Chauvin trial: No testimony from ex-officer; closing arguments begin Monday

Two men sit in a courtroom.
Former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin (right) speaks during his trial in the killing of George Floyd on Thursday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

MPR News is streaming live coverage of the trial. Some images or material discussed during the trial will be disturbing to many viewers. Watch the morning court proceedings here. A brief discussion on jury instructions was held in the afternoon. Watch that here. The court is in recess until Monday around 9 a..m.

3 things to know:

  • Closing arguments to begin Monday

  • Derek Chauvin did not testify in his defense, invoking his right to remain silent

  • A retired Maryland medical examiner testified that George Floyd died of cardiac arrhythmia but that the manner of death was “undetermined”


Updated: 2:57 p.m.

Testimony has wrapped in former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's murder trial, with closing arguments in the case set to begin Monday. Both the state and the defense rested on Thursday, the latter without testimony from Chauvin, who has been charged with murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd.

Before jurors entered the courtroom, Nelson asked Chauvin if he understood his constitutional right to not testify. He also asked Chauvin if he understood that if he did decide to testify that the prosecutors would have “broad latitude” in the questions they could ask him. Chauvin said he understood.

“I have advised you, and we have gone back and forth on the matter,” said Nelson, adding that he and Chauvin had a lengthy discussion Wednesday night. “That would be kind of an understatement right?”

“Yes, it is,” said Chauvin.

Nelson asked Chauvin if he’d made a decision.

“I will invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege today," Chauvin responded.

It was the first time Chauvin could be heard speaking at his own trial since it began five weeks ago with jury selection.

All this time, whether Chauvin would take the stand was an open question that loomed over the trial. If he had decided to testify, it would be to help present him in a more human light, perhaps by him expressing remorse. Much of what jurors have seen of Chauvin is a man sitting quietly, without emotion, behind a mask in the courtroom — or video footage of him kneeling on Floyd.

But there were considerable risks to testifying. Prosecutors would have pressed Chauvin to know what was going through his mind during those 9 1/2 minutes that he knelt on Floyd. They also would have walked him, and jurors, through damaging evidence about police training and policies once again.

Rebuttal from a key witness

After the defense formally rested, the state brought back one of its star medical witnesses, lung specialist Dr. Martin Tobin, for additional testimony to rebut the findings of a defense witness, Dr. David Fowler, who took the stand Wednesday. 

Fowler, a retired Maryland medical examiner, said possible carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust of a police squad car could have factored into Floyd's death. Tobin said he disagreed with Fowler's assertion that the level of carbon monoxide in Floyd's blood could have been between 10 and 18 percent. Tobin pointed to data showing that the oxygen in Floyd's blood was measured at the hospital at 98 percent. Tobin said that means the carbon monoxide level could not be more than 2 percent. 

This week Nelson called witnesses to plant seeds of reasonable doubt over whether Chauvin’s actions killed Floyd, while challenging previous findings about what caused Floyd to die.

Fowler testified that Floyd died of cardiac arrhythmia during the police restraint, but that methamphetamine and fentanyl, heart disease tumors, adrenaline and carbon monoxide exposure from a police squad car all played into his death.

"They contributed to Mr. Floyd having a sudden cardiac arrest, in my opinion,” he said.

Fowler’s testimony is in contrast with several medical experts called by the prosecution who testified that the restraint of Floyd by police officers caused low oxygen levels that ultimately killed him. Fowler said he didn’t believe Floyd died of asphyxia and concluded that his manner of death is "undetermined," countering the Hennepin County medical examiner's ruling that it was a homicide.

“The manner is not clear,” Fowler said.

During what was at times a tense cross-examination by prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, Fowler agreed there was a period when Floyd might have been revived by prompt medical attention.

“Are you suggesting that though Mr. Floyd may have been in cardiac arrest, there was a time when he may have been revived because he wasn't dead yet?" Blackwell asked.

"Immediate medical attention for a person whose gone into cardiac arrest may well reverse that process, yes," said Fowler.

When asked by Blackwell if Floyd should have received immediate medical attention, Fowler responded, "As a physician, I would agree."

Blackwell also got Fowler to admit there were no data or tests that showed Floyd was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning — a notion that emerged Thursday for the first time during the trial.

He pointed to Floyd’s enlarged heart, narrowed coronary artery and drug use and said his struggle with police led to an adrenaline rush and a "fight-or-flight" response which speeds up the heart.

Though the jury in this case won't hear about it, Fowler could be viewed as controversial because he's facing a lawsuit by the family of Anton Black, an African American 19-year-old who was killed in a similar police encounter in Maryland in 2018. Fowler classified his death as an accident.

