As the prosecution wrapped up its case in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Monday, the court heard emotional testimony from the younger brother of George Floyd.
A cardiologist testified that George Floyd’s death was “absolutely preventable.” Another witness told the court that no reasonable officer would have used the force that was applied Floyd.
But as the prosecution wrapped up its case in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Monday, it was Floyd’s younger brother who provided the emotional testimony, breaking into tears as he described his older sibling’s relationship with their now-deceased mother.
“That’s my oldest brother George. I miss both of them,” Philonise Floyd told the Hennepin County District Court in downtown Minneapolis when shown a picture of his brother as a young boy with their smiling mother.
“He would always be upon our mom. He was a big Mama’s boy. I cried a lot. But George, he loved his mom.”
George Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pressed a knee on the back of his neck for around nine minutes as two other officers held him down. He had been detained outside a convenience store after being suspected of paying with a counterfeit bill.
Chauvin is on trial on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of the 46-year-old Black man.
Video captured by a bystander shows the handcuffed Floyd repeatedly saying he couldn’t breathe.
The outcome of the high-profile trial is being closely watched after the video prompted widespread outrage, setting off protests over race and police brutality across the U.S. and around the world.
Judge Peter Cahill told jurors that the trial could wrap up this week, with closing statements beginning April 19.
Playing video games
Philonise spoke about growing up poor in Houston: how they would play video games together; how his brother, who couldn’t cook, would still make the best banana mayonnaise sandwiches and syrup sandwiches.
George, he said, was a gifted athlete who tried to teach him how to catch a football not by throwing it directly to him, but away.
Philonise shed tears as he spoke about their mother’s death in 2018; how hurt his brother was that he didn’t get to see her in Houston before she died.
“It hurt him a lot. And when we went to the funeral … George just sat there at the casket. Over and over again, he would just say ‘Mama, Mama,’ over and over … And I didn’t know what to tell because I was in pain, too. We all were hurtin’ and he was just kissing her, and just kissing her. He didn’t want to leave the casket.”
In some of the videos of his arrest, Floyd can be heard calling out, “Mama!” repeatedly and saying, “Mama, I love you!” although it’s unclear who he was referring to, as court heard from Floyd’s girlfriend that that was a name he used for her as well.
Philonise was allowed to give testimony as a “spark of life witness,” a doctrine, in the state of Minnesota, which allows the prosecution to call on individuals who can speak in court to humanize the victim of a crime.
Defence begins Tuesday
The defence beings making its case on Tuesday, when Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson will try to prove that Floyd was, in fact, not a victim, at least not of his client.
Nelson will spend the next days trying to convince the jury that Chauvin’s actions were justified, that he did what his training taught him. And he will raise the possibility, as he has during cross-examination, that it was a combination of Floyd’s underlying medical conditions, drug use and adrenaline flowing through his system that ultimately killed him.
On Monday, however, two expert witnesses for the prosecution attempted to punch holes in those theories.
Dr. Jonathan Rich, a cardiology expert from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, echoed previous witnesses in saying Floyd died of low oxygen levels from the way he was held down by police.
Although Floyd suffered from narrowing of the arteries and hypertension, Rich said that was extremely common. Floyd also had a mildly thickened or mildly enlarged heart, he testified, which would be normal in someone with high blood pressure.
Indeed, Rich testified, Floyd had an exceptionally strong heart, and there was no evidence he suffered a heart attack on the day of his death.
“I can speak with a high degree of medical certainty that George Floyd did not die from a primary cardiac event and he did not die from a drug overdose,” he said.
“I believe that Mr. George Floyd’s death was absolutely preventable,” he said.
Had Floyd not be subjected to the initial prone restraint, while he was handcuffed, and pushed face first into the pavement, “I don’t think he would have died,” Rich said.
As well, when he complained he couldn’t breathe, putting him in a position where he could have started to expand his lungs again, “I think very likely would have also saved his life,” Rich said.
On cross-examination, Rich agreed with Nelson that Floyd would have survived if he had “simply gotten in the back seat of the squad car.”
But he added: “Had he not been restrained in the way in which he was, I think he would have survived that day. I think he would have gone home, or wherever he was going to go.”
Court also heard from use-of-force expert Seth Stoughton who said no reasonable officer would have believed Chauvin’s actions were “an appropriate, acceptable or reasonable use of force.”
He said it was unreasonable as well to think that Floyd might harm officers or escape after he had been handcuffed to the ground.