On the first day of Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in Minneapolis, victim George Floyd’s cause of death became a source of contention.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell laid out his case against the former Minneapolis Police officer who was seen on video pinning his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, previously reported as 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd — an unarmed, Black 46-year-old who had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store — later died the night of May 25, 2000.
“He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath — no, ladies and gentlemen — until the very life was squeezed out of him,” Blackwell said.
In what appears to be a preemptive attack against the defense, Blackwell conceded that Floyd had suffered from an opioid addiction for “many years,” but did not die as a result of the drugs.
“You’re going to hear obviously that he struggled with drug addiction, that he had high blood pressure, they’ll talk about heart disease,” Blackwell said, adding, “What you’ll learn is that George Floyd lived for years, day in and day out, with all of these conditions until this one day.”
Blackwell’s point appears to reference the 11 ng/mL of fentanyl found in Floyd’s system, described by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office as a ”fatal level of fentanyl under normal circumstances.”
Blackwell continued to argue that Floyd developed a tolerance for opioids and that his death was not consistent with an opioid overdose.
In his opening statement, defense lawyer Eric Nelson did blame Floyd’s substance abuse on his death and said his heart issues were fatally exacerbated by his drug intake.
Nelson also claimed that a clerk at the grocery store believed Floyd “was under the influence of something.”
Nelson said a different clerk called the cops on Floyd and described him as “drunk.”
Nelson alleges that 20-30 minutes before police arrived on the scene, Floyd consumed what is believed to have been two Percocet pills before falling asleep in his car.
When Floyd was confronted by the police, Nelson alleges he "put drugs in his mouth" to conceal them.
With regard to his client’s actions, Nelson said Chauvin used a “necessary” amount of force detaining Floyd.
“You will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career,” Nelson said.
Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty to all of these counts.