Chauvin trial: Defense rests without calling him to the stand

Crystal Hill
·Reporter
·6-min read

The defense rested its case Thursday in the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, after questioning seven witnesses over two days and deciding not to call Chauvin to the stand.

Aided by his attorney, Eric Nelson, Chauvin invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and opted against testifying in his case. His testimony would have opened him up to questioning from the prosecution. But choosing to remain silent is not an indication of guilt, Nelson said.

“We've had this conversation repeatedly, correct?” Nelson asked.

“Correct,” Chauvin said.

“Have you made a decision today, whether you intend to testify or whether you intend to invoke your Fifth Amendment privilege?”

“I will invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege today,” Chauvin said.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill stressed to Chauvin that whether he chose to testify was ultimately his decision.

"Is this your decision not to testify?" Cahill asked.

"It is, your honor," Chauvin said.

Chauvin is accused of murdering George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after Chauvin kneeled on his neck for about nine minutes.

Derek Chauvin speaks to the judge as his lawyer, Eric Nelson, looks on, during his trial on April 15. (Court TV via Reuters Video)
Derek Chauvin speaks to the judge on Thursday as his lawyer, Eric Nelson, looks on. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

After Nelson rested his case, the state proceeded with testimony from Dr. Martin Tobin, a physician who specializes in pulmonology and critical care medicine. Tobin testified April 8 about the impact that Chauvin’s restraint on Floyd had on his breathing. The state called him back to comment on testimony from a defense medical expert on Wednesday that carbon monoxide may have played a role in Floyd’s death.

Wednesday’s expert, Dr. David Fowler, a retired forensic pathologist and former Maryland chief medical examiner, told Nelson that Floyd’s “exposure to vehicle exhausts” from when he was pinned down by Chauvin and two other (now former) Minneapolis police officers during his arrest outside the Cup Foods convenience store, potentially led to “carbon monoxide poisoning, or at least an effect from increased carbon monoxide in his bloodstream.”

Nelson’s case ended after just two days of testimony from witnesses who testified about Chauvin’s use of force and Floyd’s arrest in May 2019. In contrast, the state called more than three dozen witnesses over about two weeks. Closing arguments from both sides are expected to happen on Monday.

Here are three key moments from the defense’s case:

Use-of-force expert: Chauvin’s restraint on Floyd was reasonable

Barry Brodd, a use-of-force expert, testified Tuesday that, based on his review of video footage and the department’s policies, he believed Chauvin had acted in a reasonable manner when pinning Floyd to the pavement with his knee.

“I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd,” Brodd said.

Brodd’s assessment was in stark contrast to those of multiple state witnesses, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and use-of-force expert Seth Stoughton, who testified that Chauvin’s actions were contrary to department policy and were not appropriate.

Barry Vance Brodd testifies. (Court TV via Reuters Video)
Use-of-force expert Barry Brodd testifies. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

“That level of force to a person handcuffed behind their back ... that in no way, shape or form is anything that’s by policy,” Arradondo testified on April 5.

Brodd told the jury that Floyd’s resistance continued when officers pinned him to the ground, thus justifying their decision to remain on him as he cried out that he could not breathe.

“I certainly don’t have medical degrees,” Brodd said, “but I was always trained and feel it’s a reasonable assumption that if somebody says, ‘I’m choking, I’m choking’ — well, you’re not choking because you can breathe. If somebody is saying they can’t breathe, [and] it appears to me [that] they’re taking full breaths and they’re shouting — to me, the layperson, they can breathe.”

Jurors hear about Floyd’s 2019 arrest

Nelson’s first witness was Scott Creighton, a now retired Minneapolis police officer, who pulled over a vehicle on May 6, 2019, in which Floyd was a passenger. Creighton said he conducted the traffic stop around 5 p.m. and gave commands to a person in the passenger seat, who was later identified in body camera footage as Floyd.

Creighton testified that Floyd was “noncompliant to my commands. I then had to physically reach in because I wanted to see his hands. ... I couldn’t see his hands,” he said. He removed Floyd from the vehicle and handcuffed him.

George Floyd is shown in this 2019 body camera footage of a prior stop by police as part of the evidence in the Derek Chauvin Trial presented on April 13. (Court TV via Reuters Video)
George Floyd is shown in 2019 body camera footage of a prior stop by police, presented on April 13 as evidence in Derek Chauvin's trial. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

“In my mind his behavior was very nervous, anxious,” Creighton said.

Nelson introduced into evidence Creighton’s body camera footage of the encounter. The footage shows Creighton approaching the passenger’s side, telling Floyd to undo his seatbelt and to keep his hands where he can see them.

“Please don’t shoot me,” Floyd is heard saying in response.

“I don’t plan on shooting you,” Creighton replies. “Relax, just undo your seatbelt.”

Floyd’s hands are raised, but he does not put them on the dashboard when Creighton asks him to. Creighton then begins to yell at Floyd. “Put your hands on the dash, [this is] the last time I’m going to tell you,” Creighton says, appearing to draw his gun.

Prosecuting attorney Erin Eldridge asked Creighton whether he had his gun drawn as he approached Floyd.

Retired Minneapolis Police Officer Scott Creighton. (Court TV via Reuters Video)
Retired Minneapolis Police Officer Scott Creighton. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

“Yes,” Creighton said.

“And when you approached Mr. Floyd, he said, ‘Don’t shoot me, man. I don’t want to get shot.’ Right?” Eldridge asked.

“Right. Something like that.”

Chauvin’s defense has argued that the prior arrest — which prosecutors sought to have excluded from the record — is relevant because, as with the arrest on May 25, 2020, that led to Floyd’s death, drugs were found in the car.

Medical expert says he’d rule Floyd’s death as ‘undetermined’ instead of as a ‘homicide’

Fowler, the retired forensic pathologist who reviewed Floyd’s medical records, autopsy and death certificate, was asked by Nelson about his opinion on the cause and manner of Floyd’s death.

“Mr. Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia [the stopping of the heart] due to hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease during the restraint,” Fowler said.

Nelson then asked Fowler whether there were any “contributing causes” in Floyd’s death.

Dr. David Richard Fowler testifies. (Court TV via Reuters Video)
Dr. David Fowler testifies. (Court TV via Reuters Video)

“Yes,” Fowler said. “The substances — the fentanyl and the methamphetamine. The potential of a carbon monoxide role. And the potential of the paraganglioma was adding adrenaline to this whole mixture — making things even worse.”

Fowler said that due to all the factors at play during the incident — the “drug intoxication,” natural disease and the restraint on Floyd — he would label the cause of death “undetermined,” which means that “the information pointing to one manner of death is no more compelling than one or more other competing manners of death.” Fowler’s conclusion was not shared by Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker or the medical examiners who conducted a separate autopsy for Floyd’s family. They all ruled Floyd’s death a homicide.

Fowler’s testimony Wednesday was consistent with the arguments Nelson has made throughout the trial, through his questions and his March 29 opening statement — that Floyd’s death was a result of multiple factors, not just Chauvin’s use of force.

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