Legal analyst breaks down first day of defense testimony in Chauvin trial

Callan Gray
Updated: April 13, 2021 11:02 PM
Created: April 13, 2021 10:46 PM

The state rested its case in the Derek Chauvin trial on Tuesday. Defense attorney Eric Nelson called six witnesses to the stand.

Retired Minneapolis Police Officer Scott Creighton and retired paramedic Michelle Moseng, who both responded to a May 2019 arrest of Floyd, testified first.

Shawanda Hill, who was with George Floyd when police approached the SUV on May 25, 2020, also testified Tuesday morning, along with Minneapolis Park Police Officer Peter Chang, who responded to the scene on Memorial Day.

Minneapolis Police medical coordinator Nicole MacKenzie, who previously testified for the state, was also called to the stand.

"This morning was really a smattering of, it felt like, throw everything against the wall and see what sticks," said Rachel Moran, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas. "All of the people with tiny pieces of the defense case, suggesting that Mr. Floyd was hard to wake up and that the crowd was a little bit threatening. No bombshell testimony at the beginning of the day."

It was the first time the jury heard from Chang or Hill.

"It's really questionable whether [Chang's] testimony helped or hurt the defense because he did say 'Yes, as a fellow police officer I was concerned about the crowd,' on the other hand […] he testified he saw no need to do anything about it," Moran said. "[Hill] is another one where it's hard to figure out if her testimony is significant at all."

Hill described to jurors her attempts to wake up Floyd as officers approached. 

Defense takes over calling of witnesses in Chauvin trial, use-of-force expert justifies action used on George Floyd

"I suppose that could fit in the defense theory that he was using drugs and that fentanyl would've caused him to be sleepy and have his heart fail. On the other hand, Ms. Hill says Mr. Floyd was acting normally, that he did wake up, was coherent, he was not behaving violently he was simply afraid of the officers," Moran said.

The direct cause of George Floyd's death was not the focus on Tuesday, rather the actions of Floyd and whether Chauvin's use of force was reasonable. 

"When you're thinking about presenting your most effective case, you want to use the principal of primacy, start strong, start with something memorable, get the jury something to latch onto," Moran said. "Instead, they started with four or five witnesses who were a little bit disjointed and who just kind of touched on a few different things that didn't seem that significant, so that actually surprised me that they didn't start with a stronger set of witnesses."

The defense called the use of force expert Barry Brodd as its sixth witness. He was the first to testify Chauvin's actions "were following his training, following current practices and policing and were objectively reasonable." 

"I assumed they would have a use of force expert today to trot out and say this was reasonable," said Moran, who said she is aware of Brodd's testimony in other unrelated cases. "I don't know how the jury will perceive him […] He has justified other officers' use of force when juries found it was not reasonable."

Moran expects Nelson could wrap his case up on Wednesday or Thursday. On Friday, she said attention could turn to the jury instructions. 

"It's certainly going much more quickly in terms of the length of the witnesses," Moran said. "In terms of whether they have another expert or a medical expert that of course could slow down."

"I actually think [Nelson] is going to invest a lot of his strategy into the jury instructions. He has presented some jury instructions that are very different from the state and are quite controversial and I think he's pinning some hopes on there because the jury instructions are what tells the jury what the law is," Moran said.


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