Day 10 of Derek Chauvin’s trial consisted of testimony from medical officials offering their opinion on the medical cause of George Floyd’s death, with much debate surrounding how much of a role his pre-existing medical conditions factored into his death.
According to the New York Times, Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist, was the first to take the stand on Friday. Throughout much of the trial Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, has continually attempted to blame Floyd’s death on his pre-existing health conditions and drug use. Thomas plainly stated that she believed the actions of law enforcement were directly responsible for Floyd’s death. “There’s no evidence to suggest he would have died that night, except for the interactions with law enforcement,” Thomas testified.
Thomas reiterated a point that many of the medical officials have already made: that it was the position of Floyd’s body, along with the knee on his neck and back that caused him to suffocate and die. “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,” Thomas testified.
From the New York Times:
In his cross-examination, Mr. Nelson asked her several questions about Mr. Floyd’s heart, which was larger than average, and also asked her about hypothetical situations.
“You find a person at home, no struggle with the police, the person doesn’t have a heart problem,” Mr. Nelson said, laying out a hypothetical situation. “If you find fentanyl and methamphetamine in this person’s system at the levels that they are at, would you certify this as an overdose?”
Dr. Thomas responded: “Again, in the absence of these other realities, yes, I could consider that to be an overdose.”
But Dr. Thomas said the autopsy had ruled out various other causes of death, including a heart attack, and that Dr. Baker’s labeling of the death as a homicide had ruled out an overdose on drugs, which would almost always be described as an accident.
According to CNN, Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, took the stand after Thomas. Baker’s testimony was much anticipated as he was the one who conducted Floyd’s autopsy, and his initial findings contradicted what the prosecution has argued happened that day.
Baker provided a thorough explanation about how an autopsy is conducted, what he looked for while he conducted Floyd’s autopsy, and what those findings led him to believe. Baker also explained that he didn’t watch the video of Floyd’s death before conducting the autopsy as he didn’t want to go in with predetermined conclusions.
This is notable as many of the experts who have taken the stand so far have all pointed to the videos of Floyd’s death as essential to understanding what caused it. Baker testified he believed that while Floyd’s drug use and heart condition were contributing factors to his death, they were not the primary cause.
“Other things that you think played a role in the death but were not direct causes get relegated to what’s known as the ‘other significant conditions’ part of the death certificate,” he testified. “For example, you know, Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or neck restraint. His heart disease did not cause the subdual or the neck restraint.”
Baker also explained that Floyd suffered from hypertension. This meant his heart was larger than normal, and required more oxygen to function properly. There was speculation earlier this week that Floyd had swallowed drugs before encountering law enforcement, and Baker testified that he did not find any pill fragments in Floyd’s stomach during the autopsy.
During cross-examination, Nelson followed up on Baker’s comments regarding Floyd’s pre-existing conditions. “So in your opinion, both the heart disease as well as the history of hypertension and the drugs that were in his system played a role in Mr. Floyd’s death?” Nelson asked
“In my opinion, yes,” Baker said.
Baker ultimately concluded that he still stands by his assessment that Floyd’s death was a homicide in the medical sense; meaning someone else caused Floyd’s death, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate someone was guilty. I know y’all, it’s getting mad technical at this point.
Court was adjourned after Baker’s testimony, ending the second week of trial. Through the use of police officials, use-of-force experts, and medical experts, the prosecution has established a narrative that Chauvin went against what he was trained to do and that the actions he took were responsible for Floyd’s death.
The defense has tried to argue that Floyd’s drug use and his heart condition were the primary factors in his death, but have largely attempted to establish reasonable doubt through speculation and hypotheticals. The defense still has to make its case, and will likely have experts to bolster their case, but as of now the testimony so far hasn’t been much in their favor.