State vs. Chauvin: Testimony continues on Thursday

State vs. Chauvin: Testimony continues on Thursday Photo: WDIO

WDIO
Updated: April 09, 2021 10:08 AM
Created: April 08, 2021 10:03 AM

Testimony continues on Thursday in the criminal trial of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. Chauvin faces one count each of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the in-custody death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.

According to KSTP, the man who performed George Floyd's autopsy could testify as soon as Thursday. 

On Wednesday, the defense made its clearest attempt so far in the trial to argue that drugs played a role in Floyd's death.

Since day one, the state has acknowledged that Floyd did struggle with drug use, but they argue it was Chauvin's actions, not the drugs, that caused Floyd's death.

Thursday could also bring more discussion over whether one person who was with Floyd the night he died should take the stand to testify. Morries Hall was a passenger in Floyd's SUV. He told the court he intends to invoke his 5th Amendment, which is a right to refuse to testify in court if a witness believes their testimony could incriminate themselves.

Judge Cahill said he planned to revisit the motion Thursday once the defense narrowed down the questions Hall would face.

Here is the court proceedings for Thursday, April 8:

Dr. Martin Tobin, a physician specializing in pulmonary and critical care in Chicago, was called to the stand to testify to begin Thursday's proceedings. Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell began with questioning Tobin.

Dr. Martin Tobin testified Thursday that Floyd's breathing was too shallow to take in enough oxygen while he was pinned facedown with his hands cuffed behind his back for 9 1/2 minutes.

Floyd's breathing while he was being held down by Chauvin and other officers was too shallow to take in enough oxygen, which in turn damaged his brain and caused an abnormal heart rhythm that made his heart stop, said Tobin.

Tobin, analyzing a graphic presentation of the three officers pinning Floyd for what prosecutors say was almost 9 1/2 minutes, said Chauvin's knee was "virtually on the neck for the vast majority of time." He said it was "more than 90% of the time in my calculations."

But Tobin said other factors worsened the effect on Floyd: He pointed out that Officer J Alexander Kueng held Floyd's left hand upward, and Chauvin's right knee compressed Floyd's side, meaning "the ability to expand his left side is enormously impaired."

Tobin used simple language, with terms like "pump handle" and "bucket handle" to describe the act of breathing for jurors. At one point, he invited them to "examine your own necks, all of you in the jury right now" to better understand the effect of a knee on a person's neck.

His testimony comes a day after a use-of-force expert testified that Chauvin bore down with most of his weight on Floyd's neck or neck area and his back the entire 9 1/2 minutes.

Following a morning break, Dr. Martin Tobin continued his testimony. The court played a short clip from a body camera showing Floyd's leg lift up backwards while in the prone position. Dr. Tobin tells the court "that is something we see when somebody suffers major brain lack of oxygen... fatal injury to the brain from a lack of oxygen."

Dr. Tobin discusses what happens when you have a lower level of oxygen. He says this will show up in the brain, and also in the heart, and when it shows up in the heart, Tobin says, It's going to cause their heart to beat abnormally.

Over the course of his testimony Thursday morning, Dr. Martin Tobin stated that George Floyd's movements and talking did not mean his was breathing adequately and that drugs did not affect his breathing.

Tobin also stated breathing becomes more difficult as the neck is compressed and that Floyd had no oxygen in his body for more than three minutes.

Tobin also testified that pressure from the other officers affected Floyd's breathing.

The court went in recess for its lunch break, and at 1:30 testimony resumed with defense attorney Eric Nelson finishing up questioning with Dr. Tobin, and he was excused. Judge Cahill then ordered a five-minute break.

Court resumed at 2:30 with Dr. Daniel Isenschmid, a forensic toxicologist with NMS Labs in Pennsylvania, called to testify. Erin Eldridge began questioning for the prosecution.

