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Soon, Trial Resumes for Ex-Cop Charged in George Floyd's Death; Biden to Announce Initial Set of Executive Actions on Gun Control; CDC Warns U.K. Variant Now Dominant Strain in U.S. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 8, 2021 - 10:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: To be crucial testimony as the defense and the prosecution square off over what was the substantial cause of Floyd's death.


So let's begin this hour with Adrienne Broaddus. She joins us from Minneapolis. Good morning.

I suppose they're just waiting in the wings, literally, to see if he, the medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, will yet be called to the stand today or whether that will tomorrow. What are we expecting from that testimony?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Poppy, whether or not the medical examiner takes the stand today or tomorrow, he will be a key witness. And when he takes the stand, we know he is going to talk about the autopsy report and what he found and what he saw.

Keep in mind, days after George Floyd's life ended, the medical examiner's office here in Hennepin County released a statement. On that statement, the M.E. basically said George Floyd died from a heart attack. The manner was listed as homicide. At no point did the M.E. talk or mention or write anything about asphyxiation.

And we know the prosecution has been hammering the asphyxiation point, saying that Floyd's ability to breathe was cut offer when Chauvin's knee was on his neck. And we heard him pleading, saying multiple times that he could not breathe.

So we will see how prosecution lays out its theory and stitches together as fix asphyxiation when the M.E. never mentioned it.

If we go back to opening statements the first day, the prosecution said they will prove asphyxia was the cause of death and they also said they will show evidence to prove that asphyxiation is difficult to detect. Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Adrienne, open question still as to whether the man who was in the car with George Floyd, when he was initially confronted by police, will testify. His lawyers saying he does not want to, that it might incriminate him. The judge was considering this. Do we know what's going to happen and when? BROADDUS: Well, we're still waiting to hear what will happen. There was that hearing on Tuesday. And after the hearing, Judge Cahill, ordered the defense to write a list of questions to present for review. The judge wants to review those questions. The defense had until today to get those questions in.

But there is nothing on the schedule right now that calls for another hearing to take up that matter. It could happen today. But, yes, as you mentioned, Maurice Hall, he was in the SUV with Floyd, has said if he is called to testify, he will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights.

SCIUTTO: Now it's up to the judge. Adrienne Broaddus, thanks very much.

Joining us now to talk about all this, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates and CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Charles Ramsey. Good to have you both back.

Laura, you describe the prosecution case as almost being in three acts, right? The first act is to show what happened, which they've done, second, get to this question of excessive force, which they largely concluded at this point and then next being really the cause of death. I mean, in your view, how have they done in those first two acts and what is the hill to climb in this final act?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The prosecution's first two acts are very, very strong. They have had compelling emotional testimony from not only bystanders, they had the journey with the jurors here and the court of public opinion as well, of course, watching through the vantage point of so many people, including law enforcement officials who have essentially confirmed that what Chauvin did was not only not a reasonable use of force and only an excessive amount of force, but going towards criminal assault and the prolonged, unnecessary application of deadly force that was not proportional particularly because there is no resisting arrest at the point in time we're looking at.

And so, now, the challenge is to say, okay, now what actually caused the death? And, remember, this is where it gets a little mercury and whether the defense is going to try to muddy the waters significantly. They're going to suggest, and with the prosecution, that, look, cardiac arrest by virtue of our prior E.R. doctor testimony is not sin synonymous with a heart attack. It's about the sudden cessation of the heart.

Now, what actually caused that is going to be the key here. The defense will say it's underlying conditions, perhaps, drug overdose. The prosecution is going to have to be very focused in front of this jury that when they say the substantial causal factor, they mean the action of Derek Chauvin, not only kneeling but also the withholding of aid when there was a duty of care owed.

HARLOW: Charles Ramsey, this is the testimony that you have been saying all the way through your coverage with us in this trial is going to be the linchpin, is going to really be key. And I'm just wondering what you think the most important question is that the M.E. will have to answer. What would you ask, I suppose, if you were on the prosecution team?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I mean, manner and cause is going to come down to that. It always does in a homicide trial anyway.


So that's going to be very, very important.

