Chauvin kneeled on Floyd for more than nine minutes while he called for his mother and repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. He is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
His attorney, Eric Nelson, started the trial day Wednesday by asking the court for a judgment of acquittal, a common strategy for defense attorneys, New York Times reporter John Eligon wrote in the newspaper’s live coverage. Nelson attempted to argue that medical examiner Andrew Baker only ruled Floyd’s death a homicide “for medical purposes.”
“As expected, Judge Peter A. Cahill denies it,” Eligon wrote.
Another of Cahill’s rulings hampered the defense’s attempt to paint Floyd as his own killer because of his drug addiction. It came in the form of an attempted link to accused drug dealer Morries Lester Hall, a friend of Floyd’s who was with him before his death. Hall took the stand on Wednesday to formally invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, which his attorney had been warning of for several days. Adrienne Cousins, Hall’s attorney, said in court on Wednesday that her client’s car has been searched twice and drugs have been found inside of it both times. “If he puts himself in that car, he exposes himself to possession charges,” the attorney said. Cahill found her reasoning valid, and the trial went on without Hall’s testimony.
Questioning centered on Fowler, a former chief medical examiner in Maryland. The doctor retired from his position in 2019 and is currently named in a lawsuit from the family of Anton Black, another Black man killed by police. “As Maryland medical examiner, Fowler claimed that Anton died of natural causes, saying that his bipolar disorder was a contributing factor, rather than the weight pressed on Anton while he was held facedown by three white officers and a white civilian,” the ACLU of Maryland said in a news release on Wednesday.
Sonia Kumar, a senior staff attorney for the organization, said in a statement that “under Dr. Fowler’s leadership” the Maryland medical examiner’s office has been “complicit in creating false narratives about what kills Black people in police encounters, including Tyrone West, Tawon Boyd, Anton Black, and too many others.” She added:
“The medical examiner’s office ruled that Anton Black’s death was not a homicide even though video showed police chase him, tase him, and pin him face down to the ground after he was handcuffed and at which point he stopped breathing. The medical examiner blamed Anton for his own death — peppering its report with false claims about laced drugs, a heart condition, and even Anton’s bipolar disorder — instead of the police who killed him. The family was forced to pay for outside experts help to understand what really killed Anton.”
And so began Fowler’s testimony in the Chauvin case.
Fowler testified in court that he believed Floyd underwent a cardiac arrhythmia and that his history of drug use, heart disease, and carbon monoxide exposure from the squad car during his detainment contributed to the arrhythmia. “All of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd’s death,” Fowler said.
Let the doctor tell it, because Floyd’s neck wasn’t bruised. it also wasn’t really impacted. “It speaks to the amount of force applied to Mr. Floyd was less than enough to bruise him,” Fowler said.
But in this case heightened with multiple clips of body-camera footage, witness video, and surveillance clips, what Fowler couldn’t do was completely bend the truth to his will. Blackwell was able to tear down his reasoning—or more accurately, get the doctor to tear down his own reasoning—point by point. Fowler admitted that he’s seen no air monitoring data that would inform him on how much, if any, carbon monoxide would’ve been in Floyd’s breathing zone. Fowler agreed with the prosecution that even if Chauvin and other officers weren’t on Floyd’s neck, their weight on a person’s abdomen or torso could also cause compressional or positional asphyxia, a lack of oxygen flow to the brain.
“If it exceeds the limits of 225 pounds as found by multiple studies, then yes your argument is correct,” Fowler said.
He had earlier said: “Speaking and making noise is very good evidence that the airway was not closed.”
That account is contrary to that of prosecution witnesses Martin Tobin, a Chicago pulmonologist and critical care physician, and Bill Smock, an emergency medical physician. “Mr. Floyd died from positional asphyxia, which is a fancy way of saying he died because he had no oxygen left in his body,” Smock said in earlier testimony. Tobin explained that the level of oxygen in Floyd’s body dropped to zero, and at that point “there’s not an ounce of oxygen left in his body.”
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