NewsElijah McClain | 360 In-Depth Coverage


Woodyard's defense team introduces new forensic pathologist as witness, asked to focus on carotid hold

Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard is charged with reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the death of McClain.
Posted: 1:56 PM, Oct 31, 2023
Updated: 2023-11-01 13:40:31-04
Elijah McClain

Denver7 is following the second of three trials in the case of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man who died a few days after he was violently arrested by Aurora police on Aug. 24, 2019.

Aurora Police Department (APD) Officer Nathan Woodyard is charged with reckless manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the death of McClain. Previously, a jury found APD Officer Randy Roedema guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault. Former APD Officer Jason Rosenblatt, who was fired by the department less than a year after McClain's death, was acquitted of all charges.

Jury finds one Aurora officer guilty, one not guilty in 1st Elijah McClain trial

Woodyard, who is currently suspended from the APD, is accused of putting McClain in a carotid hold that rendered him unconscious before paramedics arrived to administer ketamine, a powerful sedative. The 23-year-old massage therapist encountered police on Aug. 24, 2019 after a person called 911 to report a “sketchy” man walking in Aurora.

Officers with the Aurora Police Department (APD) responded and put McClain, who was unarmed and had not committed a crime, into a neck hold. Paramedics administered the ketamine, which officials said led to cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital.

He was declared brain dead days later and died Aug. 30, 2019. A pathologist found he was given a higher dose of ketamine than recommended for somebody of his size and, as a result, he overdosed. The City of Aurora settled a civil lawsuit with McClain’s family in November 2021 for $15 million.

Woodyard, along with two paramedics who have yet to face jury trials, have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them in January 2023 in the wake of a grand jury indictment.

Two Aurora Fire Rescue paramedics — Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper — have trials beginning Nov. 17 and 27, respectively, for charges of reckless manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and assault, plus sentence enhancers. The paramedics are accused of injecting a significant amount of ketamine into McClain, causing him to overdose.

Scroll down to read updates from the Oct. 31 proceedings.

Tuesday, October 31

Woodyard's defense team introduced a new witness to the stand Tuesday. Dr. Michael Arnall is a forensic pathologist who has performed autopsies in Cortez, Durango and Pagosa Springs, just to name a few places.

Arnall told the jury Tuesday he has worked as a forensic pathologist for approximately 38 years and estimated he has testified in court over 500 times, primarily in criminal cases.

"Because I'm asked by both sides, I stick quite close to the textbooks. Whatever the textbook says, I disclose. Maybe it's good news, maybe it's bad news. That's not my problem," Dr. Arnall said of his prior experience testifying.

The prosecution objected to Dr. Arnall being introduced as an expert witness because he did not specify in his report on this case which body-worn camera videos he reviewed before tendering his opinion. When further pressed, Dr. Arnall said he could not recall specifically if he looked at the videos before or after writing his report.

The judge overruled the objection and Dr. Arnall was allowed to proceed with his testimony as an expert witness in cause and manner of death.

Other witnesses the prosecution introduced as experts in the case said hypoxia, acidosis and aspiration were contributing factors to McClain's death. Dr. Arnall said he had reviewed evidence and materials in the case related to those medical conditions. When asked, he said it's possible those medical issues could've been happening but cannot be diagnosed with a reasonable degree of medical certainty by looking at the body-worn camera video.

The defense said it asked Dr. Arnall to specifically focus on the impact the carotid hold that Woodyard applied had on McClain's death.

Dr. Arnall testified that in an autopsy, he looks for evidence of injury from pressure on the victim's neck, including bruises on the voice box and esophagus, broken pieces of the voice box and petechial hemorrhages to the eyes.

He said there were no injuries listed in Dr. Stephen Cina's autopsy report examining McClain after his death other than the petechial hemorrhages.

Dr. Arnall testified petechiae could be caused by vomiting or CPR. It's a non-specific injury to the carotid hold.

According to scientific studies Dr. Arnall found, he said a carotid hold can lead to death after it's been held for 3-5 minutes. Up to 100 seconds in a healthy young person, there's no risk of death or injury, according to Dr. Arnall.

He testified McClain recovered from the carotid hold because he was moving and talking to officers after it was applied.

The defense asked if vomiting and aspiration could affect the recovery from a carotid hold. Dr. Arnall said they're independent issues.

The defense also called Ryan Walker to the stand again after testifying a week and a half ago. Walker was an EMT who gave the syringe filled with ketamine to another paramedic that injected it into McClain's arm.

Upon questioning from both the prosecution and defense, Walker testified he could not remember specific training on administering ketamine.

The defense team asked the judge to move for a mistrial, but the request was denied.

The court took a lunch break at around 12:10 p.m., and the judge said the trial would resume around 1:30 p.m.

After the break, former Aurora police sergeant Rachel Nunez took the stand. She was Woodyard's direct supervisor and responded to the scene of McClain's arrest. Nunez was questioned about her role that night and what she heard during the arrest.

Day 1 — Tuesday, Oct. 17
Day 2 - Wednesday, Oct. 18
Day 3 - Thursday, Oct. 19
Day 4 - Friday, Oct. 20
(No court on Monday, Oct. 23)
Day 5 - Tuesday, Oct. 24
Day 6 - Wednesday, Oct. 25
(No court on Thursday, Oct. 26)
Day 7 - Friday, Oct. 27
(No court on Monday, Oct. 30)


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