FLOYD CASE TRIAL | International

Explained: Why won’t George Floyd’s friend testify?

Morries Hall invokes his Fifth Amendment constitutional right against self-incrimination on the thirteenth day of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's trial for second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. in this courtroom sketch.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

A friend of George Floyd who was with him the night he died won’t testify at the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged in his death, the judge overseeing the case ruled on Wednesday.

Derek Chauvin’s defense attorney wanted to call Morries Hall to testify in an effort to shift blame for the death to Floyd himself, for his use of illicit drugs and other health problems.

But Mr. Hall said on Wednesday he would refuse to answer any questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

“I’m fearful of criminal charges going forward,” he told the judge.

His attorney, Adrienne Cousins, said there was no way Mr. Hall could answer even a narrowly tailored set of questions without risking exposure to third-degree murder and drug charges.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill agreed. He said during earlier proceedings that he thought Mr. Hall might be able to answer limited questions about Floyd’s behaviour that night without incriminating himself. But he said he found Mr. Cousins’ arguments persuasive and quashed the subpoena.

Here’s a look at Mr. Hall’s significance in the case:

How was Mr. Hall tied to Floyd?

Just before the fatal confrontation on May 25, video and other evidence presented in Mr. Chauvin’s case establishes that Mr. Hall was a passenger in an SUV parked outside Cup Foods with Floyd at the wheel.

After Floyd was removed from the SUV and handcuffed, officers questioned Mr. Hall and a woman who was also with them. The defense has said the officers weren’t able to fully question Mr. Hall at the scene because they were focused on arresting Floyd, but Mr. Hall did speak with investigators later.

What was the aim of the defense?

It’s common at murder trials for defense attorneys to offer alternative theories about how victims died, and attorney Eric Nelson clearly thought Mr. Hall could help them raise reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds.

Mr. Nelson mentioned Mr. Hall in his opening statement as someone who could provide testimony to show that illegal drugs and underlying health conditions caused Floyd’s death. Defense filings said Mr. Hall told investigators he suspected Floyd was under the influence of drugs that day because he suddenly fell asleep in the driver’s seat before officers approached.

What was the position of prosecutors on Mr. Hall testifying?

Prosecutors refused to grant Mr. Hall immunity from future charges, which effectively blocked the defense from calling a witness who presumably wouldn’t have helped their case. And they questioned the value of Mr. Hall testifying if he was going to invoke his right against self-incrimination to every substantive question.

What prosecutors didn’t want was the defense asking Mr. Hall whether he gave Floyd drugs.

“The state doesn’t want Mr. Hall up on the stand with the defense having a field day asking questions he won’t answer, and jurors assuming he is not answering because the answer is yes,” said Mike Brandt, a Minnesota defense attorney who has been closely following the trial.

What did Mr. Hall’s lawyer say?

Mr. Cousins told Judge Cahill that Mr. Hall couldn’t answer any of the defense’s proposed questions because he couldn’t afford to place himself in the SUV that night and risk exposing himself to “constructive possession charges.” She pointed out that the vehicle was searched twice and that drugs were recovered both times.

The state also could potentially charge him with third-degree murder under a provision that applies for drug overdoses, she said.

“Let’s say Mr. Chauvin is then acquitted. He (Mr. Hall) has now given the state, on a silver platter, testimony to use against him in a third-degree murder charge,” Mr. Cousins said.

Was Mr. Hall’s testimony that important?

Probably not. The jurors already knew Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died and that he had a history of drug use. But Mr. Nelson has rarely passed up chances to remind them.

Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, testified that she and Floyd struggled with addiction. She said she didn’t like Mr. Hall and that she believed he had provided drugs to Floyd in the past.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 2:17:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/explained-why-wont-george-floyds-friend-testify/article34322462.ece

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