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Prosecution needles Chauvin defense expert's speculation on Floyd's cause of death

Prosecutors pounced on testimony made by a former chief medical examiner called by the defense as an expert witness during the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Wednesday over his speculation about the factors that contributed to George Floyd’s death. 

Under questioning by defense, the witness, David Fowler, speculated that Floyd could have been exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning when he was pressed to the ground under Chauvin’s restraint near a squad car last May.

Though Fowler later said he had no knowledge of whether Floyd’s blood had even been tested for carbon monoxide, he pointed to potential carbon monoxide poisoning when listing each of the factors he felt contributed to his death. Those factors also included cardiac arrhythmia, as well as drugs and Floyd's underlying health problems.

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“There is exposure to a vehicle exhaust, so potentially carbon monoxide poisoning, or what at least an effect from increased carbon monoxide in his bloodstream. And paraganglioma or the other natural disease process that he has,” Fowler said.

“So, all of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd's death,” he continued.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell grilled Fowler over speculation about the carbon monoxide poisoning in particular, which had also drawn confusion online during the trial.

“You agree as an expert witness that you shouldn't jump to conclusions? That is, you should reach fair conclusions based upon a careful considered analysis?” he asked. Fowler agreed.

“Do you agree that you shouldn't come at this in a way that's biased? You agree with that, don't you? You shouldn't cherry-pick facts? You shouldn't try to confuse the jury?” Blackwell continued.

“Correct,” Fowler said.

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“Now, there's a reason I ask about that,” Blackwell continued. “You spent quite a bit of time talking about carbon monoxide ... just going right to the punchline of carbon monoxide. ... You haven’t seen any data or test results that showed Mr. Floyd had a single injury from carbon monoxide?”

“That is correct because it was never sent to the laboratory —” Fowler began to respond before Blackwell cut in to ask if that was true. Fowler said it was.

“Have you ever laid eyes — I don't mean pictures — physically on the squad car that you were referring to?” Blackwell asked. Fowler said he had not.

Fowler also said that he had not seen air-monitoring data that would actually give him any information about what amount of carbon monoxide, if any, would have been in Floyd's breathing zone.

Blackwell also pressed Fowler during cross-examination about how he knew the nearby squad car in question had been on when Floyd was under restraint. In response, Fowler pointed to an observation he made “of water dripping from what appears to be a tailpipe.” 

“And you just simply assumed by seeing something dripping from a tailpipe that the car had to have been on?” Blackwell went on to ask.

“It’s not an assumption. It’s an evaluation, which in my mind indicates that the vehicle was running,” Fowler continued. 

Blackwell also needled Fowler over comments he made to defense about photos he was presented with that he said showed Floyd had a “white object” in his mouth. The photos, captured on police body camera footage, were taken as police approached him the day of his arrest.

The questioning by the defense comes as Chauvin’s attorneys have argued that Floyd’s drug use and underlying health problems played a role in his death. The prosecution has instead focused on Chauvin’s use of force against Floyd during the arrest as the primary cause.

“So, would it be fair to say, in order to say that the white substance in Mr. Floyd’s mouth was a pill, in light of what you’ve seen, that would be jumping to a conclusion, wouldn’t it?” Blackwell asked Fowler.

“Specifically, when I testified, I said there was a white object in his mouth. That’s all I could discern from that. And I remember saying that under direct,” Fowler responded. 

“So, you were not, then, either telling or suggesting to the jury that the white substance was a pill, are you?” Blackwell continued. 

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“I never said it was a pill. I carefully said that I could see a white structure in his mouth. I did not want to classify it, and I didn’t,” Fowler responded back and forth.

Fowler was the only witness to take the stand during the trial as it entered its 13th day on Wednesday. 

According to pool reports, jurors on Wednesday seemed attentive as the trial proceedings resumed earlier in the day. But as the trial progressed, one juror fell "asleep a few times," according to the reports, which also said the jury appeared "pretty low energy" and "burned out" later in the day.