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Jury deliberations to resume Thursday in the trial of 2 officers charged in Elijah McClain’s death

By Andi Babineau and Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) — Jury deliberations are set to resume Thursday morning in the trial of two Colorado police officers who arrested Elijah McClain, an unarmed 23-year-old Black man who died in 2019 after being subdued by police and injected by paramedics with ketamine.

Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt have pleaded not guilty to charges of reckless manslaughter and assault in connection with  McClain’s death. Rosenblatt was fired by the police department in 2020 and Roedema remains suspended.

The court recessed Wednesday evening without the jury reaching a verdict after the panel deliberated for eight hours. Jury deliberations began Tuesday after closing arguments and will resume Thursday at 8:30 a.m. local time.

The jury on Wednesday asked the court several questions throughout the day, including three related to the two officers’ field experience. The court told jurors they had “received all the evidence and testimony you may consider in deciding these cases.”

In closing arguments of the weekslong trial on Tuesday, prosecutors said Roedema and Rosenblatt used excessive force, failed to follow their training and misled paramedics about his health status.

“They were trained. They were told what to do. They were given instructions. They had opportunities, and they failed to choose to de-esclate violence when they needed to, they failed to listen to Mr. McClain when they needed to, and they failed Mr. McClain,” prosecutor Duane Lyons said in court.

In contrast, defense attorneys placed blame on the paramedics and on McClain himself.

Rosenblatt’s attorney Harvey Steinberg painted his client as a “scapegoat” and said it’s the paramedics’ responsibility to evaluate a patient’s medical condition. Rosenblatt was facing charges, Steinberg argued, because he “didn’t grab the paramedic by the shoulders and throw him down and say ‘do something.’”

Roedema’s attorney Don Sisson said his client’s use of force was justified because McClain resisted arrest. He said McClain had been given 34 commands to either “stop” or “stop fighting.”

“Because he (McClain) made a different choice, the officers were forced to make a different choice,” Sisson said.

The case focuses on the events of August 24, 2019, when officers responded to a call about a “suspicious person” wearing a ski mask, according to the indictment. The officers confronted McClain, a massage therapist, musician and animal lover who was walking home from a convenience store carrying a plastic bag with iced tea.

In an interaction captured on body camera footage, police wrestled McClain to the ground and placed him in a carotid hold, and paramedics later injected him with the powerful sedative ketamine. He suffered a heart attack on the way to a hospital and was pronounced dead three days later.

Prosecutors initially declined to bring charges, but the case received renewed scrutiny following the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in spring 2020. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed a special prosecutor to reexamine the case, and in 2021 a grand jury indicted three officers and two paramedics in McClain’s death.

A third officer, Nathan Woodyard, and two paramedics who treated McClain, Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec, are set to go on trial in the coming weeks. They have also pleaded not guilty.

How the trial has gone

The trial began last month and featured testimony from Aurora law enforcement officers who responded to the scene as well as from doctors who analyzed how McClain died. The defense did not call any witnesses.

In closing arguments, the prosecution played body-camera footage of the arrest and said the footage showed officers used excessive force for no reason. McClain repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, yet the officers did not tell that to anyone on the scene.

“His name was Elijah McClain, and he was going home. He was somebody. He mattered,” Lyons, the prosecutor, began his argument Tuesday afternoon.

Officers “chose force at every opportunity,” instead of trying to de-escalate the situation, as they’re trained, he said.

One of the key focuses of the trial was analysis of how McClain died and whether the officers’ actions caused his death.

The jury heard from a pulmonary critical care physician who testified that he believed the young man would not have died if the paramedics had recognized his issues and intervened.

Dr. Robert Mitchell Jr., a forensic pathologist who reviewed McClain’s autopsy, testified the cause of death was “complications following acute ketamine administration during violent subdual and restraint by law enforcement, emergency response personnel.” He testified there was a “direct causal link” between the officers’ actions and McClain’s death.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys argued there was no evidence the officers’ actions led to his death, and instead pointed to the ketamine injection.

Though an initial autopsy report said the cause of death was undetermined, an amended report publicly released in 2022 listed “complications of ketamine administration following forcible restraint” as the cause of death. The manner of death was undetermined.

Dr. Stephen Cina, the pathologist who signed the autopsy report, wrote that he saw no evidence that injuries inflicted by police contributed to McClain’s death, and that McClain “would most likely be alive but for the administration of ketamine.”

In the prosecution’s rebuttal, Jason Slothouber told the court that while the officers did not inject McClain with the ketamine, their failure to protect McClain’s airway allowed him to become hypoxic then acidotic, and that’s what made the ketamine so dangerous to McClain.

Officers didn’t provide accurate information to the paramedics when they arrived on scene, and in doing so they “failed Elijah McClain,” Slothouber said.

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