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Derek Chauvin Trial Will Center on Cause of Death

The medical examiner classified the death as a homicide and said the cause was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression” — essentially, that the physical restraint of George Floyd was a significant factor.

Independent pathologists hired by Mr. Floyd’s family attributed his death to asphyxia. The prosecution said there were no physical findings of “traumatic asphyxia or strangulation” and seemed to be planning to argue that Mr. Chauvin’s neck restraint cut off the flow of blood, causing Mr. Floyd to have a heart attack.

But in their opening statement on Monday, prosecutors took a different tack, saying that they would make a case that Mr. Floyd died of asphyxia and would present evidence that asphyxiation was difficult for forensic pathologists to detect.

Jerry W. Blackwell, a lawyer for the prosecution, while giving the opening argument, seemed to suggest that the medical examiner’s finding was not especially significant: “All human beings die of cardiopulmonary arrest because the heart stops and the lung stops — it’s just another way of saying death,” he said.

In the opening statement by the defense, the lawyer Eric J. Nelson, countered by saying that Mr. Floyd had numerous medical issues including heart disease, an enlarged heart, and that his death was caused by multiple factors including “the adrenaline flowing through his body.”

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