Chauvin declines to testify in his own defense in George Floyd trial; closing arguments Monday

Derek Chauvin, listening to his lawyer Thursday, before saying he would decline to testify in his own defense.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin opted not to take the stand Thursday in the last day of testimony during his murder trial.

Out of the jury’s presence, Chauvin spoke on the record for the first time during the trial, after being handed a microphone and answering his attorney’s questions while seated next to him. He confirmed he decided to exercise his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson asked him a series of questions designed to make sure he understood his right to testify or remain silent.

Nelson said they’ve discussed the topic multiple times. He asked Chauvin, “You understand that if you choose to exercise that right to remain silent, neither the state nor the court can comment on your silence as a sign or an indication of your guilt. Meaning they can’t say ‘He didn’t get up and defend himself’ — so equate your silence with guilt. You understand that?”

“Yes,” Chauvin said.

“You understand that if you did in fact testify, you would be subject to cross-examination by the state of Minnesota?” Nelson asked.

“Yes,” Chauvin said.

“You understand that if you were cross-examined by the state, we could not attempt to limit the scope of your testimony — the state would be given broad latitude to ask you questions?” Nelson said.

“Yes,” Chauvin said.

“We’ve had this conversation repeatedly, correct?”

“Correct.”

“Have you made a decision today whether you intend to testify or whether you intend to invoke your Fifth Amendment privilege?” Nelson asked.

“I will invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege today,” Chauvin said.

And with that, the trial resumed.

Prosecutors called back to the stand an Illinois doctor to rebut defense testimony on Thursday before resting its case.

New tests results not allowed

The prosecution wanted to present new evidence regarding the level of carbon monoxide in Floyd’s blood, but the judge would not allow it.

Before the jury arrived, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said he was notified by Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker that his office had lab test results for Floyd taken the day he died that would rebut defense testimony Wednesday.

Baker saw Maryland’s retired chief medical examiner David Fowler testify Wednesday about how Floyd’s carboxyhemoglobin — or hemoglobin that has carbon monoxide instead of the normal oxygen bound to it — could have increased 10-18% in seven minutes.

Blackwell said nobody requested Floyd’s carbon monoxide readings because they didn’t think they were relevant. They did, however, have information on the oxygen saturation of Floyd’s blood, which was 98%.

Fowler’s report, which was provided to the prosecution, noted Floyd’s blood should be tested.

“Apparently it was considered to be a ridiculous concept by the state of Minnesota and they didn’t think to test it,” Chauvin’s attorney said. Allowing the test results to be shown to the jury would be grounds for a mistrial, he argued.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ruled the state had sufficient notice that the defense would argue carbon monoxide in Floyd’s blood could have been a factor in his death, and wouldn’t allow Dr. Martin Tobin to testify on the lab results.

He ruled Tobin could testify on Floyd’s oxygen saturation levels, but warned, If he even hints that there are test results the jury hasn’t heard about, it’s gonna be a mistrial, pure and simple.”

He also allowed Tobin to rebut defense testimony regarding the hypopharynx — the bottom of the throat used for eating and breathing.

Fowler testified he wasn’t aware of any literature buttressing Tobin’s testimony that the hypopharynx was compressed by Chauvin’s knee when it was on the side of Floyd’s neck. Tobin had testified that if Chauvin put his full weight on the neck, within seconds Floyd’s oxygen level would drop, possibly causing a seizure or heart attack.

So jurors were brought in and Tobin returned to the stand — like the first time, with a canvas tote bag — and testified that he disagreed with Fowler. Because the arterial blood gas obtained from Floyd showed his hemoglobin was 98% saturated with oxygen, Tobin argued, the maximum amount of carboxyhemoglobin would be 2%, which is within the normal range.

Tobin also rebutted Fowler’s assertion that he could find no studies verifying Tobin’s testimony that the hypopharynx narrows with compression when a person is face down. Tobin said there’s extensive research showing that increasing pressure on the lungs increases pressure on the hypopharynx. Tobin said he cited several articles in his January report that both sides can see.

Then the defense and prosecution rested their cases.

Jurors off until Monday

Jurors were given a long weekend before they return Monday for closing arguments. Then they begin deliberations, during which they’ll be sequestered.

After the jury departed, Cahill said jury questions will be handled via Zoom, and jurors will each get a laptop computer with all the exhibits and videos so they don’t have to return to the courtroom to have them played.

Deena Winter is a freelance journalist who has covered state and local government in four states over the past three decades. This report originally appeared in the Minnesota Reformer.

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