MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee judge on Monday set an August trial date for four former Memphis police officers charged in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop in January.
During a short hearing on Monday, Shelby County Criminal Court Judge James Jones Jr. announced the Aug. 12 trial date in the cases of Emmitt Martin, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley and Justin Smith. Each has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in state court.
A fifth officer charged in the case, Desmond Mills Jr., pleaded guilty last week to federal charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice. The plea is part of a larger deal in which prosecutors said he had also agreed to plead guilty later to state charges.
Mills is the only officer to admit guilt in the criminal case. Prosecutors are recommending a 15-year prison sentence for Mills, but the final sentencing hearing rests with the federal judge.
Defense lawyers told prosecutors and the judge in private that they believe the trial could last a month, prosecutor Paul Hagerman told reporters after the hearing.
“We’re of a mind that this does not need to be a monthlong trial,” Hagerman said. “The proof is pretty simple.”
Hagerman also said it’s possible that Mills could testify at the state trial. Martin’s lawyer, William Massey, said after the hearing that he is considering filing a motion for a change of venue, which means that a jury from outside Shelby County would hear the case. Nichols’ beating death has received heavy media coverage in Memphis.
Caught on police video, the beating of Nichols in January was one in a string of violent encounters between police and Black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and the need for police reform in the U.S. The five former officers who were charged also are Black.
Mills and four other former Memphis Police Department officers were charged in federal court with using excessive force, failing to intervene, deliberate indifference and conspiring to lie, as well as obstruction of justice after they were caught on camera punching, kicking and beating Nichols on Jan. 7. He died three days later. The federal trial date for the four other officers is May 6.
The officers said they pulled Nichols over because he was driving recklessly, but Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ’ Davis has said no evidence was found to support that allegation. Nichols ran from officers, who tried to restrain him. He pleaded for his mother as he was pummeled just steps from his home.
An autopsy report showed Nichols died from blows to the head, and that the manner of death was homicide. The report described brain injuries, cuts and bruises to the head and other parts of the body.
After Nichols’ death, all five officers were fired from the department and the crime-suppression team they were part of was disbanded.