As prosecutors in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin began their case by playing for jurors the widely viewed bystander video, insisting that the 9 minute and 29-second recording was all they needed to see to decide the case, Chauvin’s defense team urged them to look beyond it to other issues, adopting a tactic that has been used in earlier police cases involving damning video evidence, reports the New York Times. Defense attorney Eric J. Nelson maintained that the case was about Floyd’s drug use, his resistance to police officers, his weakened heart, his size, and an increasingly agitated crowd that distracted Chauvin. Nelson further asserted that Floyd’s death was an overdose and not a police murder. The tactic was similar to that used in the case of Rodney King, who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers in 1991, and in the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer in 2014. In King’s case, the officers were acquitted, while the officer who shot McDonald was convicted of second-degree murder.
While the video of George Floyd’s death may be the most dramatic evidence in the trial, medical evidence and the scientific reasons for his death, will also likely play a central role. An autopsy report by Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner, classified Floyd’s death as a homicide, finding that his heart stopped because his body was deprived of oxygen following obstructed blood flow and that the physical restraint by Chauvin was a significant factor. Baker also found that Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system. Prosecutors said they would present seven additional medical experts to show that the cause of death was asphyxia and that asphyxiation is difficult to detect. The defense argued that Floyd had died of hypertension, heart disease, drug ingestion and “the adrenaline flowing through his body,” and sought to downplay the significance that many people had drawn from the video. There are more than 50,000 pieces of evidence, Nelson said, and the authorities interviewed more than 200 civilian witnesses for the case.
USA Today reports that Nelson’s defense strategy is being bankrolled by the Minneapolis Police and Peace Officers Association’s legal defense fund despite Chauvin being fired from the Minneapolis Police Department the day after Floyd’s May 25 death. With a dozen lawyers helping with the case, investigation and trial prep, the MPPOA is expecting to spend $1 million-plus on Chauvin’s case from the legal fund, which is paid into by officers throughout the state who belong to different unions.