As far as what I think the prosecution is going to have to do, if -- asphyxiation was not mentioned in the M.E.'s report, a lot of the focus on part of the defense is going to be on drugs. They're already doing it. That's -- that's nothing new. They're going to have to focus on issues like tolerance, for example. Fentanyl is a very powerful drug, 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It's caused a lot of overdose deaths officials time.

And so they're going to have to deal with that issue because that's going to be, I think, the point that the defense is going to really try to drive home, is that he had a lethal amount in his bloodstream or in his body and that's what actually caused the death. So they're going to have to really, really fight that.

Now, they may have a second medical examiner to come in to really, you know, take a second look at this as far as the asphyxiation part of it goes. But when you look at Chauvin's knee and where it, is it's not only the question of asphyxiation, he is also shutting off the blood flow to the brain depending on where his knee is actually located.

So there are a couple areas in which it could have caused the death to occur. And all that is going to be discussed today when the medical examiner testifies.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Laura, so many questions, but on that, the legal standard, as you described it, for cause of death is you just have to prove that the choking, the chokehold, the knee on the neck was a substantial cause. What is the legal definition of that as the jury is considering it? I mean, is there a percentage, more than 50 percent of it? How do they assess what is substantial?

COATES: They don't have that idea of a percentage base. The idea is whether it was a substantial causal factor. That's the sort of the language we have. And you raise some flexibility and nuance in that.

But ultimately speaking, they have to just show that it was one of the contributing factors here. Again, even if the autopsy revealed that George Floyd, say, had heart disease, this was not the direct causal -- why he died in that particular moment. And so even if there was an underlying commission that could have eventually led to this person's death, the jury is not to consider that as one of the substantial causal factors of why he died at that particular moment.

And, you know, what is interesting about this case is normally if you got a competing medical expert and a competing autopsy, it usually is the defense who wants to raise that, because the prosecution are often in sync with the medical examiners and they're building their case off of what they're saying.

Here, what is distinct here, is that the state in the opening statements mentioned there is the other medical examiners, other pathologists who would be called and referenced the Hennepin County medical examiner kind of in an aside. And so it's -- you're going to see how a prosecution team who normally is in tandem with not always lock step but in tandem with the medical examiner is going to be dismissive.

And I think their way they're going to do it is to say, look, when you said cardiac arrest, did you mean heart attack? Is there only one way for the heart to cease? Everybody essentially dies of cardiac arrest when the human heart stops. That's how human beings die. So what are the potential causes for that in that moment? That's the heart of the question for them, forgive the pun.

HARLOW: That's so interesting, Laura, because it's different than what you would normally see as you argue. But also, if you're sitting in the juror's position, which of the multiple medical examiners that are going to testify do you give most credence to?

It sounds like you're saying, Laura, there was another -- at least one other autopsy done.

COATES: There was. Remember the family also had some questions about the medical examiner's report. And there is a bit of a trust gap that is inherent. And we know that's part of the why George Floyd case has been so -- George Floyd's death and the Derek Chauvin trial has been so illustrative of other cases because of the trust gap between the members of communities across this country and police officers in the inability or reluctance to secure a convictions against now former officers involved in the death of a civilian.

And so this trust gap is played out when you see -- you sometimes will get an additional second opinion to say, well, what do you think it is? Because there's a tendency to believe that the medical examiner is going to extend a benefit of the doubt to officers the way we think juries do.

So, normally, you do have to address this very notion. But you're right, the jury is going to have to decide who is most credible among competing experts, not competing laymen, competing experts. That's why the prosecution can't take the route of saying, forget the medical examiner. They have to attack in a way that says, I understand what you said, now what did you mean?

HARLOW: Laura Coates, Charles Ramsey, so good to have you both. And, again, this trial resumes in moments. We'll take you live inside the courtroom as the first witness takes the stands.

Plus, just hours after yet another mass shooting in America, President Biden is set to announce a series of limited executive actions, including banning so-called ghost guns.


We'll take you live to the White House.

SCIUTTO: And a race against time in the coronavirus pandemic. Can the country realistically vaccinate enough Americans to curb a spike, current spike in new infections? Dr. FaucI's warnings just ahead.


