Oct 17, 2023 - News

Trial begins for third Aurora officer charged in Elijah McClain's death, following mixed verdict in first trial

A person holds up a sign as people rally outside the Aurora Police Department Headquarters to demand justice for Elijah McClain on June 27, 2020 in Aurora. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Opening arguments began Tuesday in the trial of a third officer charged in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.

State of play: On trial is Aurora officer Nathan Woodyard — the first on the scene after a 911 caller reported a suspicious person — who put McClain in a neck hold that left him temporarily unconscious, according to the indictment.

  • Woodyard has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

Driving the news: It's the second of three trials related to McClain's killing and comes after jurors last week delivered a split verdict for the other two officers involved, finding one guilty on lesser charges and acquitting the other.

  • McClain's name became a rallying cry in 2020 racial justice protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder.

Details: The prosecution argues that Woodyard's use of force induced medical complications, including McClain "drowning in his own vomit," that made him vulnerable to fatally overdosing on ketamine. They also say Woodyard failed to follow training as McClain pleaded for help or to inform paramedics of his condition before they gave him the powerful sedative.

  • The defense claims the "only killer in this case is ketamine," adding that Woodyard applied the neck hold properly and "none of the actions he took" led to McClain's death.

What they're saying: "This trial is about the defendant and his teammates doing nothing to help Elijah McClain. This trial is about their continued callousness and indifference to Mr. McClain's suffering," assistant attorney general Ann Joyce told jurors Tuesday.

The other side: "There is one and only one undisputed cause of death in this case … and that is a lethal injection of ketamine that was a dose too high for Elijah McClain that stopped his heart within minutes," said Megan Downing, Woodyard's defense attorney.

The big picture: The neck hold, called a carotid control hold, is likely to play a central part in the case. The move, which cuts off blood flow to the brain, has been banned in states across the country following Floyd's death.

What's next: As the trial continues for likely a few weeks, another is gearing up. The final — and arguably most consequential — trial in the case against paramedics Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec is scheduled to begin in November.


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