State vs. Chauvin: Defense continues presenting case in Chauvin trial

Defense Attorney, Eric Nelson Defense Attorney, Eric Nelson |  Photo: Courtroom pool video/WDIO

WDIO/KSTP
Updated: April 14, 2021 05:49 PM
Created: April 14, 2021 10:25 AM

On Wednesday, the defense continues to present its case in the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin. The defense began presenting its case Tuesday after 11 days of prosecution testimony.

Tuesday, a use-of-force expert said Chauvin was justified in pinning George Floyd to the ground because he kept struggling. The witness, Barry Brodd, testified Tuesday for the defense at Chauvin's murder trial. 

RELATED STORY: State vs. Chauvin: Defense presents their case on Tuesday

Wednesday began with attorneys and Judge Peter Cahill gathering to discuss motions.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson made a motion to offer a judgment of acquittal in the case, saying the state failed to present sufficient evidence on use-of-force and the cause of George Floyd's death.

Cahill denied the motion.

The defense calls its first witness to the stand, Dr. David Fowler. He is a forensic pathologist and worked at a medical examiner's office in Maryland and now serves as a consultant. 

Fowler is from Cape Town, South Africa. Fowler notes he was approached by Nelson and asked to be a part of the case. "There were 13 peer reviewers ... that were involved in this case," he said, noting the forensic panel was involved. 

He is also a member of the National Association of Medical Examiners.

Regarding this case, Fowler says he reviewed medical records, ambulance records, police records, toxicology information, body-worn camera footage, surveillance footage, bystander videos, and the autopsy. 

"There is a substantial amount of information in this case," he said. 

Fowler claims Floyd's heart condition and drug use contributed to his sudden death. 

Fowler is walking through how a heart works and how it relates to this case.

With the defense still questioning Fowler, Cahill puts the court in a 10-minute recess as of 10:49 a.m.

Fowler is claiming that the exhaust pipe that was close to Floyd's face was also a contributing factor to his death. 

Fowler, a former chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland and now a member of a consulting firm, said the fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd's system, and possible carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust, were contributing factors. He said Floyd's heart disease included high blood pressure and narrowing of the arteries.

The state objected as Fowler marked on the exhibit. Court went to sidebar.

"All of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd's death," he said on the second day of the defense case.

Nelson asked Fowler about Floyd's narrowed arteries, enlarged heart, use of methamphetamine, the stress of the situation he was in, his high blood pressure and other factors. Fowler said all of them could have caused Floyd's heart to work harder and led it to suddenly stop.

Previous witnesses have noted that a sudden heart rhythm problem does not necessarily produce visible signs on autopsy but can be inferred from circumstances such as a victim suddenly clutching one's chest and collapsing.

Fowler handled a case similar to Floyd's in Maryland in 2018, when a 19-year-old Black man, Anton Black, died after three officers and a civilian pinned him for more than five minutes as they handcuffed him and shackled his legs.

The family brought a federal lawsuit that included Fowler, whose autopsy found that the stress of the struggle probably contributed to Black's death but found no evidence that restraint directly caused it. It also found no evidence of asphyxia.

He stated that Floyd died of a "cardiac arrhythmia, due to hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease during the restraint."

The defense finishes with questioning regarding Fowler. The court will go into recess until 1:30 p.m.

State prosecutor Jerry Blackwell starts his cross-examination of the witness, Dr. David Fowler. 

Fowler says he did not factor the weight of Chauvin's police belt he was wearing at the time of the incident. He only noted Chauvin's weight in his review, 140 pounds.

He also tells the state that there was no finding of carbon monoxide poisoning in Floyd's system. Fowler stated this morning to the defense that carbon monoxide "could have" been a factor. 

"But the key thing for breathing is that you need to be able to expand your chest. If you can't expand your chest, you can't breathe," Blackwell asked. 

"You need to expand the capacity of the chest cavity so that the lungs draw in as part of the process," Fowler responded.

He also confirmed that if one applies pressure to someone's neck and squeezes until the person becomes unresponsive and maintains that pressure for at least four minutes, it can cause irreversible brain damage, because the brain would be starved of oxygen.

Blackwell turns questions to the very specific testimony of Dr. Tobin on April 9. Dr. Fowler says "I typically do not do pulmonary medicine so the exact ranges of human beings are not something that I classically keep in my head, so I don't know that number, Counselor."

During the cross-examination, Fowler acknowledged that Floyd may have survived if officers had provided medical attention.
 

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