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Defense rests as Chauvin murder trial adjourns for the week

The defense has rested in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who’s charged with the murder of George Floyd last year.

Chauvin defense attorney Eric Nelson decided to rest his case to the jury after the former police officer invoked his Fifth Amendment rights Thursday morning before jurors had been seated for the day.

Whether or not Chauvin would take stand was one of the last question marks remaining in the high-profile case, which has lasted nearly three weeks.

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The defense relied on considerably fewer witnesses to make its case to the court, calling only seven between Tuesday and Wednesday, whereas the prosecution called nearly 40 over the first two weeks of the trial.

Nelson’s strategy relied on trying to prove that Floyd died from underlying heart disease and the illicit drugs in his system instead of Chauvin kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes.

This game plan took a hit on Wednesday when Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill squashed a subpoena that would’ve forced Morries Hall, a friend of Floyd’s who was in the car with him when police first approached, to testify about events prior to law enforcement arriving.

Cahill ruled that Hall, who’s currently being held on other criminal charges, has “complete 5th Amendment privilege.”

Nelson had wanted Hall to testify about Floyd’s drug use right before his fatal encounter with police and explain how Floyd had fallen asleep and become hard to wake after ingesting pills.

Floyd’s former girlfriend Courteney Ross had testified earlier in the trial that Floyd had purchased drugs from Hall in the past.

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It was known that Floyd suffered from opioid addiction.

Graphic bystander footage from May 25, 2020, has been key evidence in the case. It shows Floyd pleading with Chauvin that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin stays on Floyd, however, even after he becomes unresponsive, not relenting until the paramedics arrive.

Floyd was pronounced dead a short time later at Hennepin County Medical Center.

Chauvin is facing three criminal counts: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Floyd’s cause of death is a critical aspect of the case.

Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker, who testified for the prosecution, stated that his opinion on Floyd’s cause of death had not changed from what he had put in his autopsy report: “Cardiopulmonary arrest [the stopping of both the heart and lungs] complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”

“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 told the court last Friday.

"I would still classify [Floyd’s death] as a homicide today,” Baker added, noting that homicide has a different meaning when it comes to autopsies. Medical examiners have five possible designations to choose from when determining cause of death: Natural, accident, suicide, homicide and undetermined.

By contrast, former Maryland chief medical examiner David Fowler — one of the defense’s witnesses — argued that Floyd suffered a “sudden cardiac arrhythmia” and that his heart disease along with the fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system acted as “significant contributory conditions.”

“So, all of those combined to cause Mr. Floyd's death,” Fowler said Wednesday.

For Chauvin’s most serious charge — second-degree murder — to stick, the prosecution has to prove that Chauvin intended to assault Floyd by kneeling on his neck for the extended period of time, unintentionally killing him in the process.

The city of Minneapolis has been bracing for the expected fallout if Chauvin is acquitted. However, the metropolitan area became more inflamed on Sunday when 20-year-old Black man Daunte Wright was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in the nearby suburb of Brooklyn Center.

The court is expected to hear closing arguments from both the prosecution and defense on Monday.

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There is no indication of how long jury deliberations will take, though jurors will be sequestered for the entirety of the process.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill told jurors before adjourning court on Thursday to “plan for long and hope for short.”

—Updated at 2:05 p.m.