SCIUTTO: This next story will sound sadly familiar.


At least five people are dead, a sixth person wounded following another mass shooting in York County, South Carolina. The victims include a doctor, well known in the community, his wife, and two children, their two grandchildren who were just five and nine years old. Police say the family was very prominent, very well known, and it's a close knit community.

HARLOW: Well, the doctor had been practicing in that area since 1981. Authorities say they found the suspect in a house near the crime and apparently the suspect lives nearby. We'll update with you more when we have it.

The news of this tragic, yet another mass shooting in America happening in South Carolina, and it comes just hours before President Biden is set to announce a slate of executive actions on gun control.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Jeremy Diamond joins us now from the White House. Jeremy, tell us how far he's going to go with these measures, how far can he go via executive action?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it was just a few weeks ago that President Biden vowed to take common sense steps to address gun violence in America after those back-to-back shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, and in Boulder, Colorado.

Today, we will see President Biden unveil the first of those steps with a trio of executive actions taking action, limited action to be sure to address some specific provisions as it relates to guns in America.

The first of those actions is going to be to try and tighten the restrictions around these so-called ghost guns, which can be fabricated at home using different components of weapons and then they don't have any serial numbers and they are not regulated as firearms.

A senior official yesterday told us that, you know, declined to provide specific details as to whether they will be regulated as firearms but merely that these efforts are aimed at trying to stop the proliferation of those weapons.

The second significant actions here is going to be efforts to tighten restrictions around these pistol braces, including the one that was used by the shooter in Boulder, Colorado, to essentially convert a pistol into something more akin to a short barrel rifle. So you will see those action there. You will also hear President Biden today nominate the new head of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau, and that will be David Chipman. He is a gun control advocate who served as a senior policy adviser to former Congresswoman Gabby Gifford's gun control advocacy group. Giffords was a congresswoman shot back in 2011 and has been a real leader in the gun control movement.

So she and other gun control advocates are really hailing these steps that President Biden is taking today. But to be clear, these are very limited actions. And the White House so far --

HARLOW: Jeremy Diamond, I apologize for interrupting, we have to get to the courtroom in Minneapolis where, once again, the murder trial of -- okay, never mind. This is what happens. It's about to begin. But, Jeremy, finish your thought.

DIAMOND: Just to say that the White House is really laying this out as the first of several steps that they intend to take on gun reform. Ultimately, they want to see Congress act here. But whether or not that happens, really is leaning towards the side of not happening, especially because Democrats so far not going away, doing away with the filibuster. And right now, they have such a slim majority in Congress that action is really going to be a very, very steep slope for anything to get done.

HARLOW: For sure.

SCIUTTO: Jeremy Diamond, thank you. And so you understand what's going on at home, there is a camera in the courtroom and there did look like there was movement there. They said they're going to call the next witness, the medical examiner, key testimony, but it does appear that is a few moments away, Poppy. The moment it comes, we're going to bring it to you.

HARLOW: You'll see it live right here. Jeremy, thanks so much.

As we wait for that, Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that new COVID-19 cases plateaued at what he thinks is a pretty disturbing level as the U.S. is primed for potentially another surge. This comes as the CDC reports the U.K. variant is now the dominant coronavirus strain across America.

I'm joined now by CNN Medical Analyst and former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. Good morning, Doctor.

Let's just get your reaction to what we heard from Dr. Fauci and the control room, if we have that sound, do we? We have it. Let's play it and then we can get your reaction.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The way we're looking at it now, it is almost a race between getting people vaccinated and this surge that seems to want to increase and do what is going on, for example, in Europe, where they're having some surges now that are really quite alarming. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: What is your reaction to this clearly a warning from Dr. Fauci?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I agree that it is a race. And I actually think that we're in the middle of a fourth surge right now. It is just that the surge looks different from previous surges because many of the most vulnerable, those who are older, for example, are already vaccinated.

So whereas before we would have seen a steeper rise in the number of cases followed by a steep rise in hospitalizations and deaths, this time that's blunted a lot because the most vulnerable are vaccinated. But at the same time, we are seeing a higher proportion of younger people who are getting ill and unfortunately getting hospitalized.


