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Medical experts, masks, social distancing: Week 2 of Derek Chauvin’s trial

Prosecutors called medical examiners to the stand as the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd, entered its second week. Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio reporter, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the testimonies -- and how this courtroom was different.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The second week of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — who is charged with murdering George Floyd — saw more medical experts take the stand for the prosecution.

    Minnesota Public Radio reporter Brandt Williams was in the courtroom and he joins us again this weekend from Minneapolis.

    Brandt, in these trials, it's normal for us to see paid expert testimony. This week, we saw a couple of big experts for the prosecution. Did any of their testimony stick? And in fact, one of those experts was not paid.

  • Brandt Williams:

    Right. You're talking about Dr. Martin Tobin, who's a pulmonologist who seemed to really get the attention of the jurors in the courtroom. He seemed very natural at explaining very difficult concepts and technical information and putting it into plain English, so to speak. And there were times during his testimony when he was giving jurors a little lesson on how breathing works in the body and actually physically touching his throat and showing jurors where certain parts of the body are located and how they help you breathe. And there were times when the jurors were actually, according to the pool reporters in the room, were actually following the doctor along.

    And at one point, defense attorney Eric Nelson kind of objected a bit. And there was a brief sidebar and the judge came back and instructed jurors, look, you don't have to do this. You can if you want to, but you're under no obligation to follow the doctor's directions.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    As you are in the courtroom, this is not like a normal trial where reporters have a particular routine that they follow, the type of information that you can grab from the jurors. Tell me a little bit about how this is different.

  • Brandt Williams:

    Sure, in many different ways. Obviously, a high profile trial like this, you'd have a full gallery of spectators. We don't have that this time. The jurors are sitting in an odd kind of configuration on that one side of the room and they are not within the camera view. So as a pool reporter, one of your duties is to help describe for people who are following the trial but are not in the courtroom to get a sense of how jurors are reacting to what they're hearing.

    So I was in the courtroom earlier this week, and the first thing I did was once the jurors came in the room was to create my own diagram and give them numbers and assign some of their basic demographic characteristics. So I could say, you know, juror number two is a white woman and she's doing this, she's doing that. So that's like the first thing we do is all the pool reporters really try to give the other reporters a sense of what's happening in the courtroom.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So how do you figure out, for example, if a juror is paying attention when they have a mask over their face?

  • Brandt Williams:

    Right. It is a bit difficult, but as you probably imagine, you have to pay close attention to what they're doing with their eyes. And as you mentioned, one of the jurors, it happens to be juror number two is very expressive. And she expresses herself with her eyes. She furrows or brows at times, sometimes narrows her gaze.

    There are certain times when I've seen other jurors as well, maybe as they start to lose a bit of focus at a particular part of testimony, their eyes might start to close a little bit and they'll start to look down. So there are a little ways that you can tell how jurors may be taking some of the information.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Brandt, what were your expectations going into the courthouse versus how it felt in there?

  • Brandt Williams:

    If you've covered trials before, reporters will know what I mean. There's a type of energy there, especially you may be sitting among a gallery and there, of course, family members of the person who, in a murder case, of the deceased and you'll have family members and supporters of the person accused of the murder sitting in a combined space. And there tends to be a hush when, say, the defendant walks into the courtroom and things start to quiet down and there are certain testimonies sometimes that gets people to react in the gallery. So that's missing in this case. So that's very different.

    And also, you get access to some of those family members in the courtroom. You can go talk to them during a break and go get their reaction to some things. We're not supposed to do that in this case. We were in different territory now.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And what are we expecting this coming week?

  • Brandt Williams:

    So the prosecution is starting to ramp down their case. We're expecting next week that maybe as early as Monday they may be even resting their case. They plan to call another medical witness. And we do expect there to be another, what's called a spark of life witness, somebody who's to basically talk about George Floyd as a human being, as a person who lived and had a life and his impact on his family. And so that we expect that to happen at the beginning of next week. And the defense could start their case as early as Tuesday.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Brandt Williams of MPR, thanks so much.

  • Brandt Williams:

    You're welcome.

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