Doctor who performed George Floyd autopsy stands by homicide conclusion
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[April 10, 2021]
By Jonathan Allen
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) -The medical examiner
who performed the autopsy on George Floyd after last May's deadly arrest
explained how he concluded the death was a homicide at the hands of
police in testimony on Friday at former Minneapolis policeman Derek
Chauvin's murder trial.
As jurors studied graphic autopsy photographs, Dr. Andrew Baker,
Hennepin County's chief medical examiner, said he stood by the cause of
death he determined last year as protests in Floyd's name against police
brutality spread around the world.
Baker is one of the most important witnesses as prosecutors from the
Minnesota attorney general's office wrap up their case against Chauvin,
a white man captured on video kneeling on the neck of Floyd, a
46-year-old handcuffed Black man, for nine minutes.
Chauvin's main defense to the murder and manslaughter charges has been
to cast doubt on Baker's finding, with his lawyers suggesting Floyd may
instead have been killed by a simultaneous drug overdose.
Baker ruled last year that Floyd's death was a homicide caused by
"cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint
and neck compression." In short, he found that Floyd's heart stopped
beating and his lungs stopped working because Chauvin, 45, and other
officers compressed him against the road in a way that starved his body
Other medical experts called by prosecutors have spent the past two days
pointing to the unusually large amount of video of the death, from
multiple angles, saying it shores up Baker's finding, and contradicts
the defense theory of an overdose.
Baker said he noted in his report that Floyd suffered from heart
disease, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his blood
because those factors may have played a role in the death. Even so, he
emphasized, they "were not direct causes."
"Mr. Floyd's use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or the neck
restraint, his heart disease did not cause the subdual or the neck
restraint," Baker told the jury, using medical jargon to refer to the
way police pressed Floyd face down against the street.
Envelopes containing the autopsy pictures were handed to everyone in the
room, including reporters and spectators.
For the first time since the trial began in March, a person took the
single seat reserved for Chauvin's friends and family. She paused before
opening the envelope and looking at the photographs, and declined to
speak to reporters who approached her during a recess.
One of Floyd's relatives has occupied the seat saved for his family
almost every day since the testimony began on March 26, and on Friday it
was Rodney Floyd, who held up the photos of his brother's body before
his face to study them.
Under cross examination by Chauvin's lead lawyer, Eric Nelson, Baker
discussed in general how the type of heart disease found in Floyd or his
use of fentanyl, an opioid painkiller, can sometimes be deadly.
[to top of second column]
The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on George Floyd after
last May's deadly arrest explained how he concluded the death was a
homicide in testimony on Friday at former Minneapolis policeman
Derek Chauvin's murder trial. This report produced by Chris Dignam.
But he said neither directly caused Floyd's death, which he said he
still believed was the holds and compression by the police officers
arresting Floyd on suspicion of his using a fake $20 bill to buy
"My opinion remains unchanged: it's what I put on the death
certificate last June," he said. "That was my top line then. It
would stay my top line now."
'LAYING BY THE POOL IN FLORIDA'
Dr. Lindsey Thomas, an assistant medical examiner in the Hennepin
County medical examiner's office until she took semi-retirement in
2017, said the sheer volume of videos of Floyd's arrest helped
support Baker's findings, and had a value beyond what can be learned
from a physical autopsy.
"There's never been a case I was involved in that had videos over
such a long time frame and from so many different perspectives,"
Thomas testified, saying the videos made it clear physical signs
associated with opioid overdose were not present in Floyd's death.
She said the videos did not show signs of a fentanyl overdose "where
someone becomes very sleepy and then just sort of gradually, calmly,
peacefully stops breathing." Nor did they show a sudden death, as
from a heart attack.
"There's no evidence to suggest he would have died that night except
for the interactions with law enforcement," she said.
Nelson, Chauvin's lawyer, got Thomas to agree that being prone was
not in itself sufficient to kill someone, noting that massage
therapists often have clients lie face down.
"I could be laying by the pool in Florida on my stomach in the prone
position – not inherently dangerous?" Nelson asked.
"Right," Thomas replied.
Nelson also asked her about hypothetical scenarios, with Floyd being
found dead in different circumstances in which police were not
Questioned later by Blackwell, the prosecutor, Thomas told the jury
that hypothetical scenarios were not helpful to a pathologist trying
to determine a cause of death.
"George Floyd was not laying by the pool on his stomach in Florida,
was he?" Blackwell asked her.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Will Dunham and Daniel
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