MINNEAPOLIS — The third week of testimony in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, charged with murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death, begins Monday. The prosecution is expected to call its final witnesses this week, starting with another doctor.
In court Friday, the chief medical examiner for Hennepin County emphasized that the top-line direct cause of death from his autopsy of Floyd last May remained unchanged.
Dr. Andrew Baker said it’s still “cardiopulmonary arrest” as a result of Floyd being subdued, restrained and his neck compressed by law enforcement, adding that Floyd’s drug intake or underlying heart issues are “contributing causes.”
“It was my top line then. It would stay my top line now,” Baker said of the law enforcement restraint. “I would still classify it as a homicide today.”
Where the trial stands: Last week, experts and police officials testified for the prosecution about proper use of force, and medical professionals testified about how Floyd died. Prosecutors also asked experts to testify about the role of drugs found in Floyd’s system, trying to head off the defense’s argument that drugs played a key role in his death.
The defense, meanwhile, has highlighted the effect meth and fentanyl may have on the heart and lungs. The defense has also argued the crowd of bystanders gathered near the scene distracted and threatened the officers, preventing them from giving care to Floyd and meriting additional force.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death in police custody on May 25, 2020.
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2 medical experts blame police restraint for George Floyd’s death
On Friday, the chief medical examiner for Hennepin County who conducted an autopsy on George Floyd reiterated to the jury what he wrote in his report last year: Floyd’s death was a homicide caused by his heart and lungs stopping amid “law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.”
Dr. Andrew Baker said Floyd had “very severe underlying heart disease” and that “the law enforcement subdual and neck compression is just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of his heart conditions.”
The defense has argued that Floyd’s underlying heart issues and drug use contributed to his death. During questioning from defense attorney Eric Nelson, Baker said he included heart disease, the history of hypertension and the drugs in his system on the death certificate because they played a role in Floyd’s death.
Baker said he did not find anatomical evidence Floyd died by asphyxia, or low oxygen. But a former Hennepin County medical examiner, who trained Baker and testified before him Friday, told the jury Floyd died from asphyxia due to officers’ restraint.
“This is not a sudden cardiac death,” said Dr. Lindsey Thomas. “This is a death where both heart and lungs stop working. The point is it’s due to law enforcement subdual, restraint and compression.”
A family-commissioned autopsy released last year found Floyd’s death was a homicide caused by “asphyxiation from sustained pressure.” The jurors haven’t heard about that report.
More from Friday:George Floyd died from low oxygen due to officers’ restraint, forensic pathologist says
What we know about Peter Cahill, the judge in the Derek Chauvin trial
In the five weeks he has presided over the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill has proceeded carefully, knowing every decision will be scrutinized by the lawyers before him, everyone watching the livestream and someday possibly an appeals court.
Cahill’s caution doesn’t come as a surprise to his colleagues who describe him as an extremely knowledgeable student of the law known for controlling his courtroom in a respectful manner.
Michael Brandt, a longtime Twin Cities criminal defense attorney who has appeared before Cahill, 62, many times, said based on other high-profile cases, he expected the trial to be delayed in the early stages. Delays, scheduling issues and appeals are a common part of the criminal justice system, particularly in a high-profile murder trial.
But Cahill set strict deadlines and stuck to his “relatively rigid timeline,” Brant said.
While Cahill has kept the proceedings moving, not everything has gone to plan. Days before the start of jury selection, an appeals court ruled that he should not have thrown out a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin last fall. At the end of that week, the city approved a historic settlement for the Floyd family, news heard by several potential jurors which caused jury selection to grind to a halt.
Cahill has also had to combat security problems. He publicly reprimanded observers including the press and a witness’ public relations representative for breaking security rules in the barricaded courthouse.
“He has had a few curveballs thrown at him throughout this thing,” Brandt said. “He handled that with some grace and aplomb.”