Bystander video of the police encounter with Floyd showed Chauvin with his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the man lay handcuffed and facedown on the pavement in police custody, pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd was arrested after allegedly trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

Chauvin, who was fired from the force, faces murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd’s killing.

Request for acquittal denied

Earlier Wednesday, Nelson asked for a judgment of acquittal, arguing the state has failed to submit sufficient evidence that Chauvin’s use of force in restraining Floyd led to his death. He argued that the state provided six different opinions about Chauvin’s use of force, and that they contradict one another.

Cahill, after hearing from Nelson and prosecutor Steve Schleicher, denied the routine request.

Nelson said Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker's testimony declared Floyd's death a homicide for medical purposes but that Baker also suggested that Floyd's heart couldn't handle the circumstances. The state has introduced doubt, Nelson argued.

Schleicher responded by saying that totality of evidence prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin was responsible for Floyd's death.

In denying the defense's request, Cahill said that even when there are inconsistencies, the jury is free to believe some and not others.

In a separate matter, a man who was in the car with Floyd at the time of his arrest will not testify for the defense after the man invoked his constitutional right protecting him against self-incrimination. Cahill ruled to quash the subpoena.

Nelson will not be able to call Morries Hall to the stand to talk about his interactions with Floyd the day he died and whether he seemed sleepy. His attorney Adrienne Cousins said Hall could be linked to the drugs that investigators found in the car, which could incriminate him well after this case is over.

A toxicology test turned up fentanyl in Floyd's blood. Floyd's girlfriend Courteney Ross testified earlier in the trial that Hall had provided drugs to Floyd in the past.

In Minnesota there have been a few high-profile cases over the past five years involving people charged with third-degree murder for selling drugs to people who overdose and die.


Trial basics

Two men sit behind a desk.
Ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (right), charged in the killing of George Floyd, right, and his defense attorney Eric Nelson take notes on Thursday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

Who’s who: A look at the key players in the trial.

Need to know: Key questions about the trial, answered.

What we know about the jurors: The 12 jurors and two alternates picked to review the case include a chemist, a youth volunteer, a cardiac nurse and an IT professional.

Chauvin's lawyer is outnumbered, but has help: No fewer than four attorneys have appeared for the prosecution so far, compared to a single attorney to defend Derek Chauvin.

Legion of Chauvin prosecutors, each with own role: Viewers may be struck by the array of prosecutors taking turns presenting their case. The choice of who does what is no accident.

MPR News on its coverage: Nancy Lebens, the newsroom’s deputy managing editor, answered audience questions about our reporting plans.


George Floyd and his legacy

People stand arm in arm and pray in front of a large building.
George Floyd's brother Terrence Floyd (second from left) Rachel Noerdlinger (left), attorney Ben Crump and the Rev. Al Sharpton (right) pray during a press conference outside of the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Remembering George Floyd, the man: Before he became a symbol in the fight for racial justice, friends say George Floyd was a “gentle giant” who sought a fresh start.

Making George Floyd Square: Here’s how the site of George Floyd’s killing — 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis — is being reshaped.

Rescuing the plywood — and memorializing a movement: Two Black women are leading the effort to preserve the murals painted on storefront boards in the Twin Cities.

Calls for change: Here’s what some activists tell MPR News about their experiences with race in Minnesota, why they march and what they hope for the future.


Read more

Community organizer Jay Webb talks to kids at George Floyd Square
Community organizer Jay Webb talks to kids at George Floyd Square during the People's Power Love Fest on Sunday in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News

Will ex-officer on trial for Floyd death testify? Testifying may be Derek Chauvin's only hope of rebutting video at the heart of prosecutors' case that shows Chauvin pinning George Floyd for about 9 1/2 minutes. But doing so would also open Chauvin to potentially devastating cross-examination by prosecutors. (The Associated Press)

What the Chauvin trial feels like for the neighbors keeping vigil in George Floyd Square: People in the community talk about Black liberation, “vulturistic” visitors and why there’s not a TV showing the trial. (Sahan Journal)

How the Spokesman-Recorder is covering the Chauvin trial from the Black perspective: '[Other media are] looking at it as news, and we're looking at it as like, we deal with this daily.” (NPR)

Racism is making us sick. How can equity in medicine help us heal? Two doctors and a medical researcher talk about how racism affects their patients’ health — and how racism in medicine leads to inadequate medical education and poor care. (Sahan Journal)

NPR’s live blog: The latest from the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.


Questions about the Chauvin trial? Ask us

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