I already wrote that the key to conviction in the Derek Chauvin trial (and to avoiding a cascading failure in all four cases) lies in the autopsy results and the role of drugs (including fentanyl) in George Floyd’s body.
Prosecutors are now asking the jury to effectively reject the findings of the only official autopsy in the case and insist, contrary to those findings, that Floyd died of asphyxiation or lack of oxygen. Certain new disclosures may make this request more difficult for the prosecution.
Last week, Special Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell admitted to jurors that Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Dr Andrew Baker had named the cardiac arrest as the cause of Floyd’s death. however, he insisted that the state would prove that “was … not a fatal cardiac event”, but asphyxiation.
It’s a bold move because it could raise a reasonable doubt about the cause of death. The question is whether a manslaughter case could have been brought forward without the need to challenge the state’s own coroner on such findings. Chauvin’s failure to respond to a medical emergency speaks more to manslaughter than murder, but it could be framed consistently with these findings. Instead, the prosecution asked the jury to effectively dismiss the coroner’s findings – a risky move.
We have previously discussed the main elements of the defense in this case:
- When called to the scene on the grounds that Floyd allegedly spent counterfeit money, Floyd denied using drugs, but later said he was “hooping” or taking drugs.
- The autopsy did not conclude that Floyd died of asphyxiation (although a family pathologist made this finding). On the contrary, he noted “a cardiopulmonary arrest while she was being held by law enforcement officers”. The state criminal complaint against Chauvin said the autopsy “did not reveal any physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation. Mr. Floyd had underlying health issues including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. He was also positive for COVID-19.
- Andrew Baker, Chief Medical Examiner for Hennepin County, strongly suggested that the root cause was a huge amount of fentanyl in Floyd’s system: “Fentanyl at 11 ng / ml – that’s higher than a (a ) patient with chronic pain. If he was found dead alone at home and with no other apparent cause, it might be acceptable to call an OD (overdose). The deaths were certified with levels of 3. “Baker also told investigators that the autopsy did not reveal any physical evidence to suggest Floyd died of asphyxiation.
- Floyd’s Blood Toxicology Report also noted that “in deaths from fentanyl, blood levels are variable and have been reported as low as 3 ng / ml”. Floyd had almost four times the level of fentanyl considered potentially fatal.
- Floyd notably stated on several occasions that he could not breathe while sitting in the police car and even before he was immobilized on the ground. This is the level of fentanyl in her system which can cause “breathing to slow or stop”.
- Floyd’s lungs were two to three times the normal size and were filled with fluid. “Pulmonary edema is a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs” and it is symptomatic of an opioid overdose, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Finally, restraint using a police officer’s knee on an uncooperative suspect was part of officer training, and jurors will watch training videotapes using the same type of restraint as official policy.
What is interesting is that the prosecution uses experts as if they are arguing for the defense. It is usually the defense that leads a crowd of doctors to challenge the official autopsy results. Here, however, the findings of the state doctor contradict the prosecutor’s case.
Conversely, Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson looks more like the typical prosecutor, noting that there is only one official autopsy and one official report on the cause of death. He told the jury “Dr. Baker did not find any of the so-called telltale signs of suffocation. There was no evidence that Mr. Floyd’s airflow was restricted and he did not determine [it] be a death by positional or mechanical asphyxiation. “
Nelson can rely on other aspects of the official record. When Baker reviewed the findings at a meeting last December with the Minnesota attorney general’s office, he specifically noted that the knee brace was unlikely to cause asphyxiation: “[I]It appeared to Dr Baker that the pressure on the neck was coming from the back or the posterior lateral parts of the back, and none of these strictures would impact breathing or cause loss of consciousness, ”said a document summarizing the meeting. He noted a study which found that placing 200 pounds or more of weight on a healthy person had no “observable impact on breathing.”
Instead, Baker cited the drugs in the system as well as the 75-80% narrowing of the coronary arteries that “put him at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.” The minutes of the meeting indicate that “Dr. Baker offered that a possibility for Floyd’s path of death is that Floyd’s heart begins to fail due to stress, medication, enlarged heart and [heart] disease . . . He said once the heart starts to fail … one of the symptoms is the perception that you can’t breathe.
After the publication of these findings, Baker’s office had to be placed under police protection due to threats against him and his staff.
By focusing the jury on the autopsy report, and asking them to effectively reject the findings of the official report alone, prosecutors increase the chances of a suspended jury and even an acquittal. I have previously expressed reservations about the murder charges because the case is better suited to a manslaughter case. If a jury finds that prosecutors overcharged a case, it can lead to loss of credibility in the case. When you add an argument to reject the state’s own autopsy findings, you risk compounding that skepticism or mistrust of jury members.
Noah Green, a 25-year-old mentally ill millennial and black supremacist, was a devotee of the Nation of Islam.
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