Three of the five former Memphis police officers charged with the beating, and later death, of Tyre Nichols will not be tried separately as they had requested, a Shelby County Criminal Court judge ruled Monday.
The ruling came weeks after attorneys for the three former officers — Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills and Justin Smith — argued that trying them alongside the other defendants would confuse, and prejudice, a jury against them and said their clients were less culpable than the other two defendants.
In his ruling, Shelby County Criminal Court Judge James Jones Jr. said the attorneys did not "show how any antagonism between co-defendants necessitates a separate trial, nor has he shown how he will be hindered in presenting his defense at a joint trial."
Defense attorneys cited severance in a RICO case, which featured 14 defendants charged with 22 different counts, as another reason to have separate trials. Jones said in his ruling that the case in Shelby County is less complex than the RICO case.
"As described above, this case does not contain complicating factors necessitating a severance," Jones wrote. "This case has approximately one-third the number of co-defendants and counts that were present in the [RICO] case. This case does not involve complex conspiracies or nuanced charges, and all defendants are charged with each count in the indictment."
A trial date for the former officers has not yet been set, but Jones said during the mid-September hearing on severance that he would like to try and schedule it during the next court date, Nov. 6.
The five former officers were indicted for the beating in late January, about three weeks after the beating took place.
Nichols was pulled over in the evening hours of Jan. 7 and pulled from his car by the officers. He was eventually able to run away but was tackled about 100 yards from his mother's house. The officers then punched, kicked, pepper sprayed and hit Nichols with a baton.
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He was taken to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition and died three days later. The cause of death was, according to his autopsy, blunt force trauma to the head.
The same five officers have since been indicted in federal court for violating Nichols' civil rights. They face excessive force, witness tampering and obstruction of justice charges, and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. There is no parole in the federal system.
Civil litigation related to the beating is also underway in federal court, with civil rights attorney Ben Crump representing Nichols' family. The five criminally charged former officers have been allowed to not participate in the case until their criminal matters have reached a conclusion.
The other defendants in that civil case, which include Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "C.J." Davis and the City of Memphis, will continue the discovery process and litigating motions without the five officers.
Lucas Finton is a criminal justice reporter with The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Judge: Ex-MPD officers will go to trial together in Tyre Nichols case