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A professional in the mixed martial arts (MMA) was cross-examined on the witness stand by Derek Chauvin’s defence lawyers on the second day of the former Minneapolis police officer’s trial for the murder of George Floyd, in an exchange one lawyer says was good for the prosecution.
Chauvin, who is white, has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin’s knee was on the neck of Floyd, who was Black, on May 25, the day Floyd died, sparking a nationwide protest movement against racism and police brutality.
Donald Williams, 33, the MMA practitioner who was present at the fatal arrest and called as an expert witness, faced questions over his training and conduct on the day, which was captured on a widely-seen video.
Williams’s testimony on the first day of Chauvin’s trial painted a picture of the former police officer showing indifference to Floyd’s suffering, a key component of the charge of third-degree murder known as “depraved mind” or a “depraved-heart murder”.
Michael Padden, a Minneapolis-based lawyer with 34 years’ experience trying cases, often involving the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), described Williams as a “[g]ood, solid witness who may be the key … on the issue of depraved mind for third-degree murder”.
Williams finished his MMA training at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy in 2009 and has worked as a trainer there since then, he told the court during the first day of witness testimony. He said he has worked with police officers over the years.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, started his cross-examination with questions about Williams’s experience with MMA, and asked about “flow” wrestling.
Williams said he began learning to “flow” wrestle at an early age, explaining that “less resistance” can be beneficial to a wrestler.
Nelson then asked him if sometimes “less resistance is better”, in what appeared to be a reference to Floyd resisting arrest.
Williams gave a guarded answer, discussing the specifics of certain wrestling holds, and how a “flow” approach would inform decisions during those holds.
Such powerful and triggering testimony.
Donald Williams, an eye witness to George Floyd's death, to Derek Chauvin’s defense attorney: "I stayed in my body. You can't paint me out to be angry."
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) March 30, 2021
Nelson then asked a series of questions about Williams’s training – especially regarding chokeholds – eventually asking if he was ever invited to train law enforcement with MPD directly. Williams said he had not.
Nelson then turned to Williams’s attitude towards the police on the day of Floyd’s alleged murder.
Then, in a tense exchange, Nelson questioned Williams about his comments during the video of Floyd’s death, which was played during opening statements on Monday.
“I really wanted to beat the sh*t out of the police officers”, Nelson quoted Williams as saying during the video. “You called them names … you called them a bum at least 13 times?”
Williams responded, “That’s what you counted in the video? Then that’s what you got, 13.”
After more questions regarding things Williams yelled at police, and Williams claiming that Floyd was not being helped, Nelson ended his cross-examination. The prosecution followed up with its own questions regarding the witness’s MMA experience and training.
Padden, who believes the third-degree murder charge is the appropriate one for this case but will not comment on whether he believes Chauvin is guilty, told Al Jazeera that Nelson’s questions “didn’t touch Williams at all”.