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Fact-checking the claim that drugs or heart issues contributed to George Floyd’s death

The prosecution and the defense will use the same medical examiner’s report to argue two different causes of death for George Floyd.

The Derek Chauvin Trial in the killing of George Floyd last year has begun and both the defense and prosecution are presenting their main arguments.

The former Minneapolis police officer is facing charges of murder and manslaughter after George Floyd’s final moments underneath Chauvin’s knee were recorded and seen by millions of Americans. The footage sparked national protests and conversations across Minneapolis and the nation. Now, a jury is deciding whether Chauvin is responsible for Floyd’s death.

While the prosecution is hoping to make it clear that Chauvin is responsible for Floyd’s death, the defense is arguing other factors contributed.

THE QUESTION

Did drugs or heart issues contribute to George Floyd’s death?

THE ANSWER

We can’t verify whether drugs or heart issues contributed to Floyd’s death, but we can verify that three medical examiners ruled his death a homicide.

WHAT WE FOUND

Both the defense and prosecution are analyzing the autopsy produced by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.

The prosecution is arguing Floyd died of oxygen deficiency, also called asphyxia, caused by Chauvin holding his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

In prosecutors’ arguments, while referring to the graphic video of Floyd’s final moments, they point out you can “hear the body gasp as an involuntary reflex” and that at one point, “he’s heaving up the right shoulder so he can get room for his rib cage to expand to breathe.”

They point out that the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, who conducted the autopsy, issued a press release stating the cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” and the manner of death was “homicide.”

The prosecution also refers to a private autopsy from two other medical examiners commissioned by Floyd’s family who agreed with the county’s medical examiner. They both concluded the cause of Floyd’s death was asphyxia caused by neck and back compression. One added the manner of death: “homicide as seen in the scene video and confirmed at autopsy.” Their conclusions can be found on the third page of Exhibit A.

The defense, much like the prosecution, is pulling from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s autopsy. They point to a part of the autopsy that says fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Floyd’s system. 

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s handwritten notes on the first couple of pages of Exhibit A said, “if [Floyd was] found dead at home alone + no other apparent causes, this could be acceptable to call an [overdose].” However, the ME then added, “I am not saying this killed him.”

Chauvin’s defense is also pointing to heart conditions documented in Floyd’s autopsy, and is arguing the drugs “acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.”

They say a combination of drugs, hypertension, coronary disease and adrenaline triggered a cardiac arrhythmia.

Prosecutors worked to refute those claims in their opening statement. They’re arguing the video of Floyd’s death doesn’t appear to show a drug overdose and the autopsies show no heart injuries.

While George Floyd did have heart issues and drugs in his system, it’s unknown whether those factors contributed to his death. What we can verify is that autopsies, including the official one conducted by Hennepin County, showed Floyd was killed because Chauvin kept pressure on Floyd’s neck that prevented him from breathing, and the death was ruled a homicide. Now the jury will decide whether Chauvin is guilty of murder or manslaughter.