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Officer with knee to George Floyd's neck to be tried alone (

MINNEAPOLIS — A former Minneapolis police officer who held his knee to the neck of George Floyd for minutes will be tried separately from the three other former officers accused in his death, according to an order filed Tuesday that cites limited courtroom space due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Derek Chauvin will stand trial alone in March while the other three former officers will be tried together in the summer. Judge Peter Cahill cited the limitations of physical space during the coronavirus pandemic, saying it is “impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions” given how many lawyers and support personnel that four defendants say would be present.

Prosecutors disagreed with the judge’s decision to split the trials. A defense attorney for former officer Thomas Lane said he believed a separate trial would be better for his client, while the other defense attorneys either declined to comment or did not return messages.

Last week, prosecutors asked Cahill to postpone the March 8 trial to June 7 to reduce public health risks associated with COVID-19. In his Monday order, which was filed Tuesday, the judge wrote that while the pandemic situation may be greatly improved by June, “the Court is not so optimistic given news reports detailing problems with the vaccine rollout.”

Cahill said that Hennepin County Chief Judge Toddrick Barnette requested the change after learning that each defendant planned to have co-counsel or legal support at the defense tables. Barnette looked at the configuration of the courtroom and concluded that with so many people, the space was not conducive to social distancing. Barnette wrote that he believed the courtroom could handle up to three defendants at once.

Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed face down on the street. Police were investigating whether Floyd used a counterfeit bill at a nearby store. In a video widely seen on social media, Floyd could be heard pleading with officers for air, saying he couldn’t breathe.

Floyd’s death sparked protests in Minneapolis and elsewhere and renewed calls for an end to police brutality and racial inequities.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Former officers Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng are each charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Defense attorneys had argued last year that the officers should be tried separately, since each officer might seek to diminish his own role in Floyd’s arrest and death might point fingers at the other officers. Prosecutors had argued against dividing the trial, saying the evidence against all four is similar, the officers acted together and the public and witnesses should be spared the trauma of multiple trials.

Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting the case, said Tuesday that he disagrees with Cahill’s decision to separate the trials and to hold Chauvin’s in March.

“The evidence against each defendant is similar and multiple trials may retraumatize eyewitnesses and family members and unnecessarily burden the State and the Court while also running the risk of prejudicing subsequent jury pools,” Ellison said in a statement. “It is also clear that COVID-19 will still be a serious threat to public health in 8 weeks’ time. ... Nevertheless, we are fully prepared and look forward to presenting our case to a jury whenever the Court deems fit.”

Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, said he thinks it’s better for his client to have a trial separate from Chauvin.

“In a joint trial, there’s always a spillover effect no matter what. You know a jury is supposed to consider each client separately, but that’s hard for anyone to do — common sense tells you that,” Gray said.

Attorneys for Kueng and Chauvin had no comment on the judge’s ruling. Thao’s attorney did not return a message seeking comment.

Thao, Kueng and Lane are now scheduled to stand trial together beginning Aug. 23.

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Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee contributed to this report.


AP
House races to oust Trump; he blames accusers for US 'anger'

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House pressed forward Tuesday toward impeaching President Donald Trump for the deadly Capitol attack, taking time only to try to persuade his vice president to push him out first. Trump showed no remorse, blaming impeachment for the “tremendous anger” in America.

Already scheduled to leave office next week, Trump is on the verge of becoming the only president in history to be twice impeached. His incendiary rhetoric at a rally ahead of the Capitol uprising is now in the impeachment charge against him, even as the falsehoods he spread about election fraud are still being championed by some Republicans.

As lawmakers reconvened at the Capitol for the first time since the bloody breach, they were also bracing for more violence ahead of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Jan. 20.

“All of us have to do some soul searching,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., during a House rules debate, pleading for a change of heart among colleagues still backing Trump.

Two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and John Katko of New York, became the first to announce they would vote to impeach Trump.

“To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequence is a direct threat to the future of our democracy,” Katko said in a statement.

Trump, meanwhile, warned the lawmakers off impeachment and suggested it was the drive to oust him that was dividing the country.

“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Trump said.

In his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence, the outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”

Impeachment ahead, the House was first pressing Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to remove Trump more quickly and surely, warning he is a threat to democracy in the few remaining days of his presidency.

