Takeaways From Day 10 of the Derek Chauvin Trial
The medical examiner who performed the initial autopsy of George Floyd said he died as a result of his interaction with law enforcement.,
Takeaways from Day 10 of the Derek Chauvin trial.
April 9, 2021, 5:50 p.m. ET
By Will Wright
One of the most anticipated witnesses of Derek Chavin’s trial, the Hennepin County medical examiner who performed the initial autopsy of George Floyd, testified on Friday that while police restraint was the main cause of Mr. Floyd’s death, drug use and heart disease were contributing factors.
The medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, declared Mr. Floyd’s death a homicide in his autopsy, but had made several statements leading up to the trial that could have complicated the arguments of the prosecution, particularly in relation to Mr. Floyd’s drug use. In all, his testimony maintained that Mr. Chauvin’s actions — pinning Mr. Floyd to the street for nine and a half minutes — were the primary causes of death.
Jurors also heard from Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist who helped train Dr. Baker. During her testimony, Dr. Thomas said she believed that Mr. Floyd died from a deprivation of oxygen caused by the restraint of Mr. Chauvin, the former police officer charged with murdering Mr. Floyd. Here are the highlights from Day 10 of the trial.
Though multiple contributing factors may have contributed to Mr. Floyd’s death, Dr. Baker said he believed that the primary cause of death was the same as he wrote in his initial autopsy: “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” In simpler terms, Dr. Baker said that Mr. Floyd would not have died were if not for the actions of Mr. Chauvin. Still, he said that the compounding factors, including heart disease, played a role as well. Dr. Baker agreed with a statement from the defense that methamphetamine was hard on the heart; a toxicology report found methamphetamine and fentanyl in Mr. Floyd’s system, and pill fragments found at the scene contained the same drugs. Dr. Baker said he found no pill fragments in Mr. Floyd’s stomach.
Mr. Floyd had a larger heart than most people, Dr. Baker said. It required more oxygen to continue pumping blood throughout the body, especially during a high-intensity situation like the one Mr. Floyd experienced when being pinned to the asphalt for more than nine minutes. “Those events are going to cause stress hormones to pour out into your body, specifically things like adrenaline. And what that adrenaline is going to do is it’s going to ask your heart to beat faster. It’s going to ask your body for more oxygen so that you can get through that altercation,” Dr. Baker said. “And in my opinion, the law enforcement, subdural restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions.”
Eric J. Nelson, the attorney leading Mr. Chauvin’s defense, used his cross-examination to push back on Dr. Baker’s findings. Mr. Nelson urged him to elaborate on the fact that he found no bruises on Mr. Floyd’s back, and that the level of fentanyl that was found in Mr. Floyd’s system could have been fatal for some people. But throughout the cross-examination, Dr. Baker appeared to be uneasy with Mr. Nelson’s line of questioning. On the issue of bruising, for example, Dr. Baker said that death by asphyxiation — or the deprivation of oxygen — does not necessarily cause bruising. On the issue of drug use, Dr. Baker said the level of fentanyl that was found in Mr. Floyd’s system could be fatal in other circumstances, but that, in Mr. Floyd’s case, it was a less likely cause of death than other causes.
Like several other medical witnesses who testified this week, Dr. Thomas came to the conclusion that Mr. Floyd died from a deprivation of oxygen. This has been a primary argument of the prosecution, which is seeking to dispel the defense’s notion that drug use played a larger role. “There’s no evidence to suggest he would have died that night, except for the interactions with law enforcement,” Dr. Thomas said. Her testimony followed that of two other medical witnesses, who testified on Thursday with the same conclusions. In addition, Dr. Thomas differentiated Mr. Floyd’s death from a sudden cardiac arrest, saying that Mr. Floyd’s oxygen deprivation came more slowly and that “the point is that it’s due to law enforcement’s subdural restraint and compression.”