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US: 'Spark of life': jury to hear from George Floyd's brother in quirk of Minnesota law

First responders' testimony offers somber picture of a lifeless George Floyd when medics arrived

  First responders' testimony offers somber picture of a lifeless George Floyd when medics arrived Paramedics' testimony on Thursday during the trial of Derek Chauvin painted a somber picture of an unresponsive George Floyd shortly after they arrived at the scene, where the former police officer was recorded kneeling on Floyd's neck last May.Their testimony provided jurors with a detailed and disturbing medical account of the events that transpired after Floyd's arrest as medics worked to resuscitate him. These recollections marked a shift in the trial that had thus far been dominated largely by emotional eyewitness testimony and gripping bystander video footage for the past three days.

By Jonathan Allen and Joseph Ax

a man standing next to a fence: FILE PHOTO: The trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin © Reuters/NICHOLAS PFOSI FILE PHOTO: The trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Before resting their case in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, prosecutors are planning to show the jury photographs of George Floyd as a younger man and question one of Floyd's brothers, who is expected to recall Floyd's close relationship with his mother.

The pictures and reminiscences are not intended to shed any light on the central question before the jury: whether Chauvin, who is white, committed a crime during his deadly arrest of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in handcuffs, when he knelt on Floyd's neck for some nine minutes. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter charges.

Derek Chauvin trial: A week of emotional and potentially devastating testimony surrounding George Floyd's death

  Derek Chauvin trial: A week of emotional and potentially devastating testimony surrounding George Floyd's death Pain, trauma and regret spilled out from a Minneapolis courtroom during a first week of critical testimony in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who knelt on the neck of George Floyd. © Pool Minneapolis Police Lt. Richard Zimmerman said Chauvin's actions after Floyd was handcuffed and in a prone position were "uncalled for" and "totally unnecessary." The week concluded with potentially devastating testimony from the police department's most senior officer, who called Chauvin's actions on the day of Floyd's death "totally unnecessary.

FILE PHOTO: Press conference ahead of opening statements in George Floyd murder trial in Minneapolis © Reuters/NICHOLAS PFOSI FILE PHOTO: Press conference ahead of opening statements in George Floyd murder trial in Minneapolis

Instead they are part of a limited type of evidence allowed in criminal trials in Minnesota meant to show that a crime victim was not a faceless person but was "imbued with the spark of life," as the Minnesota Supreme Court put it in a 1985 ruling.

Defense lawyers and some legal experts have long argued that there is good reason why Minnesota is unique among both U.S. states and the federal courts system in allowing testimony that has no bearing on whether a defendant is guilty. In most states, such accounts from a victim's loved ones are usually heard only after a conviction, during a sentencing hearing.

Minneapolis officers line up to reject Chauvin's actions

  Minneapolis officers line up to reject Chauvin's actions MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The parade of Minneapolis police officers rejecting a former officer’s actions in restraining George Floyd continued at his murder trial, including a use-of-force instructor who said officers were coached to “stay away from the neck when possible.” Lt. Johnny Mercil on Tuesday became the latest member of the Minneapolis force to take the stand as part of an effort by prosecutors to dismantle the argument that Derek Chauvin was doing what he was trained to do when he put his knee on George Floyd’s neck last May.

a man wearing sunglasses and a suit and tie: FILE PHOTO: Trial continues for Minneapolis officer accused in George Floyd killing © Reuters/NICHOLAS PFOSI FILE PHOTO: Trial continues for Minneapolis officer accused in George Floyd killing

"The 'spark of life' doctrine is controversial because it violates the foundational principle of relevance in evidence law," said Ted Sampsell-Jones, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota.

'RAW EMOTION'

In the 1985 case from which the doctrine and its memorable name are derived, a defendant convicted of killing a police officer said the prosecution unfairly prejudiced the jury against him by introducing evidence about the officer's life and family. The Minnesota Supreme Court, the state's top court, ruled that such evidence is allowed as long as it does not invoke undue sympathy or inflame the jury's passions.

"You don't want to go too far where the jury is just deciding things on raw emotion," said David Schultz, a University of Minnesota law professor.

Day 9 of Chauvin trial: Expert witness Tobin says Chauvin's knee cut off Floyd's air

  Day 9 of Chauvin trial: Expert witness Tobin says Chauvin's knee cut off Floyd's air Testimony from pulmonologist Martin Tobin dominated the ninth day of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin's trial, as the doctor provided jurors comment about George Floyd's ability to breathe while under restraint. During his time at the stand, Tobin refuted the impact fentanyl had on Floyd's breathing just before he lost consciousness, and pushed back against claims that preexisting health conditions caused his death. The defenseDuring his time at the stand, Tobin refuted the impact fentanyl had on Floyd's breathing just before he lost consciousness, and pushed back against claims that preexisting health conditions caused his death.

Schultz said he knows of no other state with a similar practice.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, presiding over Chauvin's trial, cautioned prosecutors that if Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, describes Floyd as a "gentle giant," for example, it could lead to his being grilled by Chauvin's lawyer.

"Mr. Floyd in this case is entitled to have the jury realize he was a human being, he was loved, he had a family," the judge said in a hearing before the jury was seated and began hearing testimony on March 29. "As soon as you start getting into propensity for violence or propensity for peacefulness, then we're getting into character evidence."

The judge has denied efforts by Chauvin's lawyers to admit evidence about Floyd's prior criminal convictions, including a violent robbery from 2007, saying they are irrelevant to the case. But Cahill said that could change if Chauvin's lawyers argue that fairness demands they should be allowed to cross examine character claims made by Floyd's brother.

Jurors have already heard from one person close to Floyd: Courteney Ross, who was Floyd's girlfriend, testified through tears about their romantic walks and his love for his daughters. Ross also said she and Floyd struggled with opioid addiction.

Key takeaways from 2nd week of Derek Chauvin trial in the death of George Floyd

  Key takeaways from 2nd week of Derek Chauvin trial in the death of George Floyd The second week of Derek Chauvin's high-profile trial wrapped up on Friday with testimony from the medical examiner who conducted George Floyd's autopsy. Officials said the former Minneapolis officer violated police policies in how he arrested and detained the 46-year-old Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

The county medical examiner ruled Floyd's death a homicide at the hands of police. The medical examiner also found fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd's blood. Chauvin's lawyers argue the cause of death may have been a drug overdose.

Matthew Frank, a prosecutor, assured the judge that Floyd's brother would limit his testimony to recalling Floyd's childhood in Texas, where he was a promising basketball player, as well as his aspirations and some of the struggles he faced in life.

Chuck Ramsay, a Minneapolis defense attorney who has seen "spark of life" evidence used against his clients, called the doctrine unfair.

"It is damning to the defense," Ramsay said. "The line between undue sympathy for the deceased and prosecutorial misconduct is a thin one."

Benjamin Crump, a civil rights lawyers representing the Floyd family, said he hopes testimony by Floyd's brother would show the victim as a "person who would light up a room with a smile."

"So often in these trials where the victim is a marginalized minority, nobody works to humanize that person," Crump said. "He was loved and that there was something taken from us, taken from society, taken from the world."

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in Minneapolis and Joey Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; Additional reporting by Makini Brice in Washington. Editing by Donna Bryson and Will Dunham)

Derek Chauvin takes the Fifth, testimony ends, closings next in trial of George Floyd's death .
When closing arguments are delivered Monday in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, jurors will have sat through the testimony of seven witnesses for the defense and 38 for the prosecution. But the jury did not hear from the former Minneapolis police officer.But the jury did not hear from the former Minneapolis police officer, who on Thursday removed his face covering to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

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