The House was expected to approve a resolution calling on Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to declare the president unable to serve. Pence, who had a “good meeting” with Trump on Monday, their first since the vice president was among those sheltering from the attack, was not expected to take any such action.

After that, the House would move swiftly to impeachment on Wednesday.

Trump faces a single charge — “incitement of insurrection” — in the impeachment resolution after the most serious and deadly domestic incursion at the Capitol in the nation’s history.

During an emotional debate ahead of the House action, Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., urged her Republican colleagues to understand the stakes, recounting a phone call from her son as she fled during the siege.

“Sweetie, I’m OK,” she told him. “I’m running for my life.”

But Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a top Trump ally just honored this week at the White House, refused to concede that Biden won the election outright.

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., tied such talk to the Capitol attack, interjecting, “People came here because they believed the lie.”

A handful of other House Republicans could vote to impeach, but in the narrowly divided Senate there are not expected to be the two-thirds votes to convict him, though some Republicans say it’s time for Trump to resign.

The unprecedented events, with just over a week remaining in Trump’s term, are unfolding in a nation bracing for more unrest. The FBI has warned ominously of potential armed protests in Washington and many states by Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration and Capitol Police warned lawmakers to be on alert. The inauguration ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol will be off limits to the public.

Metal detectors were being installed at the entrance to the House chamber not far from where Capitol police, guns drawn, had barricaded the door against the rioters.

The final days of Trump’s presidency will be like none other as Democrats, and a small number of Republicans try to expel him after he incited the mob that violently ransacked the Capitol last Wednesday.

A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot a woman during the violence. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.

Few Republicans were expected to support either piece of legislation, but some were heavily weighing their decisions.

Cheney had spoken to House GOP lawmakers of significance of the impeachment vote and encouraged them to consider it a “vote of conscience,” according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private call. She has spoken critically of Trump’s actions.

In the Senate, Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”

No member of the Cabinet has publicly called for Trump to be removed from office through the 25th Amendment.

Biden has said it’s important to ensure that the “folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage — that they be held accountable.”

Fending off concerns that an impeachment trial would bog down Biden’s first days in office, the president-elect is encouraging senators to divide their time between taking taking up his priorities of confirming his nominees and approving COVID relief while also conducting the trial.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer suggested in a letter to colleagues Tuesday the chamber would do both.

As Congress resumed, an uneasiness swept the halls. More lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19 after sheltering during the siege. Many lawmakers may choose to vote by proxy rather than come to Washington, a process that was put in place last year to limit the health risks of travel.

Even Republicans who have resisted the proxy system are now cleared to use it by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.

Among Trump’s closest allies in Congress, McCarthy was among those echoing the president, saying “impeachment at this time would have the opposite effect of bringing our country together.”

Democrats say they have the votes for impeachment. The impeachment bill from Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California, Raskin of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden.

Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.

The impeachment legislation also details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes, as well as his White House rally ahead of the Capitol siege, in which he encouraged thousands of supporters last Wednesday to “fight like hell” and march to the building.

The mob overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were finalizing Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

While some have questioned impeaching the president so close to the end of his term, there is precedent. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.


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Crochet phenom Jonah Larson competing in Junior Achievement Young Entrepreneur scholarship competition

Larson

La Crosse’s renowned crochet kid will compete against a trio of fellow entrepreneurs this month for a chance at a $10,000 scholarship from Junior Achievement of Wisconsin.

Jonah, 13, who found global fame in the world of crafting after his La Crosse Tribune profile in 2018, is the founder of the Jonah’s Hand’s brand, which includes books, a fashion line, one of a kind handcrafted pieces and logo merchandise, and has appeared on numerous TV shows and in magazines.

The talented teen boasts over 109,000 YouTube subscribers, 277,000 Instagram followers and 135,000 Facebook followers.

Jonah is also a young philanthropist, having raised funds to build a science center and library in his birth country of Ethiopia through his ongoing partnership with nonprofit Roots Ethiopia.

The Lincoln Middle School student will be the youngest of the four contenders in the 2021 Junior Achievement Young Entrepreneur Live Competition, being broadcast online from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Jan. 28. Also participating are American Maker’s Carter VanHaren, 17, of Brookfield; Prime Time Performance’s Madison Russell, 17, of Shullsburg; and T. Gehri Caprine Artificial Insemination Services’ Tessa Gehri, 17, of Wonewoc.

