MINNEAPOLIS — In a trial the place many key figures have spent hours on the stand, the prosecution whipped by means of considered one of their most anticipated witnesses, the physician who carried out George Floyd’s official post-mortem, in a mere 50 minutes on Friday.
The causes for his or her haste grew to become clear because the witness, Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical expert, shunned putting the only real blame for Mr. Floyd’s dying on the police as he testified within the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former officer charged with homicide.
In his testimony, Dr. Baker mentioned police restraint was the principle explanation for Mr. Floyd’s dying, however he additionally cited drug use and coronary heart illness as contributing elements, saying that Mr. Floyd died “in the context of” the actions taken by three cops as they pinned Mr. Floyd to the road for greater than 9 minutes.
“In my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions,” he mentioned.
The prosecution’s different medical consultants have testified that the strain that officers placed on Mr. Floyd’s neck and again, not his underlying circumstances, triggered his dying.
In most homicide instances, the native medical expert who carried out the post-mortem is a star prosecution witness, essentially the most authoritative voice on the sufferer’s explanation for dying. But within the trial of Mr. Chauvin, prosecutors have regarded Dr. Baker as maybe their most problematic witness — and probably one who may assist the protection increase affordable doubt within the minds of jurors.
Throughout the investigation Dr. Baker has made statements that the prosecutors thought to be minimizing the influence of Mr. Chauvin’s use of drive. He has mentioned that if Mr. Floyd’s physique had been discovered at house, his dying may have been attributed to a drug overdose, and that he was unable to say whether or not Mr. Floyd would have died had been it not for his encounter with the police.
Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, appeared to attain some factors for the argument that he had been advancing all through the trial, that Mr. Floyd’s poor well being, drug use and resistance to arrest led to his dying.
During Mr. Nelson’s cross-examination, Dr. Baker acknowledged that he noticed no bodily indicators of asphyxiation; that Mr. Floyd had a stage of fentanyl in his system that might have been known as an overdose in different circumstances; and that his coronary heart situation, mixed with the exertion of combating the police, performed a task in his dying.
Mr. Floyd had an enlarged coronary heart for his measurement, Dr. Baker mentioned. It required extra oxygen to proceed pumping blood all through the physique, particularly throughout a high-intensity state of affairs just like the one Mr. Floyd skilled when being pinned to the asphalt for greater than 9 minutes. “Those events are going to cause stress hormones to pour out into your body, specifically things like adrenaline,” Dr. Baker said. “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.”
At different instances, Mr. Nelson used his cross-examination to push again on Dr. Baker’s findings. Mr. Nelson urged him to elaborate on the truth that he discovered no bruises on Mr. Floyd’s again, and that the extent of fentanyl present in Mr. Floyd’s system may have been deadly for some individuals. But all through the cross-examination, Dr. Baker seemed to be uneasy with Mr. Nelson’s line of questioning.
On the difficulty of bruising, Dr. Baker mentioned that dying by asphyxiation — or the deprivation of oxygen — doesn’t essentially trigger bruising. On drug use, Dr. Baker mentioned the extent of fentanyl present in Mr. Floyd’s system could be fatal in other circumstances however that, in Mr. Floyd’s case, it was a much less seemingly explanation for dying than different elements.
The prosecution had the final phrase with Dr. Baker.
Under questioning from Jerry W. Blackwell, Dr. Baker acknowledged that the “heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use” that he had listed as contributing elements weren’t “direct causes” of Mr. Floyd’s dying.
“I would still classify it as a homicide today,” he mentioned.
To convict Mr. Chauvin of homicide, the jury wants to search out that his restraint of Mr. Floyd was a “substantial causal factor” to his dying, even when there have been different elements.
Dr. Baker’s previous statements made it clear why the prosecution wished to sandwich him between different professional witnesses, together with a forensic pathologist who helped prepare Dr. Baker and has carried out 1000’s of autopsies.
The pathologist, Dr. Lindsey C. Thomas, mentioned she agreed with Dr. Baker’s discovering that the reason for dying was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement’s subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” But she added that bystander video clearly confirmed that Mr. Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen.
Dr. Baker’s phrasing triggered some confusion within the months after it was issued, and Dr. Thomas agreed with a protection suggestion that “complicating” may imply various things to totally different consultants. But Dr. Thomas mentioned that on this case, she discovered it to imply that Mr. Floyd’s coronary heart had stopped due to the cops’ actions.
“Mr. Floyd was in a position, because of the subdual, restraint and compression, where he was unable to get enough oxygen in to maintain his body functions,” Dr. Thomas testified.
Crucially, Dr. Thomas mentioned she believed that Mr. Floyd would have lived if Mr. Chauvin had not pinned him along with his knees — a direct rebuttal of previous statements attributed to Dr. Baker that he couldn’t say if that may have been the case. “There’s no evidence to suggest he would have died that night, except for the interactions with law enforcement,” she mentioned.
During the testimony of Dr. Thomas and Dr. Baker, jurors had been proven post-mortem images of Mr. Floyd, though they weren’t seen by the general public — presumably as a result of Judge Peter A. Cahill thought they had been too grotesque to be proven on tv.
Dr. Baker mentioned he didn’t watch the extensively circulated video of Mr. Floyd combating cops till after he carried out his post-mortem, saying he didn’t need it to bias his findings.
The state tried to decrease the significance of Dr. Baker’s post-mortem findings as solely a place to begin in figuring out the last word explanation for dying. Dr. Thomas defined that Dr. Baker’s findings didn’t preclude asphyxia as a way of dying, for the reason that indicators of asphyxia are sometimes undetectable in autopsies.
Mr. Nelson requested her and different witnesses if Mr. Floyd may have died from an overdose or a well being situation if the cops’ use of drive had been stripped away.
That earned a rebuke from Mr. Blackwell, who then mentioned to Dr. Thomas — earlier than being minimize off by the choose after an objection from Mr. Nelson — that such questioning could be like asking Mrs. Lincoln if her husband would have died if it weren’t for John Wilkes Booth.
Reporting was contributed by John Eligon from Kansas City, Mo., Marie Fazio from Jacksonville, Fla., and Sheri Fink and Will Wright from New York.