BRIGHTON, Colo. (KDVR) — Ketamine may have killed Elijah McClain, but it wasn’t the only factor, prosecutors argue in the trial of suspended Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard.
Day three of Woodyard’s trial for reckless manslaughter and a lesser included count of criminally negligent homicide featured testimony from a medical expert and the coroner who performed McClain’s autopsy.
The 23-year-old Black man was walking home in a runner’s mask on Aug. 24, 2019, when he was stopped by three police officers responding to a call reporting a suspicious person.
Woodyard was the officer who confronted McClain and, within 8 seconds, took him to the ground and placed him in a carotid hold.
Pulmonologist testifies on Elijah McClain’s state
Dr. David Beuther, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health, testified for the state that even though McClain may have died based just on an overdose of ketamine given by paramedics, everything leading up to the injection, including the officer’s physical restraint, may have been a contributing factor.
“The chance that the ketamine caused him to die was much greater because he became much more sensitive to the effects of the ketamine as a result of his acidosis, his low oxygen levels, his compromised lung function,” Beuther said.
Woodyard’s defense team contends the 34-year-old officer’s conduct had nothing to do with McClain’s death, that only the dose of ketamine — nearly two times what McClain should have been given, according to Beuther’s testimony — should be blamed.
When asked by Woodyard’s defense’s attorney whether aspiration by itself did not cause McClain’s death, Beuther said on the stand: “I would support that.”
Doctor in Elijah McClain’s autopsy testifies
Dr. Stephen Cina, the forensic pathologist who performed McClain’s autopsy, testified McClain died from ketamine after forcible restraint. But he said he couldn’t call the death a homicide, because he’s not certain the officer’s physical restraint contributed to McClain’s death.
“The restraint may have, could have, might have contributed to his susceptibility to the ketamine. I can’t say it did. If I could say it did, I would call it a homicide,” Cina said.
Cina’s original autopsy in 2019 ruled the death “undetermined,” but he amended the autopsy in 2021 after he said he was finally allowed to watch all of the body camera videos in the case, which helped convince him the injection of too much ketamine was the leading cause of death.
Woodyard has been suspended by the Aurora Police Department pending the outcome of the trial, which is expected to last three weeks.
Former Officer Jason Rosenblatt was acquitted on counts earlier this month, and Officer Randy Roedema was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and misdemeanor assault. He was fired from the Aurora Police Department last Friday, after the conviction.
The two paramedics also charged in McClain’s death are scheduled to go on trial next month.