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Defense witness: Cause of Floyd's death 'undetermined'

Dr. David Fowler, former Maryland chief medical examiner, said there were a number of possible factors that could have led to George Floyd's death.
Dr. David Fowler

A medical expert witness for the defense in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Department Officer said Wednesday he believes George Floyd’s cause of death is “undetermined.”

Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during a May 25 arrest, is charged with third- and second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd’s cause of death is expected to play a key role in the outcome of the trial.

The prosecution has repeatedly argued that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen, or asphyxia, caused by Chauvin’s restraint and the medical examiner who conducted his autopsy said he suffered cardiopulmonary arrest (heart stops functioning) due to "law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression."

The defense, however, has been arguing Floyd’s existing heart conditions and drug use were the primary cause of his death.

Dr. David Fowler, former Maryland chief medical examiner, said he believes Floyd suffered a “sudden cardiac arrhythmia.” Fowler cited Floyd’s heart conditions, stress caused by the restraint, drug use and carbon monoxide from vehicle exhaust as possible contributing factors.

“This is one of those cases where you have so many conflicting manners,” Fowler told Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson. “You put all of those together, it’s very difficult to say which is more accurate.”

Floyd did have an enlarged heart and narrowed arteries at the time of the incident. Two autopsies found that Floyd had methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system at the time of his death.

Nelson also pointed to a 2019 arrest, during which Floyd’s blood pressure was taken. Fowler said Floyd’s elevated blood pressure at the time could have been caused by Floyd’s heart conditions and his reaction to stress.

Fowler said carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the nearby squad car’s exhaust could have prevented Floyd from getting enough oxygen. Without having Floyd’s blood tested for carbon monoxide, there is no way to rule it out or confirm it as a cause of death, Fowler acknowledged.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell questioned Fowler about how he knew the squad car was even running, to which Fowler said he could see water on the pavement from the exhaust pipe.

Fowler acknowledged during questioning by the prosecution that the amount of methamphetamine found in Floyd’s system was relatively low, comparable to that of a patient who has been prescribed methamphetamine for treatment.

Blackwell questioned Fowler about the effect of having multiple officers place their weight on Floyd. Fowler acknowledged that if the weight exceeded 225 pounds, the restraint could have caused compressional or positional asphyxia.

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Blackwell also pushed Fowler on the effect that medical attention could have had in Floyd’s case. Chauvin’s knee remained on Floyd’s neck until shortly before Floyd was put on a stretcher and for three-and-a-half minutes after Floyd became unresponsive.

“Immediate medical attention for a person who’s gone into cardiac arrest may reverse that, yes,” Fowler said.

Early Wednesday, Floyd’s friend, Morries Hall, who was with Floyd the night of the arrest, said he intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination during questioning from the defense.

Hall’s attorney argued that he cannot answer the defense’s questions about whether he was with Floyd in the vehicle before his arrest outside of Cup Foods.

Two pills found in that vehicle contained fentanyl and methamphetamine, which Hall’s attorney argued could implicate him on potential third-degree murder charges. Floyd’s girlfriend testified earlier this month that Hall had previously provided Floyd drugs.

Judge Peter Cahill ruled that Nelson will not be able to call Hall to the stand. 

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