Defender Eric Nelson. Court TV / Pool / AP
The defense provided witnesses and expert opinions in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last week.
It was the defense’s turn before the jury came last Tuesday when prosecutors rested after calling 38 witnesses in 11 days. The jury heard testimony from seven defense witnesses.
Here are the highlights of the last week of testimony:
The tripartite legal strategy of defense: The defense brought seven witnesses to reinforce their tripartite strategy to eradicate the former officer’s fault: Floyd died of drug and health problems; Chauvin’s use of force was ugly but appropriate; and a hostile crowd of onlookers distracted the former officer.
At the heart of defense attorney Eric Nelson 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 pre-existing heart problems all conspired to kill him.
Hennepin County’s medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, who performed Floyd’s autopsy last May, previously testified for the prosecution that Floyd’s death was a “murder”. The cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest – Floyd’s heart and lungs stopped. This happened during “sub-dual law enforcement, restraint and neck compression,” the doctor testified.
Four other medical experts made similar statements for the state: Floyd died of cardiopulmonary arrest caused by low oxygen levels from reluctance and positional asphyxia. A cardiologist testified that Floyd’s heart showed no signs of injury.
Expert testified that Chauvin’s actions were justified: Barry Brodd, a former police officer and use of violence expert who received a call from the defense on Tuesday, testified that Chauvin was authorized to kneel on Floyd for more than nine minutes and not to use lethal force.
Brodd’s testimony contradicted the state attorney’s police officer and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who said Chauvin’s actions were “in no way, form, or form” within the department’s policies, training, ethics or values.
The pulmonologist takes a second position: Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist who testified last week, returned to the booth Thursday for law enforcement with a brief counter-argument against a defense medicine expert. The state tried to counter the testimony of a forensic pathologist who told the jury on Wednesday that Floyd’s cause of death was “undetermined”. Floyd’s underlying heart problems were the leading causes, the pathologist said.
Dr. David Fowler, who retired as chief medical officer in Maryland in late 2019, introduced a novel defensive argument: carbon monoxide from the exhaust of the patrol car may have contributed to Floyd’s death. Fowler admitted that no data or test results could support his claim. In a brief counter-argument, Tobin told the jury that the carbon monoxide theory had been proven false by another blood test that showed Floyd’s blood oxygen saturation was 98%. This meant that its carbon monoxide content could not exceed 2% – in the normal range.