The finalists were selected based on criteria including charisma and hustle, business success, growth potential, social involvement, strategic direction, personal integrity and leadership.

For the “Shark Tank” style competition, sponsored by Ernst & Young at Majic Productions in Waukesha, each contestant will present their business and “state their case” for earning the scholarship to the judge panel, consisting of Craig Culver, co-founder, board chairman and brand ambassador for Culver’s; Christine Specht, CEO of Cousins Subs; Craig Karmazin, founder and CEO of Good Karma Brands; and Denise Thomas, president and owner of the Effective Communication Coach. The judges will ask questions, make critiques and offer feedback.

“Entrepreneurship is one of the core principles of Junior Achievement,” said Michael Frohna, president of Junior Achievement. “Similar to the classroom and community programming Junior Achievement offers, the Young Entrepreneur Live Competition embodies that entrepreneurial spirit in a new generation of American leaders.”

Registration to view the event is available at https://secure.qgiv.com/for/jaowi/event/823617/.

From Tribune files: La Crosse crochet prodigy Jonah Larson's rise to fame

A residential home in the town of Holland was completely engulfed by an overnight Sunday fire.


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LA CROSSE COUNTY COVID-19
La Crosse County reports 42 new COVID-19 cases

La Crosse County COVID-19 cases rose by 42 on Tuesday, bringing the running total of confirmed positives to 10,817.

Per the Wisconsin Department of Health, three of the new cases are attributed to youth 9 and under, six to those 10-19, seven to those in their 20s, nine to those in their 30s, two to those in their 40s, four each to those in their 50s and 60s, three each to those in their 70s and 80s, and one to an individual in their 90s.

State data

Another 2,790 cases were confirmed for a running total of 511,136 positives. Negative tests have reached 2,409,580, up 3,846 from Monday.

Hospitalizations rose by 149, with 22,583 Wisconsinites ever hospitalized for COVID-19, and 49 new deaths were reported, bringing fatalities to 5,211.

Upcoming free COVID-19 testing days:

  • 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 25, Feb. 1 and 8, La Crosse County Health and Human Services, 300 Fourth St. N.
  • 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 26, Feb. 9 and 23, 602 N. Main St., Viroqua
  • 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 13, 20, 27 and Feb. 3, Holmen High School, 1001 McHugh Rd.
  • 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 15, 22, 29, WisDOT SW Region Office, 3550 Mormon Coulee Road
  • 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 16, 23, 30, County Highway Shop, 301 Carlson Road, West Salem

PCR testing at these sites is open to those 5 and older with or without COVID-19 symptoms. Pre-registration is required https://register.covidconnect.wi.gov/

IN PHOTOS: Local community members wear face masks

Health-med-fit
No sign of new variant of COVID-19 in Wisconsin yet (copy)

Wisconsin has not seen evidence that a worrisome new variant of the pandemic coronavirus is in the state, but it may be here and scientists are looking for it and other strains that might spread more rapidly.

“New variants will continue to emerge and circulate,” Thomas Friedrich, a UW-Madison professor of pathobiological sciences, during a recent state Department of Health Services webinar. “We should expect these or other ones to appear in Wisconsin and spread here.”

Minnesota on Saturday reported its first cases of the variant first detected last year in the United Kingdom, in five residents of the Twin Cities metro area. The strain appears to spread more easily than the initial virus that causes COVID-19 but isn’t thought to be more deadly. It has also been found in some other states.

UW-Madison develops saliva test for COVID-19

Whole genome sequencing, which is required to see if a sample has the variant, is done on only a small portion of tests in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Based on testing so far, the variant has not been found, state Department of Health Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt said Tuesday.

But, “it would not be surprising if there are some infections with this strain already in Wisconsin,” she said.

The vaccines authorized against COVID-19 appear to work against the variant. But as more people get immunized, and if community spread of COVID-19 remains high, selective pressure might cause the virus to become more resistant to the vaccine, Friedrich said.

COVID-19 virus samples in Dane, Milwaukee counties differ, UW genetic sequencing reveals

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which use a new RNA technology, could be adapted in response, he said. “The good thing about the RNA vaccines is that they can be rapidly updated,” he said.

Also, the existing vaccines trigger a very strong immune response, much more than needed to prevent infection, said David 0’Connor, a UW-Madison professor of pathology and laboratory medicine. If a new strain cut the response in half, that would still be more than enough, he said.


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