HARLOW: Dr. Wen, I do apologize, they're swearing in the first witness today in the Derek Chauvin murder trial. I have to get to that. Here you go.

JUDGE PETER CAHILL, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA: And, Doctor, if you would mind removing your mask for your testimony. And also to make sure the microphone is properly placed, we're going to have you state your full name, spelling each of your names.


CAHILL: Mr. Blackwell?


TOBIN: Good morning, Mr. Blackwell.

BLACKWELL: Would you tell us what is your current employment?

TOBIN: I'm a physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine.

BLACKWELL: And whereabouts?

TOBIN: In Chicago at Heinz V.A. Hospital and Loyola University Medical School.

BLACKWELL: And is Heinz V.A. Hospital a large facility?

TOBIN: It used to be the largest V.A. hospital in the country. I think it's now being superseded by one or two others.

BLACKWELL: And you specialize in pulmonology?

TOBIN: I specialize in pulmonology and in critical care medicine.

BLACKWELL: Would you tell the jury what pulmonology is?

TOBIN: Pulmonology is the study of the lungs. It deals with all diseases that affect the respiratory system, so the lungs, chest wall.

BLACKWELL: So what are the various elements, components of the respiratory system other than the lung and chest wall?

TOBIN: The respiratory systems begins at the nose and the mouth. it goes down through the back of the throat down through the wind pipe out through the bronchial tubes and then down at the bottom down to the alveoli air sacs. These are the small grape-like structures at the bottom where all the gas exchange takes place, where oxygen gets in and carbon dioxide is removed.

BLACKWELL: So this is system for getting oxygen into the body?

TOBIN: Correct. That is the prime purpose for to get oxygen in.

BLACKWELL: Now, at Heinz Hospital, do you work in intensive care unit?

TOBIN: Yes, I work in the medical intensive care unit.

BLACKWELL: And that's considered critical care?

TOBIN: Same as critical care. These words all have the same meaning.

BLACKWELL: Is critical care different from emergency medicine?

TOBIN: Yes, it's very different than emergency medicine. Emergency medicine is kind of the frontdoor of the hospital that is at a triage area where you separate out where people need to go, whereas the critical care is where you take the very, very sickest people.

BLACKWELL: What kind of patients do you see in the ICU?

TOBIN: In the ICU, probably more than half are patients requiring mechanical ventilation. So they're on a respirator to help them with breathing. Then another substantial number will not be on a respirator but their primary problems relates to their lungs. So that might make up 70 percent or so. And then the remaining patients will have drug overdoses, alcohol withdrawal, diabetic coma, sepsis, things like that.

BLACKWELL: Do you only see the patients in need of respiratory care?

TOBIN: No. Once they come into the ICU, they're our patients. I'm the primary care physician for everybody who comes into the ICU.

BLACKWELL: And how long you have been a physician, sir?

TOBIN: I've been a physician for three months short of 46 years, over 45 years.

BLACKWELL: And where did you go to school?

TOBIN: I went to medical school in Dublin, Ireland and I took my degree there.

BLACKWELL: Not that anybody noticed the accent but are from you Dublin?

TOBIN: No, I'm not from Dublin. I am from a small village called Freshford in County Kilkenny in rural Ireland.

BLACKWELL: What degrees do you hold?

TOBIN: I'm sorry?

BLACKWELL: What degrees?

TOBIN: The degree I hold is the M.B. degree, which is the Irish equivalent of the American M.D. And then subsequently I got an M.D. through research.

BLACKWELL: Are you currently licensed?

TOBIN: Yes, I am licensed in the state of Illinois. In the past, I was licensed in Ireland and in England and a number of U.S. states. But I let them all lapse because the only place I'm practicing is in Illinois.

BLACKWELL: Are you board certified?

TOBIN: Yes, I'm board certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine and critical care medicine.


BLACKWELL: So you still are actively caring for patients?

TOBIN: Yes, I was taking care of patients in the ICU last week and on Monday I go straight back into the ICU again.

