Closing arguments are set for Monday in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after he told the court he would not testify in his own defense
“I will invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege today,” Chauvin said Thursday.
Chauvin, who has actively taken notes and participated in sidebars with his attorneys throughout the trial, smiled at one point when lead defense attorney Eric Nelson mentioned that they had “gone back and forth” about the issue of testifying many times.
He offered short, direct answers to each question from Nelson and Judge Peter Cahill. Chauvin is clean shaven – looking different than he did in the viral video from May 25, 2020.
The defense rested its case Thursday after calling seven witnesses over two days. A physician with 46 years of experience in the physiology of breathing briefly returned to the witness stand Thursday to refute testimony given by a medical expert for the defense.
Later, Cahill told jurors they will return Monday to hear closing arguments and then be sequestered for deliberations. No court proceedings are scheduled for Friday.
“If I were you, I would plan for long (deliberations) and hope for short,” Cahill said.
Where the trial stands: The defense argues Floyd’s hypertensive heart disease and ingestion of meth and fentanyl, together with the struggle with police, led him to suffer from heart strain and ultimately die. On Tuesday, the defense called on a former police officer and a retired Hennepin County paramedic who both testified about Floyd’s drug-related arrest in 2019 in Minneapolis.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, contend Floyd died due to Chauvin’s knee on his neck for more than nine minutes. Over the course of 11 days, prosecutors called 38 witnesses to the stand and played dozens of bystander, surveillance and police body-cam videos.
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.
Dr. Martin Tobin, the state’s rebuttal witness, returned to the stand Thursday to give testimony cutting into the credibility of the defense’s key expert medical witness who testified the day prior. Dr. David Fowler was the final witness called by the defense.
Tobin testified about George Floyd’s carboxyhemoglobin levels, meaning the levels of hemoglobin taken over by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Of Fowler’s testimony that the levels of carbon monoxide could be beyond 10%, Tobin said: “It’s simply wrong.”
“The maximum amount of carbon monoxide would be 2%,” Tobin testified, adding that would be “within the normal range.”
Tobin said that the measurements of Floyd’s arterial gas blood was saturated with 98% oxygen when measured at Hennepin County. That leaves 2% for carbon monoxide.
Responding to Fowler’s assertion that he could not find any studies about the hypopharynx, Tobin said: “There’s at least a dozen maybe 20 studies that show the relationship between if you lower the size of the lungs, you must get a decrease in the size of the hypopharynx, all of the studies show that.”
There aren’t any studies about pressure on the neck narrowing the hypopharynx, Tobin said, because there’s no surprise about that.
“Common sense that you know that’s going to happen,” Tobin said. “As soon as you put pressure here, you can sense that your upper airway is narrowing.”
Arthur Reed, George Floyd’s cousin, is in the Floyd family seat in the courtroom Thursday
Asked about Chauvin’s decision not to testify, Reed said he felt the prosecution “would have chopped him down second by second” when asked why he knelt on Floyd for so long.
“We didn’t think they were going to put him on at all,” he said.
He added: “We’re just ready to get this over with, make sure he gets the justice he deserves. We think the state has put on an excellent case.”
State prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said Thursday the state has blood gas evidence from Hennepin County, newly discovered by Dr. Andrew Baker, likely to rebut the testimony of Dr. David Richard Fowler regarding potential carbon monoxide poisoning.
Fowler said exposure to vehicle exhaust that may have led to carbon monoxide poisoning was a significant contributing condition to Floyd’s death, a point not raised by any other experts.
Blackwell said the state initially subpoenaed all the records, but the carbon monoxide readings were not included because Baker and the emergency room physicians didn’t see how it would impact the case. He said Baker reached out after hearing Fowler’s testimony and thought Floyd’s test results might exist.
Nelson said he would move for a mistrial if the test results on carbon monoxide are provided to the jury. Because, he said, the prosecution had ample notice about it being part of Fowler’s testimony.
”This is not proper rebuttal. It’s already be testified to,” argued Nelson.
Judge Peter Cahill said he won’t allow Dr. Martin Tobin, a doctor who researches breathing and testified for the state last week, to testify to the lab results. Cahill said Fowler’s report gave sufficient notice to the state that the carbon monoxide level in Floyd’s blood “could have been cause of death.”
“If he even (Tobin) hints about test results the jury has not heard about, it’s gonna be a mistrial, pure and simple,” said Cahill.
On the issue of the hypoxia, Fowler testified Floyd had an anoxic seizure because of a heart event, and this was the first the state had heard of it. The prosecution wants Tobin to rebut that testimony.
Cahill ruled Tobin can testify about the size or weight of Floyd’s heart. Hypoxic seizure evidence will not be allowed, Cahill said, but environmental factors of the carbon monoxide will be allowed.
Dr. David Richard Fowler, a retired forensic pathologist and former head of the medical examiner’s office in Maryland for 17 years, told jurors Wednesday that George Floyd’s death was due to his existing health issues rather than asphyxia, or low oxygen.
Fowler said the plaque built up inside Floyd’s arteries and his hypertensive heart disease were the direct cause of death, in his opinion, noting that Floyd had a “sudden cardiac arrhythmia” due to those heart issues while being restrained and subdued by police.
Fowler noted that that significant contributing conditions would include: Floyd’s fentanyl and methamphetamine ingestion, what other experts have called an “incidental” abnormal cell growth in his pelvic area, and exposure to vehicle exhaust that may have led to carbon monoxide poisoning. That last contributory condition has not been raised by any expert before.
Physical exertion increases the body’s need for oxygen, while methamphetamine increases the heart rate and causes arteries to narrow to the point where it slows down blood flow, Fowler said. Methamphetamine also increases the risk of arrhythmia, he said.
Fowler conceded during cross-examination by state’s attorney Jerry Blackwell that while Floyd was officially pronounced dead in the hospital, he was dead “long, long before that.” He agreed that Floyd should have been given immediate medical attention when he went into cardiac arrest.
Fowler said he is “critical” about officers not providing the medical assistance.
“Immediate medical attention for a person who has gone into cardiac arrest, may well reverse that process,” Fowler said.
Fowler is currently facing a federal lawsuit. While chief medical examiner in Maryland, Fowler ruled the death of Anton Black, a Black 19-year-old experiencing a mental health crisis who was killed by police in 2018, an accident, according to The Baltimore Sun. No one was charged, and Black’s family filed the lawsuit in December.