Day 14 of Chauvin trial: the defense rests its case; closing arguments set for Monday

KARE 11 / YouTube Derek Chauvin invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to testify

It was a drama-filled day in court as the defense for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin rested its case after two days of testimony from seven witnesses.

The day began with Chauvin invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Chauvin removed his mask and for the record, said he understood that the choice not to testify was his alone. At one point, he appeared to smirk when defense attorney Eric Nelson asked if he understood his decision. Jurors were not in the courtroom during this time.

A bit of high-stakes drama ensued next when special prosecutor Jerry Blackwell attempted to submit new evidence to the court about the levels of carbon monoxide found in George Floyd’s blood during his autopsy.

The prosecution was attempting to counter the testimony of former Maryland Chief Medical Examiner Dr. David Fowler, a paid witness for the defense, who floated the idea that Floyd may have died due to exposure to carbon monoxide from a police car’s exhaust fumes as he lay on the ground pinned under Chauvin’s knee for over nine minutes.

Blackwell told the court that the new evidence came from Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker who saw Fowler’s testimony on Wednesday.

Dr. Baker performed the official autopsy on Floyd and sought out the prosecution to inform them of the record of carbon monoxide levels found in Floyd’s blood. The information was not included in the initial report given to the state.

Nelson argued that he just received the evidence Thursday morning and could not reach Fowler who was on a plane.

Judge Peter Cahill ruled against the prosecution and said the state was given “sufficient notice” about Fowler’s testimony back in February, so they had time to prepare evidence. He said the state’s late disclosure of evidence would unfairly prejudice the defense.

Cahill stopped short of saying the prosecution was acting in bad faith but did say he found the late disclosure of evidence “odd.” He criticized Dr. Baker for not including the evidence in the report and said Hennepin County may want to rethink its standard operating procedures.

The judge did allow the prosecution to bring back Dr. Martin Tobin as a rebuttal witness, but he gave Blackwell a stern warning that if Dr. Tobin uttered a word about the new evidence, it would result in a mistrial. “If he even hints that there are results that the jury has not heard about, it’s going to be a mistrial, pure and simple,” Cahill said.

The prosecution decided to walk the tightrope. After prepping Dr. Tobin, the Illinois pulmonologist took the stand as a rebuttal witness. By using data about Floyd’s oxygen levels that were already submitted into evidence, Dr. Tobin was able to point out that Floyd’s maximum exposure to carbon monoxide would have been 2%, which is in the healthy range.

The prosecution avoided a mistrial and was able to rebut Fowler’s testimony while having one of its strongest witnesses close out the week. The prosecution had already rested its case on Tuesday after 11 days of testimony from 38 witnesses.

Judge Cahill dismissed the jurors until Monday morning when the defense and prosecution will deliver their closing arguments. Jury deliberations will follow and the jurors will be sequestered. Judge Cahill instructed the jurors to “plan for long, hope for short.”

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