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Former Memphis Police Officers to Face State Trial in August for Charges in Death of Tyre Nichols

Christopher Blank

Four of the five former Memphis police officers who have been charged in the beating death of Tyre Nichols appeared briefly in a Shelby County courtroom Monday morning as a judge announced their state trial is set to begin Aug. 12, 2024.

Those present have all pleaded not guilty to state charges, including second degree murder as well as to separate federal charges of civil rights violations.

Body camera and other surveillance footage released just weeks after Nichols’ death in January shows the officers repeatedly kicking, punching and striking Nichols before taking him into custody. He died in the hospital three days later.

A fifth ex-officer, Desmond Mills Jr., was not in court on Monday now that he has reversed his non-guilty plea in the case. He pleaded guilty to two federal counts last week in exchange for prosecutors recommending a prison sentence capped at 15 years. As part of the sentencing recommendation, Mills will also eventually plead guilty to state charges.

A federal judge still has the discretion to accept the terms of the arrangement or to sentence him to more or less time.

Prosecutors have declined to comment on the possibility of plea agreements with any other defendants.

Defense attorney William Massey, who represents former officer Emmitt Martin III, told reporters outside the courtroom that he was surprised by Mills’ change of course. Mills’ attorney previously said he had not discussed his client’s plans with others.

Just last month, Shelby County Judge James Jones, Jr. turned down Mills’ request – as well as similar motions from two other former officers – to have separate trials.

Mills could be called on to testify against his former colleagues under the terms of his plea deal.

Massey says he is still weighing whether to request the trial be held outside of Shelby County, which a judge could consider to ensure an impartial jury.

“We’re looking very hard at whether or not a change of venue is going to be necessary,” he said. “We don’t want it to be, but it may.”

As of now, the state trial – slated for next August – will likely take place after the federal one, which is set for May.

More video footage, as well as other documents, from the Memphis Police Department’s internal investigation of the night of Nichols’ violent arrest could be publicly released in the coming days. Earlier this year, Judge Jones delayed its dissemination at the request of defense attorneys who wanted time to review it.

Jones lifted that pause last week with the exception of some documents. The city of Memphis has not responded to questions about when they now intend to share the material.

Katie is a part-time WKNO contributor. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org