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Chauvin trial: Judge denies motion to acquit; expert blames death on heart rhythm issue

George Floyd Officer Trial
George Floyd Officer Trial
George Floyd Officer Trial
Posted at 9:16 AM, Apr 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 07:27:51-04

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — On Wednesday, the trial of Derek Chauvin centered mostly around the testimony of one defense witness, David Fowler, a retired forensic pathologist who worked as the chief medical examiner for the Maryland Department of Health.

The defense questioned Fowler first. During that questioning, Fowler shared his opinion about how George Floyd died. He said he believes the 46-year-old man had a sudden cardiac arrythmia due to heart disease while he was being restrained by the police officers on May 25, 2020.

Fowler went on to say that he believes other conditions contributed to Floyd's death, including drugs found in his system, as well as the exhaust from a nearby squad car.

The assertion about the carbon monoxide was questioned by prosecutors when it was their turn to cross-examine Fowler. The prosecution attempted to poke holes in the theory and got Fowler to say he hadn’t seen any data that showed Floyd had any carbon monoxide related injuries.

Before Fowler took the stand Wednesday, Judge Peter Cahill made two notable decisions in the case.

One decision involved Morries Hall, a man who was in a vehicle with Floyd before his deadly confrontation with police. Hall invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he was called to testify. The judge granted that invocation.

And secondly, the judge denied a motion from the defense to acquit Derek Chauvin in the death of Floyd.

Chauvin faces second- and third-degree murder charges as well as a manslaughter charge in connection with Floyd’s death in police custody. Bystander video from the scene showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck and shoulder for more than nine minutes.

Prosecutors have argued that Chauvin’s actions — particularly the decision to kneel on Floyd’s neck and shoulder — deprived Floyd of oxygen and caused his death. Several medical experts have already testified that it was lack of oxygen, not a drug overdose, which caused Floyd to suffer a fatal heart attack.

Below are trial updates from throughout the day:

UPDATE, 3:30 p.m. ET: Prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell attempted to poke holes in the David Fowler’s testimony about carbon monoxide from a nearby squad car possibly contributing to George Floyd’s death.

Fowler admitted he hasn’t seen any data or test results that showed Floyd had any injuries from carbon monoxide.

Fowler also said that he didn’t see any air monitoring data that would provide information as to what amount of carbon monoxide, if any, would have been in Floyd’s breathing zone. Though, Fowler said that is because it was not tested.

Defense witness answers questions about carbon monoxide theory

UPDATE, 2:30 p.m. ET: When the court reconvened, prosecutors began cross-examining defense witness David Fowler, the retired forensic pathologist who worked as the chief medical examiner for the Maryland Department of Health.

While taking questions from prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell, Fowler admitted George Floyd should have been given immediate medical care when he suffered cardiac arrest.

“Are you suggesting that though Mr. Floyd may have been in cardiac arrest, there was a time when he may have been revived because he wasn't dead yet?” asked Blackwell.

“Immediate medical attention for a person who has gone into cardiac arrest may – may well reverse their process, yes,” Fowler responded.

Blackwell then said, “Do you feel Mr. Floyd should have been given immediate emergency attention to try to reverse the cardiac arrest?”

David Fowler responded, “As a physician, I would agree.”

Blackwell then said, “Are you critical of the fact that he wasn't given immediate emergency care when he went into cardiac arrest?”

To that, Fowler said, “As a physician, I would agree.”

Defense witness admits Floyd should have been given immediate care

UPDATE, 1:30 p.m. ET: After the defense's lengthy questioning of David Fowler, the court started an hour-long lunch recess and will reconvene around 2:30 p.m. ET.

UPDATE, 10:30 a.m. ET: The defense representing Derek Chauvin called its first witness of the day, David Richard Fowler, a retired forensic pathologist with around 30 years of experience. He said he worked in the office of the chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland.

Fowler is a member of the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), the national professional organization of physician medical examiners, medicolegal death investigators and death investigation system administrators who perform the official duties of the medicolegal investigation of deaths of public interest in the U.S.

In his testimony, Folwer shared his opinion about how George Floyd died. He said the 46-year-old had a sudden cardiac arrythmia due to heart disease while he was being restrained by the police officers last May.

“So, in my opinion, Mr. Floyd had a sudden cardiac arrythmia or cardiac arrythmia due to his athroscorodic and hypertensive heart disease – you can write that down multiple different ways – during his restraint and subdual by the police, or restraint by the police," said Fowler.

Fowler went on to say that he believes other conditions contributed to Floyd's death, including the fentanyl and methamphetamine found in his system, as well as the exhaust from a nearby vehicle.

"And then his significant contributory conditions would be – since I’ve already put the heart disease in part one – he would have the toxicology, the fentanyl, the methamphetamine, there is exposure to a vehicle exhaust, so potential carbon monoxide poisoning or at least an effect from increased carbon monoxide in his blood stream, and paraganglioma, or the other natural disease process that he has, so all of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd’s death,” said Fowler.

Ex-medical examiner believes drugs, carbon monoxide contributed to Floyd’s death

Fowler testified that the size of Floyds heart would be good evidence that he had hypertension and that the methamphetamine present in Floyd’s system has been associated with “earlier onset of narrowing of the coronary arteries through atherosclerosis.”

Fowler's testimony about Floyd's cause of death is different than other experts called by the prosecution. Several prosecution witnesses expressed their opinions last week that Floyd died from a low level of oxygen because of the restraint and pressure from law enforcement on his body.

Nelson asked Fowler if he believed Chauvin’s knee impacted the structures of Floyd’s neck, to which Fowler responded, “No it did not. None of the vital structures were in the area where knee appeared to be from the videos.”

Fowler claimed Floyd’s injuries were “where the knee was not,” on the front of his body and his face. He said, “there was absolutely no evidence of injury: to the back or the neck.”

UPDATE, 10:15 a.m. ET: Morries Hall, a man who was in a vehicle with George Floyd before his deadly confrontation with police, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he was called to testify Wednesday.

Hall’s lawyer said if her client were to testify, he could incriminate himself and expose himself to possession charges, noting that drugs were found in the vehicle.

Calling the reasoning valid, Judge Peter Cahill granted Hall’s invocation

UPDATE, 10 a.m. ET: Judge Peter Cahill denied a motion from the defense to acquit Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, filed the motion Wednesday and argued that prosecutors didn’t prove that Chauvin’s actions killed the 46-year-old. The judge rejected that claim and will leave it up to the jury to decide.

Requests for an acquittal are routinely made midway through a trial and are usually denied.

Watch coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial here.

Court TV will be the only network with cameras in the courtroom and will provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage.

The entire trial will be on live TV as well as available online at CourtTV.com, and the Court TV app for Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android and Apple devices.

Find Court TV's full coverage of MN v. Derek Chauvin here.