Chauvin refuses to testify as defense loses acquittal request, prepares to rest case

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin refused on Thursday to testify in his own defense, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as his defense team rested.

Chauvin, 45, is currently on trial on murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd who died after the officer pinned him to the pavement with his knee for nearly nine minutes.

A day earlier, a former forensic pathologist told jurors that Floyd died due to a sudden heart rhythm problem because of existing heart disease while he was being restrained. 

Dr. David Fowler, Maryland’s former chief medical examiner, testified that the fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system at the time, as well as possible carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust, also contributed to his death.

“All of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd’s death,” Fowler told jurors.

Derek Nelson, one of Chauvin’s attorneys, also argued that Floyd died not because of his client but because of illegal drug use and preexisting medical problems. Health experts that prosecutors called, however, testified that they believe Floyd died from a lack of oxygen due to the manner in which Chauvin was restraining him using his knee.

Nelson also argued that his client acted according to his training, even though top Minneapolis police officials have testified that Chauvin used excessive force that strayed from his training.

Also Wednesday, Judge Peter A. Cahill waived a request by the defense team to acquit Chauvin after his lawyers asserted that the prosecution failed to prove that the former officer’s actions were the cause of Floyd’s death.

Andrew Branca, a Massachusetts attorney following the case for Legal Insurrection, observed Wednesday after Fowler’s testimony that he “was a witness of great importance to the defense, and therefore one whose testimony the state would perceive as important to damage.”

“Dr. Fowler did what the defense needed done today, and did it well,” though he did take “a few hits off Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell” under cross-examination, Branca wrote. “So, overall, a good day for the defense today, when they very much needed one, especially after the weak performance of defense expert witness Barry Brodd yesterday.”

Branca noted that it is the prosecution’s job “to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin’s conduct was a substantial contributing factor” in the death of Floyd, who was initially accused of attempting to pass a phony $20 bill at an eatery.

“That alone, however, is not enough. They must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin’s use of force was not legally justified. A justified use of force that even directly caused Floyd’s death would not be criminal conduct,” he added.

In addition to Chauvin, former police officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were also arrested and charged as co-conspirators. Their trials will take place later this spring and summer.

Witnesses for the prosecution often gave emotional accounts of what they saw as Floyd appeared to be struggling to breathe while pleading with the officers to let him up.

One, a 17-year-old girl, described Floyd as “terrified, scared and begging for his life” as she reportedly fought back tears while on the stand.

“It wasn’t right. He was suffering. He was in pain. He cried for his mom. It seemed like he knew it was over for him,” she said.

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Jon Dougherty

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