A medical examiner who ruled out George Floyd's murder conviction testified on Friday that Floyd's heart disease and drug use contributed to his death, but police grabbing his body and neck compression were the main causes.
Dr. Andrew Baker, who has been the chief medical examiner in Hennepin County since 2004, said Floyd had a major heart condition and an enlarged heart that needed more oxygen than normal functioning, as well as narrowing of blood vessels.
Baker did not cite oxygen deficiency, or asphyxia, as the cause of Floyd's death. Baker said before examining the body, he knew Floyd fainted while in police custody and died at the hospital. He said he did not watch videos of Floyd's death, including a video of people watching it spread all over the place, until after the body was finished, so that he would not be biased when he found out.
Baker's findings contradicted those of other prosecution witnesses who had stated in their investigation that Floyd had died of asphyxia.
"In this case, I believe the main cause of death is asphyxia, or low oxygen," said Dr. Lindsey Thomas, who retired in 2017 at the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office in Minneapolis.
He said he came to that conclusion especially with a video showing Floyd struggling to breathe.
Forensic pathologist: Law enforcement actions caused the death of George Floyd
He testified on Friday that he coached B Baker and that they were friends. Thomas said he agreed with Baker that Floyd was killed by cardiopulmonary arrest - the end of the heart and lung function - which is complicated by the way the authorities held him down and pressed his neck.
The testimony of Thomas, a 37-year-old medical examiner who works temporarily as a medical doctor in Salt Lake City and Reno, Nevada, and other experts on Thursday, confirmed prosecutors' arguments that Chavin killed Floyd by kneeling at him for nine minutes, 29 seconds.
While Thomas and Baker were testifying, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell handed jurors photos of Floyd's autopsy. Photos not shown publicly.
Cauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, said Floyd could die from heart disease or fentanyl and methamphetamine found in his system.
Evidence from several medical experts this week provided the first opportunity to hear how Nelson could challenge that central defensive point.
He did so in part, on Friday, by filing a lawsuit against two medical examiners. He asked Thomas and Baker how they could have investigated the cause of Floyd's death if the only information they had was whether drugs had been detected in his system or if he had a heart condition, conditions that ignored the police barrier to Floyd and Cauvin's neck.
During cross-examination, B Baker agreed with Nelson's statement that Floyd's heart disease, narrowed blood vessels and drug use "contributed" to Floyd's death, but testified that those factors did not cause him to die directly.
"Mr Floyd's use of fentanyl did not cause any lower back or neck stiffness," Baker said. "Her heart disease did not cause any delay or neck pain."
Thomas testified that these items were not directly related to Floyd's death and that they were often included in death certificates "for the purpose of public health."
Under the guidance of prosecutor Blackwell, who asked Baker what he thought of Floyd's death, Baker confirmed his findings that Floyd's murder was a murder.
"My opinion remains unchanged," Baker said at the end of his testimony. "That's what I put in the death certificate in June last year. That's a complicated cardiopulmonary arrest, seizure and neck compression."
“That was my top line at the time,” he added. "It will always be my top line now."
Blackwell asked him if he considered any other contributing factors as direct causes of Floyd's death, and Baker said, "They are not the direct cause of Mr. Floyd's death, that is true. They have an impact."
In earlier evidence, some medical experts doubted Floyd's physical condition and his illicit drug use contributed to his death.
Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist and psychiatrist in Chicago, also dismissed the defendants' claims on Thursday that Floyd's drug use and his subsequent health conditions were killing him. Tobin said the lack of oxygen had led to brain damage and had caused Floyd's heart to stop.
Cauvin faces charges of second-degree homicide and one count of murder.
Police were called to Cup Foods, a convenience store, on May 25 after a cashier suspected Floyd had used $ 20 counterfeit to buy cigarettes. The video we saw of Floyd, who was Black, saying he could not breathe as viewers shouted at Cauvin, a white man, that he had come down to him and posted it on Facebook and was widely watched. International protests erupted.
For the first time, a chair designated by a member of the Cauvin family came in on Friday and was occupied by a woman, according to a reporter in the courtroom. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. Cauvin's wife filed for divorce shortly after Floyd's death.