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Derek Chauvin trial live: Defense to call at least one more witness after medical expert says George Floyd’s cause of death ‘undetermined’

MINNEAPOLIS — Jurors will hear from at least one more witness for the defense Thursday in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

The defense may rest its case Thursday. Judge Peter Cahill initially suggested the defense would finish calling witnesses Wednesday and told the prosecution to prepare any rebuttal overnight. But, by the end of the day, Cahill said at least one more witness was expected to testify.

Jurors heard five hours of testimony Wednesday from a medical expert for the defense who said the manner of George Floyd’s death was “undetermined,” contrary to various prosecution witnesses who labeled the death a homicide.

Dr. David Fowler, former head of the medical examiner’s office in Maryland, said he believes that Floyd, due to his underlying heart issues, had a “sudden cardiac arrhythmia” while being restrained and subdued by police.

The testimony contradicts that of several prosecution witnesses, who said Floyd died from low oxygen due to law enforcement restraint. 

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.

Stay updated on the Derek Chauvin trial: Sign up for text messages of key updates, follow USA TODAY Network reporters on Twitter, or subscribe to the Daily Briefing newsletter.

Latest updates:

  • Court is expected to resume at 9:15 a.m. CT
  • Morries Hall, a man who was in an SUV with George Floyd before the struggle with police, won’t testify in Chauvin’s trial, Judge Peter Cahill ruled Wednesday.
  • Earlier, Cahill denied a motion for acquittal of Chauvin that was submitted in oral arguments by lead defense attorney Eric Nelson. Such acquittal motions by the defense are normally made at the end of the state’s case, are largely pro forma legal actions in criminal trials, and are rarely if ever granted by courts.
  • Also Wednesday, Kim Potter, the former Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop was charged with second-degree manslaughter. The shooting has inflamed racial tensions in Brooklyn Center, just miles from where Floyd died last May. 
  • The defense called its first six witnesses to the stand Tuesday after the prosecution rested its case. The last witness of the day, defense use-of-force expert Barry Brodd, told jurors Chauvin was “justified” in his use of force – the first witness to suggest the restraint on Floyd was acceptable.

Defense forensic pathologist: Floyd had a ‘sudden cardiac arrhythmia’

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.

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