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Defense Calls Its First Witnesses In the Derek Chauvin Trial

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

After two weeks of witness testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, the prosecution rested its case this morning and turned the floor over to the defense.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE SCHLEICHER: Your Honor, the state of Minnesota rests.

PETER CAHILL: Thank you. Mr. Nelson, are you ready to proceed?

ERIC NELSON: I am, Your Honor.

CAHILL: Call your first witness.

A CHANG: NPR's Adrian Florido is in Minneapolis covering this trial and joins us now.

Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

A CHANG: OK, so I understand the prosecution did not call any more witnesses before resting its case today. Tell us, who did the defense call to the stand?

FLORIDO: Well, defense attorney Eric Nelson got through six witnesses today. The most important one was the last one. His name was Barry Brod. He was a use-of-force expert and a consultant, and he defended Derek Chauvin's use of his knee to pin George Floyd down during his arrest, contradicting most of the prosecution's experts, who said that Chauvin used excessive force. Here's Brod answering a question from Chauvin's attorney.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NELSON: Have you formed opinions in this particular case to a reasonable degree of professional certainty?

BARRY BROD: I have.

NELSON: Can you just briefly overview your opinions in this particular case?

BROD: I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd.

FLORIDO: Among the points that he argued were that Floyd continued resisting arrest even once he was under Chauvin's knee and that police officers, in his words, don't have to fight fair to get someone under control, that they can do whatever it takes.

A CHANG: How did the prosecution handle this witness on cross-examination?

FLORIDO: Well, it really spent a lot of time working to poke holes in this witness' testimony point by point. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher really spent a lot of time on the fact that Derek Chauvin kept his knee on George Floyd's neck for a long time, even after Floyd lost consciousness. And that's something that this witness kind of struggled to justify, so listen to this exchange between the prosecutor and the witness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCHLEICHER: He's not resisting. He's not talking. It's not possible, is it?

BROD: To do what?

SCHLEICHER: Resist.

BROD: I think it's definitely possible to resist.

SCHLEICHER: When you've passed out - he's not doing it here, is he?

BROD: Not when he's passed out, no.

FLORIDO: Overall, the prosecution seemed to do an effective job of countering what's expected to be one of the defense's key witnesses.

A CHANG: Yeah. Well, you said that the defense attorney called six witnesses today. Who else was there?

FLORIDO: Right. Well, he also called Shawanda Hill. She is a friend of George Floyd's who was in the car with him when police showed up and arrested him. She was not happy to be on the stand, but she did testify that Floyd had fallen asleep in the driver's seat when police showed up. This was testimony the defense is probably going to use to suggest that Floyd was overdosing as part of its broader argument that drugs were partly to blame for his death. But this same witness also testified that a few minutes earlier, Floyd had been cheerful, hugging people, even doing a little dance inside of the Cup Foods convenience store.

A CHANG: I understand that there was also testimony from another police officer.

FLORIDO: Yeah, from a couple, actually. Peter Chang was a parks police officer from Minneapolis who responded on the day Floyd died but didn't get involved in the arrest. He was brought in to bolster another argument the defense has been trying to make, which is that part of the reason Derek Chauvin did not get off of George Floyd's neck was because he felt threatened by the bystanders who gathered around him that evening to watch the arrest. So here's Nelson asking that police officer a question.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NELSON: And as Mr. Floyd and the officers were across the street, did you notice any changes in the area?

PETER CHANG: Yeah. As the - there was a crowd. And I guess the crowd was becoming more loud and aggressive, a lot of yelling across the street.

NELSON: Did that cause you any concern?

P CHANG: Concern for the officers' safety, yes.

FLORIDO: Other than this officer, Ailsa, there was also very limited testimony from an officer who arrested Floyd a year before he died. The defense had wanted to use this as evidence that Floyd had a tendency to resist arrest, but the judge didn't allow that.

A CHANG: That is NPR's Adrian Florido in Minneapolis.

Thank you, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.