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George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Maryland's former chief medical examiner testified Wednesday that George Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia brought on by underlying heart disease and exacerbated by his previous drug use as well as possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

Why it matters: David Fowler's testimony for the defense at former officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial sought to counter the prosecution's expert witnesses who said that Floyd died due to loss or deprivation of oxygen caused by the neck restraint placed on him by the police, and not from his underlying health conditions or drug use.

  • Fowler said he would classify the manner of death as “undetermined,” rather than homicide as the county’s chief medical examiner previously ruled.

The big picture: Fowler and the defense dove into the medical minutiae of Floyd's heart condition, the effects of his drug use including fentanyl and methamphetamine, and for the first time mentioned carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust as a possible contributing factor in Floyd's death.

What he's saying: Fowler, a retired forensic pathologist, described Floyd's principal cause of death as "cardiac arrhythmia due to heart disease during restraint."

  • “Mr. Floyd's heart was enlarged,” Fowler said, explaining that such a condition requires a greater supply of oxygen and that heart size may be indicative of hypertension, which Floyd had.
  • Fowler also noted that Floyd's drug use put him at increased risk of a sudden heart rhythm problem and lowered his system's oxygen saturation.
  • "His face was facing towards the vehicle, towards the rear of the vehicle," Fowler said, noting that carbon monoxide could have been a contributing factor in Floyd's death by additionally decreasing oxygen saturation. He did note that Floyd's blood was never tested for carbon monoxide.
  • “The bottom line is, moving air in and out, and speaking and making noise is very good evidence that the airway was not closed,” Fowler said.

What's more: Fowler also attempted to throw doubt on the prosecution's argument that Floyd's death was caused by the police restraint he was held in.

  • "Fowler said the prone position alone does not affect a person’s ability to breathe — testimony that contradicts other witnesses who said the position Floyd was in was inherently dangerous," AP writes.

Go deeper

Chauvin defense calls first witnesses as prosecution rests case

Protesters demand justice for George Floyd on April 9. Photo: Christopher Mark Juhn/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's lawyers called their first witnesses on Tuesday, as the prosecution rested its case in a murder trial expected to hold closing arguments as early next week.

The state of play: The prosecution called dozens of witnesses in the trial's first 11 days to testify that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen due to police restraint, and not from the use of drugs or a pre-existing heart condition. On Tuesday morning, the defense sought to make a case for the latter.

Defense use-of-force expert says Chauvin's actions were "justified"

A use-of-force expert called by Derek Chavin's defense team on Tuesday said the former Minneapolis police officer was "justified" in his actions when he knelt on George Floyd's neck last May.

The big picture: The testimony of Barry Brodd, a former police officer, comes after witnesses called by the prosecution argued the opposite.

George Floyd associate invokes 5th Amendment, will not testify in Chauvin trial

The entrance of Cup Foods, the site of George Floyd's death, where people have laid flowers and signs. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Morries Hall, one of the passengers in George Floyd's car before his arrest, will not testify in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after being permitted to invoke his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Why it matters: The presiding judge denied the defense's subpoena of Hall, thwarting their hopes of shedding more light on Floyd's past drug use. Chauvin's lawyers have sought to argue that Floyd's opioid use may have contributed to heart failure and ultimately his death.