BLACKWELL: How long you have held positions at Loyola University School of Medicine?

TOBIN: I've been at Loyola and Heinz for 32 years almost.

BLACKWELL: Before going to Loyola, were you practicing medicine somewhere else?

TOBIN: Yes. I spent seven years at the University of Texas at Houston.

BLACKWELL: Did you also set up a sleep clinic in Houston?

TOBIN: Yes, I did. And that would have been in the early '80s. So I set up one of the very first sleep labs in the United States for evaluating patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

BLACKWELL: So how do sleep disorders fit within your expertise?

TOBIN: Because this is related again to breathing. And the problems with sleep, particularly people who snore and the people who snore during the night time, they seclude (ph) their upper airway and they can totally stop breathing 500, 600 times a night. And during that time, the level of oxygen in their blood will go very low.

And the basic problem in sleep apnea is because the soft palate -- I mean, the roof of your mouth is your hard palate. And then just if you look in the mirror, it's that little piece that is hanging down at the back and that's your soft palate and uvula. And that jams in against the back of your throat and it gets secluded, 500 times a night in somebody who has sleep apnea.

BLACKWELL: And does that kind of research or science or medicine relate to your work in this case?

TOBIN: Yes, it's extremely pertinent to the case of Mr. Floyd because, obviously, in sleep apnea, the problem is that the back of the throat and, as we will see in Mr. Floyd, the extensive (ph) problem of where the obstruction is occurring is in the hypopharynx, which is, again, at the back of the throat. So it's very -- it has an awful lot of overlap to patients with sleep apnea.

BLACKWELL: We'll come back to that hypopharynx in a little bit. Are you also engaged in medical research?

TOBIN: I'm sorry?

BLACKWELL: Are you also engaged in medical research?

TOBIN: I'm -- yes. I've been doing medical research since the early '80s, since about 1981.

BLACKWELL: What kind of research have you been doing?

TOBIN: All of my research is related basically to breathing. So it is kind of looking at breathing in patients with lung disease, people who have lung disease who walk in the door to the clinic and also patient who are in the ICU and particularly patients who are requiring mechanical ventilation. But then I do a lot of research that has absolutely nothing to do with clinical medicine, just to know how people breathe.

BLACKWELL: Have you authored a textbook on the subject of ventilation?

TOBIN: Yes, I authored a large textbook on mechanical ventilation that is called The Principles and Practice of Mechanical Ventilation.

BLACKWELL: And so I'm showing the cover of your textbook here on the camera, is this the book you're referring to?

TOBIN: That is correct.

BLACKWELL: 1,500 pages?

TOBIN: Correct, 1,500 pages, yes.

BLACKWELL: Are you familiar with The Lancet, L-A-N-C-E-T, Medical Journal?

TOBIN: Yes, The Lancet is one of the top medical journals in the world.

BLACKWELL: And does The Lancet Medical Journal refer to this book as the bible on mechanical ventilation?

TOBIN: Yes, it has called it that.

BLACKWELL: Have you authored other books also?

TOBIN: Yes, I have.

BLACKWELL: Roughly how many?

TOBIN: I think I've published eight or nine other books.

BLACKWELL: And all related to respiration or respiratory failure?

TOBIN: Correct. They're all on different aspects of the lungs.

BLACKWELL: Have you published articles and abstracts also?

TOBIN: Yes, I have.

BLACKWELL: Approximately how many of those?

TOBIN: I lost count. But I think I published more than 750 probably, or something like that.

BLACKWELL: Have you published in the New England Journal of Medicine?

TOBIN: Yes, I've published several articles in the New England Journal of Medicine.

BLACKWELL: The Journal of the American Medical Association?

TOBIN: Yes, likewise.

BLACKWELL: Are those two of the most respected medical journals in the world?

TOBIN: They are for clinical work, yes.

BLACKWELL: And you also held editor positions at medical journals?

TOBIN: Yes. I was editor-in-chief of the journal called The American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine. So that's the premier journal in the world for all lung disease.


It's also the premier journal in the world for intensive care medicine. And it's the officially journal of the American.