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Chauvin trial week 2: The evidence is overwhelming

Chris Banks

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In week two of the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, overwhelming evidence of his guilt continues to pile up.

Week one was dominated by intense and heart wrenching eyewitness testimony from bystanders who cried, yelled and pleaded with Chauvin to let George Floyd live. But they were held at bay by armed police officers and left to watch as former Minneapolis cop Chauvin squeezed the oxygen out of George Floyd’s body while he begged to breathe.

In week two, the prosecution moved into a different phase of its presentation. The focus shifted from neighborhood witnesses to what is referred to in the court system as “expert witnesses” — those who have professional expertise in an area relevant to the trial.

Legally, the prosecution is trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the amount of force used by Chauvin — savagely grinding a knee into Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds while face-down and handcuffed — was excessive and unreasonable. They are proving that that force was the cause of death. Damning video evidence highlighted in week one makes this obvious. However, Chauvin’s legal team’s racist efforts to sow seeds of doubt in at least one juror’s mind on either of these arguments has to be overcome to secure a conviction.

The courtroom struggle is playing out around the two critical areas of excessive force and cause of death.

The prosecution’s first set of expert witnesses — a days-long succession of police officers — were brought in to establish the first point: Chauvin’s use of force was excessive and outside procedure.

Testimony from a slew of Minneapolis police officers, including Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, was used by the prosecution to drive home the point that Chauvin was trained in department use-of-force policies and he violated them while literally crushing the air out of George Floyd. Chief Arradondo, eager to portray his beleaguered department in a good light, testified that Chauvin “absolutely” violated use-of-force policy, undercutting one major defense argument: Chauvin followed all protocols and thus did nothing wrong.

While boldly arguing that he “did exactly as he was trained to do,” — something that may have caused consternation inside the now globally reviled Minneapolis Police Department — Chauvin’s attorney is simultaneously arguing the exact opposite: that he may not have done as he was trained to do … but it still wasn’t his fault.

As witness after witness strengthened the prosecution’s claim of excessive force, Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, continued to lean into this contingency argument during cross examination, that policy violations (like asphyxiating Floyd with an improvised submission hold and then not rendering CPR before paramedics arrived) happened because he was distracted by about a dozen peaceful onlookers at the scene shouting at Chauvin to get off Floyd.

“Would one way to de-escalate the crowd who’s experiencing something shocking be to stop doing the thing that’s shocking them?” the prosecution asked Chief Arradondo. “Absolutely,” he responded.

Next, the prosecution brought key expert medical witnesses to the stand. They established that excessive use-of-force by Chauvin was the cause of death, not heart disease or an alleged drug overdose as theorized by Chauvin’s defense attorney.

Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist and critical-care physician from the Chicago area, testified that Floyd died from bodily pressure applied by Chauvin. “A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died,” Dr. Tobin said.

Dr. Bill Smock, the surgeon for the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department, testified that he saw no sign of an overdose, and Floyd died from “positional asphyxia,” a form of asphyxia that occurs when one’s position prevents them from breathing.

In at least two cross examinations, including of forensic toxicologist Daniel Isenshmid, Chauvin’s attorney teased what may become a significant part of his defense case later on: the pseudo-scientific concept of “excited delirium.” Excited delirium, is a catch-all diagnosis used primarily by law enforcement. It supposedly endows individuals under the influence of illicit substances with “superhuman strength” and makes them “impervious to pain.” The American Medical Association, the Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization do not recognize it, but U.S. law enforcement nationwide does. Cops routinely use it retroactively to explain the deaths of Black people in police custody.

The prosecution will likely wrap up its case soon. As the evidence mounts, it is all the more outrageous to think that a murder conviction in this case may still be considered an uphill battle, given how difficult it is to win cases against killer cops.

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