The Derek Chauvin murder trial resumed Wednesday for Day 24 with a renowned forensic pathologist showing up for the defense, and saying there were “conflicting manners” concerning Floyd’s death, leading to an “undetermined” manner of death.
Determining how George Floyd died is the crux of contention. The prosecution claims he died of a lack of oxygen due to being pinned to the pavement by now-fired police officer Chauvin, while the defense states it was because of using illicit drugs and underlying heart disease.
Before defense witness testimony, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ruled that Morries L. Hall who was with Floyd at the time of his arrest can refuse to testify, which means that the jury will not get the full scope of what happened that day regarding Hall’s role in possibly selling illegal drugs to Floyd. Floyd’s fiancee Courtney Ross testified last week that Hall has supplied them with illegal pills in the past.
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Nelson will also not be able to ask the 42-year-old about counterfeit bills as both Hall and Floyd were accused of having fake bills on them that day.
He wanted to get to the bottom of if they would grant immunity to Hall. But that would likely dismantle their entire argument.
Hall told the judge that he fears being charged with serious crimes should he answer questions from the defense or prosecution.
“I am fearful of criminal charges going forward,” Hall said while standing at the podium usually reserved for attorneys. “I [also] have open charges that’s not settled yet.”
In response, Cahill said, “I’m finding that he has a complete Fifth Amendment privilege here” and then quashed the subpoena, a ruling that was a defeat for the defense’s contention that fentanyl and methamphetamine played a role in Floyd’s death.
Meanwhile, in a very bizarre twist, Floyd’s fiancee Courteney Ross was Daunte Wright’s high school teacher. Wright is the 20-year-old who was fatally shot by an officer who claims she accidentally whipped out her gun instead of her taser during a traffic stop.
Dr. David Fowler
Dr. David Fowler, who recently retired after 17 years as the chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland, took the stand on behalf of Derek Chauvin.
He concluded Floyd’s manner of death as undetermined due to multiple factors such as cardiac arrhythmia from his heart disease during his restraint by police while prone on the pavement at 38th and Chicago.
The doctor also cited that Floyd’s fentanyl and methamphetamine played a significant role. Interestingly, he also brought up carbon monoxide exposure as a factor due to the exhaust coming from the squad car.
“All of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd’s death,” Fowler said. He did not include lack of oxygen or asphyxia which is what the prosecution’s experts have cited, with the exception of Dr. Andrew Baker, the actual examiner who looked at Floyd’s body.
Fowler pointed to is largely the same as the findings of Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner. However, Baker previously testified in the trial that a tumor known as a ‘paraganglioma’ played no role in Floyd’s death. Defense attorney Eric Nelson said in his opening statement that the tumor increased the flow of adrenaline, per Fowler’s assessment.
Fowler said his review of Floyd’s case was subjected to scrutiny by 13 members of The Forensic Panel. He said there were seven forensic pathologists among the 13 who did the peer review, along with specialists in behavioral health, pulmonology, emergency medicine, and toxicology.
Fowler has an impressive 200-page CV and has worked for Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, and Wuhan University. Quite peculiar given these players also pop up with the coronavirus.
While this was not mentioned in Wednesday’s court hearing, Fowler is among several being sued in federal court on behalf of the family of Anton Black, a young Black adult who died in police custody in September 2018 in Maryland.
The suit alleges that Black’s death was caused by officers’ excessive use of force and that Fowler and other public officials covered up for those officers. The suit contends that Fowler unnecessarily delayed the release of autopsy results and was unethically influenced by police. No one was charged in Black’s death.
“Two years before George Floyd died after being restrained and pinned down by police, 19-year-old Anton Black … was killed by three white law enforcement officials and a white civilian in a chillingly similar manner on Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” reads the suit.
Fowler explained that he added carbon monoxide poisoning since the officer’s body-worn camera showed Floyd’s face pointed toward the exhaust pipe of a running police squad.
