Takeaways from Day 13 of the Derek Chauvin Trial
The first medical expert called by Derek Chauvin’s defense team said George Floyd died after a combination of factors — including pre-existing heart conditions, drug use and exposure to vehicle exhaust from the police cruiser — caused his death. He faced difficult cross-examination.,
Takeaways from Day 13 of the Derek Chauvin trial.
April 14, 2021, 5:22 p.m. ET
By Will Wright
The first medical expert witness called by Derek Chauvin’s defense team faced difficult cross-examination on Wednesday after he testified that George Floyd died from sudden cardiac arrhythmia, rather than a deprivation of oxygen caused by Mr. Chauvin.
Dr. David Fowler, a former chief medical examiner of Maryland who has testified in numerous high-profile police use-of-force cases, told jurors that he believed Mr. Floyd died after a combination of factors — including pre-existing heart conditions, drug use and exposure to vehicle exhaust from the police cruiser that he was next to — caused his heart to stop.
“You put all of those together, it’s very difficult to say which of those is the most accurate,” he said, characterizing Mr. Floyd’s cause of death as “undetermined.” Mr. Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Mr. Floyd’s death.
Like the defense’s use-of-force expert who testified on Tuesday, Dr. Fowler was met with sharp criticism from a prosecuting attorney. Throughout the cross-examination, Jerry Blackwell said he did not want Dr. Fowler’s testimony to confuse the jurors, harkening back to his opening statement to the jury when the trial began: “Believe your eyes.” Here are the key takeaways from Day 13.
Before Dr. Fowler took the stand, Judge Peter A. Cahill allowed an associate of Mr. Floyd to avoid testifying by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination. Morries Lester Hall, who was in a car with Mr. Floyd outside the Cup Foods convenience store where Mr. Floyd was arrested, told the court that he was fearful that answering questions from attorneys could result in criminal charges. The defense had hoped that testimony from Mr. Hall could have bolstered the argument that drugs played a role in Mr. Floyd’s death.
Dr. Fowler disputed the idea that the prone position where Mr. Floyd was kept for nine and a half minutes is dangerous. Several experts called by the prosecution said it is well-known among police officers that the position can be dangerous for suspects, and that the manner in which Mr. Chauvin held Mr. Floyd to the ground constituted “deadly force.” Dr. Fowler cited the work of Mark Kroll, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota, who has performed several studies discrediting the notion that the prone position can cause asphyxia. Some witnesses called by the prosecution said the studies did not accurately depict real-life scenarios.
Dr. Fowler’s testimony pointed to multiple possible causes of death other than Mr. Chauvin’s restraint: drug use, pre-existing heart conditions, even the exhaust from the vehicle that Mr. Floyd was pinned next to. Still, the prosecution came away with some victories, including that Dr. Fowler said sudden cardiac arrest is often reversible and that Mr. Floyd should have been given medical attention.
As a medical witness, Dr. Fowler was less specialized than several of those from the prosecution. He spoke about every angle of Mr. Floyd’s death, whereas the prosecution called to the stand specialists, including a cardiologist and a pulmonologist. It is unclear how that could impact the jury’s decision, and whether the sheer number of prosecuting witnesses will give more credence to their arguments.
The trial is proceeding under a dark cloud in Minnesota, where people are demonstrating in the wake of a fatal shooting of a Black man by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb. The officer, Kimberly A. Potter, will be charged with manslaughter. Businesses are boarding up their windows, public officials have implemented curfews, and police have used chemical agents to disperse some protests that they have deemed illegal.
Whether Mr. Chauvin will testify in his own trial is unclear, but if he does, it will likely happen on Thursday.