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Derek Chauvin Trial

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36 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

he tries to wriggle out of the trap and says it depends on the case.

I think you are wildly exaggerating. The exchange was unremarkable. It's pretty normal not to answer yes or no to yes or no questions. "It depends" means "sometimes, yes". The wording just reflects how doctors typically think, and how a scientist thinks, where they want to emphasize context even when nobody asked. Nothing sinister or fishy. 


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Week two ended with the pathologists. First up was Dr. Lindsey Thomas, the now retired, former medical examiner for Hennepin County, Minnesota. She is a friend of Dr. Andrew Baker, the current medical examiner who conducted the autopsy of George Floyd.

Mr. Blackwell questioned Thomas for the prosecution team. He asked what the "mechanism of death" was in this case, and she replied "asphyxia or low oxygen." He then asked about parts of Floyd's death certificate that Baker had completed. She said that "cardiopulmonary arrest" simply means that the heart and lungs stopped; "complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression" means "the activities of officers resulted in Mr. Floyd's death"; and the phrase "other contributing conditions" refers to things present but "not directly contributing to cause of death."

Blackwell distributed packets of autopsy photos, but they weren't broadcasted over the live video feed. Thomas described them as images of Floyd's injuries to his face, shoulder and hands, which were consistent with video of him turning on the pavement and struggling with the handcuffs.

Thomas raised the concept of "physiological stress" which is something like the "fear for life" one might experience in near-death encounters. She said Floyd was experiencing that level of stress for several minutes. While the "primary mechanism" for death was asphyxia, she stated, the "secondary mechanism" was physiological stress caused by the police restraint. However, physiological stress cannot be seen on autopsy.

Mr. Nelson opened cross-examination by pointing out that Thomas hadn't reviewed all the witness interviews, nor had she seen relevant materials that were added to the case after preparing her report.

Nelson asked her to define, medically speaking, the term "complicating." She answered, "I guess it could be used in lots of different ways. The way I would think of it in this setting is both things were present. That there was a cardiopulmonary arrest and it was due to law enforcement subdual, restraint and compression." Nelson asked if she had been provided with Dr. Baker's opinion, and she hadn't. She acknowledged that she might have a different interpretation of the word than Dr. Baker.

The prosecution has been addressing studies that purport to show that the prone position is safe and not inherently dangerous. On redirect Mr. Blackwell mentioned a Canadian study that did not find a single death in cases where police put people in the prone position. Thomas admitted that she did not know how to interpret this study because pathologists in America do see these cases.

On recross Thomas agreed with Nelson that a body can continue breathing for a minute or two after the heart stops. A strange point, perhaps Nelson will develop it later, or maybe I'm missing something.

Finally Dr. Andrew Baker took the stand. A former president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, he is Hennepin County's chief medical examiner who performed the autopsy on George Floyd. He purposefully did not watch the viral video before the autopsy, because he did not want to bias his exam of Floyd.

Looking at the autopsy photos, Baker indicated no injuries to Floyd's back, several scrapes to his face and shoulder, marks on his hands from the handcuffs, and trauma to his knuckles.

Baker said that there was no damage to the heart muscle, but there were lesions in the coronary arteries, specifically two 75% blockages in the left side and one 90% in the right. No clots were found. Baker noted that if someone dies "very quickly from an acute coronary event" there would be no evidence of that in the heart. The heart muscle wouldn't look abnormal because it requires an extended cardiac event over hours before damage can be detected.

Baker found no evidence of "acute injury to the brain," no evidence of it "being deprived of blood or oxygen." I expected Blackwell to ask a follow-up here, but he quickly moved on to the lungs.

Baker said the lungs were "quite edematous," meaning they were congested, which could have been a result of IV fluid seeping into the lungs from the blood vessels.

Baker noted that Floyd's stomach contained "450 ml of dark-brown fluid with innumerable soft fragments of gray-white food particulate matter resembling bread." He did not see pill fragments. He did not request that the contents be tested.

Floyd had tested positive for covid several weeks before the incident, but Baker did not notice signs of it at the autopsy.

Baker identified the manner of death as "homicide," a word which he uses medically, not legally. It means "when actions of other people were involved in an individual's death."

Regarding the cause of death, Baker said it was "cardiopulmonary arrest," which is "fancy medical lingo for the heart and lungs stopped." Blackwell asked if "complicating" means "occurring in the setting of" and Baker answered yes. Blackwell then asked, "How did subdual, restraint and compression cause Mr. Floyd's death?" And here I quote Baker's response at length:

"In my opinion the physiology of what was going on with Mr. Floyd ... he had very severe underlying heart disease ... also had hypertensive heart disease, his heart weighed more than it should, so he has a heart that already needs more oxygen than a normal heart and is limited in ability to step up to provide more oxygen when there's demand because of the narrowing in his coronary arteries ... In my opinion the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions."

Blackwell then asked Baker why he didn't name fentanyl and meth as the cause of death. Baker explained that "cause is the most important thing that precipitated death ... Things that played a role in the death but didn't directly cause the death" are relegated to the "other significant conditions" section. "Mr. Floyd's use of fentanyl ... did not cause the subdual or neck restraint."

Nelson began cross by asking, "How do you define the word 'complicating' as you used it?" Baker explained that he used it like "complications." He said, "It means that an intervention occurred and there was an outcome that was untoward on the heels of that intervention." He compared what happened to someone starting a new medication for a heart condition and then having an allergic reaction.

Baker testified that when he puts other significant conditions on a death certificate it means he thinks they contributed to the death, they played some role. "You don't list trivial stuff that didn't play a role," he stressed. He agreed with Nelson that Floyd's heart disease, history of hypertension and the drugs in his system all played a role in his death.

Even though Baker avoided watching the viral video before conducting the autopsy, he did watch it immediately after the autopsy, and considered it for the death investigation.

Nelson used Baker to reiterate several points for the defense: a 75% coronary blockage is capable of causing death; the prone position is not inherently dangerous; the pressure to the back of the neck doesn't explain asphyxiation; drug combinations can be relevant; and people overdose from fentanyl levels similar to Floyd's.

Baker described Floyd's death as "a multi-factorial process."

Edited by MisterSwig
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