WASHINGTON - Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination Thursday and did not testify in his defense in the death last year of a Black man, George Floyd, whom Chauvin pinned down on a city street by pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
Chauvin, 45, is facing murder and manslaughter charges in the high-profile case that triggered worldwide protests against police abuse of minorities. He told trial Judge Peter Cahill he had extensively discussed whether to testify with his attorney, Eric Nelson, but decided on his own not to.
He accepted Cahill’s offer to read a standard legal instruction to the 12-member jury that it should not draw any implication from Chauvin’s decision not to testify.
The defense wrapped up its case Thursday shortly after Chauvin expressed his decision. It was the first time that Chauvin, who is white and was a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis police force before he was fired in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, had spoken at the three-week trial.
The jury will hear closing arguments Monday and then begin deliberations.
Chauvin’s decision to not testify was perhaps not surprising. If he had given his explanation of why he held down Floyd, 46, who was already handcuffed, he also would have subjected himself to a pointed cross-examination from prosecutors who could have asked him detailed questions about his actions last May 25 and reviewed videos of the incident.
In another development, Cahill rejected an attempt by prosecutors to introduce new evidence to show that the carbon monoxide level in Floyd’s blood was normal. Such evidence has been available for weeks but was not introduced earlier during the 11 days the prosecutors presented their case.
The prosecutors wanted to use the information to rebut testimony Wednesday from defense witness David Fowler, a pathologist and former Maryland chief medical examiner, who suggested carbon monoxide might have contributed to Floyd’s death since he was lying on the ground near the exhaust pipe of a police cruiser.
Cause of death
The cause of Floyd’s death is in question at the trial, with prosecutors claiming Chauvin violated his police training by pinning down Floyd and effectively killed him by blocking his air passage.
The defense contends Floyd died from a heart attack brought on by high blood pressure and underlying drug use, not from the way Chauvin arrested him on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
Cahill warned prosecutors he would declare a mistrial if a rebuttal witness they called for testimony Thursday “even mentions” the existence of any previously undisclosed tests showing that Floyd had a normal amount of carbon monoxide in his blood.
The witness, pulmonologist Martin Tobin, told the jury, without mentioning the specific tests in question, that he did not believe any carbon monoxide in Floyd’s body was as high as Fowler suggested was possible.
Fowler had testified that Floyd’s heart condition and drug use played a “significant” role in his death, as the defense continued to try to raise doubt about the prosecution’s claim that the policeman alone was responsible for Floyd’s death.
High blood pressure
Fowler told the jury that Floyd’s blood pressure was “out of control” when Chauvin restrained him.
A medical technician testified this week that Floyd had very high blood pressure of 216 over 160 during the incident that led to his death, which Fowler said was “much higher than I would expect.”
Fowler said traces of fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s blood system, as well as his possible “carbon monoxide poisoning” from the exhaust fumes of the police vehicle that Floyd was lying against, also could have contributed to his death.
Defense attorney Nelson has tried to undercut prosecution testimony and evidence that Chauvin asphyxiated Floyd by restricting the air passage in Floyd’s neck as he repeatedly gasped that he could not breathe.
Prosecution witnesses earlier in the trial said Chauvin violated his police training in the way he restrained Floyd and that he killed Floyd by pinning him down for more than nine minutes, continuing even after Floyd appeared to have stopped breathing.
Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter charges. If convicted, he could face years in prison. Three other former police officers who played various roles in detaining Floyd are awaiting trial in the case, but their charges could be dropped if Chauvin is acquitted.