Dr. Isenschmid tells Eldridge he reviews 7,000-8,000 cases a year and receives 12-1,300 requests for testing per day. He says the most notable finding in the hospital blood was the presence of fentanyl (11 nanograms/milliliter. Methamphetamine was found at 19 nanograms/milliliter. He says the level of methamphetamine "is actually approximately the amount that you would find in the blood and with somebody that was given a single dose of methamphetamine, as prescribed.

Eldridge asks if Fentanyl levels can vary widely depending on the individual? Isenschmid replies, yes, because of tolerance.

The defense takes over questioning.

Nelson asks, When we're talking about the illicit street drugs that involve or include fentanyl, you have really no way of knowing what the particular fentanyl concentration is literally from pill to pill, is that correct?  Dr. Isenschmid replies yes.

Nelson tells the court, it was his fault. He said, "apparently the second version on April 6, I must have looked and just assumed it was a second copy of the same thing." When the jury returns, Nelson continues cross ecamining. He apologizes to Dr. Isenschmid saying, "I was working from a previous copy of your presentation." Nelson moves on and asks Isenschmid if he has heard of the terms "goofball" or "speedball."  Isenschmid says he had not heard of the term goofball as it relates to drugs.

Eldridge comes back to redirect. Asking, "You were asked some questions about your lab, NMMS and the testing that was performed in conjuction with accreditation standards... did NMS follow all the standard operating procedures when it came to that testing?  Isenschmid replied, "We did."

Dr. Bill Smock is called to the stand by the prosecution. He is an emergency medicine physician with specialized training in forensic medicine. Attorney Jerry Blackwell takes over questioning.  Dr. Smock confirms he is being paid to be a state expert witness. His hourly rate is $300.

Smock is currently a police surgeon for the Louisville Metro Police Department, "it's the doctor that goes with the SWAT Team when the team deploys to make sure if somebody gets hurt... that there is a doctor there to take care of them."

Dr. Smock tells the court he has treated patients with methamphetamine and fentanyl addiction, as well as those in cardiac emergency.

Blackwell asks Dr. Smock for his opinion on George Floyd's death.  Smock sayd, "Mr. Floyd died of positional asphyxia, which is a fancy way of saying he died because he had no oxygen left in his body.

Dr. Smock confirms it's a controversial diagnosis and says there are varying opinions as to what causes it. Smock thinks it is real, but they're very reputable medical organizations that do not recognize it."

Blackwell asks Smock to go through the 10 Signs of Excited Delirium chart and explain how each one applies to Floyd.

Blackwell asks Smock, How many did you see? Smock replied "Zip."

Blackwell asks if Dr. Smock is familiar with the toxicology results in the case? Smock says yes. Blackwell asks Smock to explain what fentanyl intoxication looks like? Smock says, "With fentanyl toxicity, you are looking at somebody who is high, who is awake, but they're high."

Blackwell asks, "Do you know wha the concept of air hunger is? Smock explains, "One example would be if you're drowning, you're going to do everything you can to get to the surface of the water, because you want to breathe."

Blackwell then asks Dr. Smock whether fentanyl overdose causes air hunger? Smock replies, "No, it does not." Blackwell, "You're not starving for air?" Smock replies, "You're not starving for air."

Smock said Floyd did not have symptoms of a fentanyl overdose such as constricted pupils and decreased breathing. He said Floyd’s actions were the opposite, because he was pleading for air.

“That is not a fentanyl overdose. That is somebody begging to breathe,” said Smock, the police surgeon for the Louisville, Kentucky, department. He said Floyd died of “positional asphyxia,” a lack of oxygen because of the position of the body.

Nelson takes over questioning the witness, asking if it is fair to say that Dr. Smock is not a pathologist. Smock says "That's correct."

Nelson asks if Smock saw any physical evidence from the autopsy that can point to Mr. Floyd's airway being obstructed, Smock replies, "No sir, not in the autopsy."

Nelson asked how many times Dr. Smock analyzed the videos and Smock replied 10 hours. He asked Smock, based on your experience and training police officers, you've observed police officers use a prone handcuffing technique?" Smock replied, "Yes I have for short periods of times."

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