Ex-cop Derek Chauvin is on trial for the murder of George Floyd. Opening statement from defense suggests cause of death is not asphyxiation, expert witness claims the opposite in favor of the prosecution.
Derek Chauvin’s trial proceedings started on March 29th, 2021. Chauvin, a former policeman, is being charged with 2nd and 3rd degree murder as well as manslaugter. The full trail has been televised, something that the state of Minnesota has traditionally not allowed.
The opening statements from Chauvin’s defense attorney point to a defense strategy aimed at shifting cause of death towards drugs and bad health. Defense attorney Eric Nelson, in reference to the autopsy report of George Floyd, said this in his March 29th opening statement:
“Dr. Baker found none of what are referred to as the telltale signs of asphyxiation. There were no bruises to Mr. Floyd’s neck, either on his skin, or after peeling his skin back to the muscles beneath. There was no petechial hemorrhaging. There was no evidence that Mr. Floyd’s airflow was restricted, and he did not determine to be a positional or mechanical asphyxia death.”
Expert witnesses called to the stand by the prosecution combat this interpretation of the situation. Martin Tobin, a world renowned pulmonologist, broke down the science of breathing for the court last Thursday, claiming that “A healthy person, subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to, would have died.” He points to other contextual clues from the video, things that the autopsy report did not include, like the movement of Floyd’s legs in the moments before his death. Tobin points to a moment in the body cam footage showing Floyd’s leg jerking up as he is being pinned on the ground. Tobin testified that “The leg jumps up like that as a result of a fatally low level of oxygen going to the brain.”
Dr. Tobin very clearly explains how the actions of Chauvin and the other officers led to the death of George Floyd, ruling out the possibility that other factors, like heath and drug use, were the cause of his death.
The defense has also made attempts to connect the size of the crowd surrounding the officers and Floyd and the crowd’s behavior to a heightened risk for the officers. Sgt. Jody Stiger, a use-of-force expert for the LAPD was also called to the stand as an expert witness for the prosecution. Stiger said that in his opinion, "No force should have been used once he was in that position." The position he is describing, being face down with your arms cuffed behind your back, alone comes with risks. NPR reports, “He also said that the dangers of positional asphyxia have been known to police, as a person can die while handcuffed on their stomach or chest.”
Some predict that the proceedings will come to a close soon, but in the meantime live streams from the courtroom are available on youtube while major news outlets are airing footage as well.
Melanie Moyer '22,