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Chauvin trial enters third week against backdrop of new police killing

Chauvin trial enters third week against backdrop of new police killing
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The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, entered its third week Monday against an explosive new backdrop — the killing of another Black man by police in a suburb.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahil denied a motion from Chauvin defense attorney Eric Nelson that the jury be sequestered because of the new controversy. Nelson noted that at least one of the jurors is a resident of Brooklyn Center, Minn., where the new shooting took place.

Nelson argued that media coverage of the fatal traffic stop and ensuing unrest would influence the jury when coming to a verdict.

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But Cahill said the circumstances in Brooklyn Center weren’t the same as in the trial, adding that the jury would be sequestered after next week following closing arguments.

In the shooting, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed during a routine traffic spot. The Brooklyn Center police chief said the officer who shot Wright appeared to have grabbed her gun instead of her Taser.

Monday was the last full day of testimony from the prosecution’s witnesses. Cahill told the jury at the end of the day that the defense would start calling its own witnesses on Tuesday. He also said that all of the evidence in the case could be presented by the end of the week, with closing arguments expected for next Monday.

Heart doctor: Floyd’s death ‘absolutely’ avoidable

Chicago-based cardiologist Jonathan Rich was the prosecution’s first witness of the day, and the latest medical professional to testify in the trial.

Like many of the medical witnesses to go before him, Rich said that Floyd’s death was caused by low oxygen levels.

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“Those low oxygen levels were induced by the prone restraint and positional asphyxiation that he was subjected to,” Rich said.

The doctor then refuted the idea that Nelson has tried to make stick — that Floyd, 46, died from his underlying heart disease, the drugs in his system or cardiac arrest.

“I can state with a high degree of medical certainty that [Floyd] did not die from a primary cardiac event, and he did not die from a drug overdose,” Rich said.

During the autopsy, no damage consistent with a heart attack was found, Rich explained. While Floyd did have coronary artery disease, the doctor said that coronary artery disease is a very common condition, and didn’t present itself in Floyd’s prior medical history.

“I see no evidence at all to suggest that a fentanyl overdose caused Mr Floyd's death,” Rich told the court. “I believe that Mr. George Floyd's death was absolutely preventable.” 

Family Ties

Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s younger brother, testified after the court’s lunch break, recalling his memories of growing up with his brother in Houston.

“I miss both of them,” the 39-year-old Floyd emotionally told the court, when shown a picture of George Floyd as a child with their deceased mother, Larcenia “Cissy” Floyd.

The younger Floyd’s testimony is what’s known as a “spark of life” testimony. A legal doctrine not common outside of Minnesota, the “spark of life” statute allows the prosecution to call witnesses to humanize a murder victim and give the jury a snapshot into the life they lived before they died.

This was the second time that the prosecution called such a witness, having Floyd’s former girlfriend Courteney Ross take the stand during the first week of the trial.

“He was a big mama's boy,” Philonise Floyd said. 

In graphic bystander footage that displays Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, the elder Floyd can be heard pleading with the former police officer that he couldn’t breathe. At one point, he calls out to his mother, who died in 2018.

What would a reasonable officer do?

Seth Stoughton, a law professor and national use of force expert, was the final prosecution witness on Monday.

Stoughton was a police officer in Florida for nearly five years before going to law school. He told the court that Chauvin’s conduct was not how a reasonable officer would’ve handled Floyd's arrest.

“There's no specific and articulable facts that a reasonable officer in the defendant’s position could use to conclude that [Floyd] had the intention of causing physical harm to the officers or others,” Stoughton said.

“Both the knee across Mr. Floyd's neck and the prone restraint were unreasonable, excessive, and contrary to generally accepted police practices," he added.

Several witnesses, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, have condemned Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for an extended period of time.