The doctor testified that it doesn’t take much carbon monoxide saturation, as low as 6%, to begin showing the effects of this highly toxic gas in young healthy individuals, let alone people with underlying health conditions such as Floyd.
“In Mr. Floyd, it robs him of an additional percentage of oxygen-carrying capacity, whether it’s 5% or 10%, it takes away from the important factor of getting blood to his heart,” he said. “This is another insult, another brick in the wall.”
Fowler also cited a study that concluded that no individuals were found to suffer from asphyxia in the so-called “hogtie position.” Weights were applied to individuals and the study still found no disturbance in their ability to breathe.
Despite what other pathologists noted, Fowler did not find bruises. He also concluded Chauvin’s left knee was “nowhere close to the airway” at any time.
“Any of the sounds Mr. Floyd is making requires you to take air in … and out,” the doctor. “You cannot make a sound unless you’re … moving air and your mouth is open.”
Floyd was “coherent and understandable” and not confused, incoherent, or disoriented before “very rapidly” going silent. According to him, Floyd’s behavior was “much more consistent with a sudden cardiac event vs. low oxygen, which affects the brain first.”
The doctor also said his review of toxicological tests on Floyd showed his meth use was “recent.”
During testimony today, Fowler taught the courtroom the term “Burking.” Not clear why the defense would bring this up.
In 1828 Burke & Hare were convicted of murdering 18 people to sell them to medical schools for autopsies.
“They killed the victims by sitting on their chests and suffocating them … the corpses had only few visible injuries, and this made the corpses more salable to medical schools.”
It was called Burking after that. Some who side with the prosecution claim that the officers used this Middle Age practice to kill Floyd.
The prosecution, namely Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, was fierce under cross-examination, suggesting that Fowler was expressing bias, “cherry-picking” facts to confuse the jury, and jumping to conclusions when he testified about the possibility of carbon monoxide playing a role in Floyd’s death.
Blackwell has represented corporations such as Walmart, 3M Company, and General Mills. He’s a pro bono special prosecutor. Is he a gem for the State? He’s defended companies against lawsuits by people who said there were injured by asbestos, benzene, and other potentially harmful chemicals.
“Going right to the punch line on carbon monoxide,” Blackwell said, “you haven’t seen any data or test results that showed Mr. Floyd had a single injury from carbon monoxide, correct?”
It is true,” Fowler replied.
“As you were talking about carbon monoxide, you were referring to the squad car that Mr. Floyd was near? Have you ever laid eyes on the squad car you were referring to?”
Fowler said he had not but knew it had four exhaust pipes.
“How do you know the car was even on?” Blackwell asked, to which Fowler said he noted water on the pavement that could have come from the vehicle’s exhaust.
Blackwell accused Fowler of assuming about the water’s origin, and Fowler countered, “It’s not an assumption; it’s an evaluation … that the car was running.”
Referring to Fowler classifying Floyd’s death as occurring “very rapidly,” Blackwell asked the doctor whether he documented in his analysis of the evidence the time of death.
“I don’t specifically remember doing that,” Fowler said. “There’s not going to be a period time in this particular case. … The moment of death is not something you can easily document.”
Blackwell also noted that Floyd didn’t complain of a headache, a common symptom of a paraganglioma — or abnormal cell cluster — secreting adrenaline, as Fowler contended. He pointed to Floyd complaining of being choked and that he never fell sleepy or had a slowed heart rate—signs of an overdose.
Finally, Blackwell also probed the pathologist on whether he agreed with the State that Chauvin and the other officers were negligent in helping Floyd once his pulse was no longer detected.
“Are you critical that he wasn’t given immediate medical attention?” Blackwell asked.
“As a physician, I agree,” Fowler responded.
Nelson did not address Fowler’s opinion on the lack of medical care given to Floyd by his client or the other officers.
The trial is scheduled to resume between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m. CST Thursday with additional defense testimony. It is still not clear whether Chauvin himself will testify.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Floyd last spring. Three other fired officers on the scene — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao — are scheduled to be tried in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
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