freddie Gray, but none of the cases ended in a conviction.
“Being fast to charge and fast to convict are different things,” Working said. “We’re going to have a proper case. We’re going to have a proper trial.”
Working added it’s unlikely the former officers will take any plea deals, given they will likely also face federal charges.
“If you plead guilty in state court, that’s used against you in federal court to increase your sentence. It could be used to increase their sentence in federal court to the point it becomes life in prison,” Working said.
The officers are due back in court on May 1. Experts say the case could take two to three years to get through trial.
“This’ll be a long fight,” Massey said.
Civil cases are much more common than criminal cases involving police officers. We don’t know yet how much Memphis could end up paying Nichols’ family, but experts say it likely will be in the millions.
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