Defense attorney Eric Nelson. Court TV/Pool/AP
The defense presented its witness and expert testimony last week in the trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin.
The defense’s turn before the jury came last Tuesday when the prosecution rested after calling 38 witnesses over 11 days. Jurors heard testimony from seven witnesses for the defense.
Here are highlights from the final week of testimony:
The defense’s three-prong legal strategy: The defense presented seven witnesses to bolster its three-prong strategy for clearing the former officer of culpability: Floyd died from drug and health problems; Chauvin’s use of force was ugly but appropriate; and a hostile crowd of bystanders distracted the former officer.
At the heart of defense attorney Eric Nelson’s case is the argument that medical reasons, not Chauvin’s actions, caused Floyd’s death that evening. In other words, Floyd’s use of methamphetamine and fentanyl, his initial resistance to officers and preexisting heart problems all conspired to kill him.
Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, who performed Floyd’s autopsy last May, had previously testified for the prosecution that Floyd’s death was a “homicide.” The cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest — Floyd’s heart and lungs stopped. That occurred during “law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” the doctor testified.
Four other medical experts offered similar testimony for the state: Floyd died from cardiopulmonary arrest caused by low oxygen levels from prone restraint and positional asphyxia. A cardiologist testified that Floyd’s heart showed no evidence of injury.
Expert testified that Chauvin’s actions were justified: Barry Brodd, a former police officer and use-of-force expert called by the defense on Tuesday, testified that Chauvin was justified in kneeling on Floyd for more than nine minutes and did not use deadly force.
Brodd’s testimony was at odds with the prosecution’s policing experts and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who said Chauvin’s actions were “in no way, shape or form” within department policy, training, ethics or values.
Pulmonologist takes the stand a second time: Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist who testified last week, returned to the stand Thursday for the prosecution in a short rebuttal against a defense medical expert. The state sought to counter the testimony of a forensic pathologist who told the jury Wednesday that Floyd’s cause of death was “undetermined.” Floyd’s underlying heart issues were the main causes, the pathologist said.
Dr. David Fowler, who retired as Maryland’s chief medical examiner at the end of 2019, introduced a novel defense argument: Carbon monoxide from the squad car’s exhaust may have contributed to Floyd’s death. Fowler admitted no data or test results could back up his claim. Tobin, in a short rebuttal, told the jury the carbon monoxide theory is proven wrong by a different blood test that showed Floyd’s blood oxygen saturation was 98%. That meant his carbon monoxide level could at most be 2% — within the normal range.
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