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Forensic pathologist, EMT, others testify in trial of paramedics on trial for Elijah McClain's death

Forensic pathologist, EMT, others testify in trial of paramedics on trial for Elijah McClain's death
Forensic pathologist, EMT, others testify in trial of paramedics on trial for Elijah McClain's death 03:03

The forensic pathologist at the heart of the Elijah McClain autopsies took the witness stand in the trial of two paramedics charged in McClain's 2019 death. 

Those paramedics injected McClain with ketamine. He died in the hospital several days later. This is the third and final trial over his death. In the first criminal case, a jury found Aurora Police Officer Randy Roedema guilty of criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault, Jason Rosenblatt was acquitted of manslaughter and assault. In the second trial, Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard was found not guilty Monday of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

Aurora Fire Rescue Paramedic Jeremy Cooper and Lt. Peter Cichuniec are charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and several counts of assault.

Elijah McClain Arraignment
Paramedics Jeremy Cooper, left, and Peter Cichuniec, right, at an arraignment in the Adams County district court at the Adams County Justice Center on Jan. 20, 2023. Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The forensic pathologist's testimony Tuesday took up most of the morning and defense attorneys tried to poke holes, noting how his report of McClain's cause of death changed. Opening statements in the case began last week.

McClain's cause of death was initially "undetermined" because the pathologist said he didn't have enough information. But once he saw the police body camera footage several months later -- when the Colorado Attorney General's Office got involved in the case -- he reached a different conclusion.

RELATED: Elijah McClain died of ketamine administration, according to updated autopsy report 

"To me, seeing that footage of a guy who looks worn out but alive to one that looks like he's about to stop breathing and die, with the only thing being the ketamine injection in between, I felt we couldn't ignore that, so I determined the cause of death to be complications of ketamine administration following restraint," Dr. Stephen Cina, the forensic pathologist in the case, said in his testimony Tuesday.

For just about three hours, Cina testified about his findings following his initial autopsy of Elijah McClain.

Defense attorneys zeroed in on how much ketamine was in McClain's system, which Cina testified was medically considered a "therapeutic level."

"I didn't call it an outright ketamine overdose because it wasn't at a lethal level, but even this therapeutic level was just too much for this person at that time," Cina said. "He just did not tolerate it well and he stopped breathing."

A defense attorney asked Cina if he thought that any amount would have triggered the response McClain experienced.

"I don't know if it was 'any amount,' but even this amount, which shouldn't have killed most of us, sent him into a tailspin, which lead to his respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest and brain death," Cina responded.

RELATED: Colorado legal analyst discusses trial of 2 paramedics charged in connection to Elijah McClain's death

But it's that use of ketamine by paramedics, prosecutors argue, that led to McClain's death.

"I wrote in my opinion that I believe -- more likely than not -- that just the restraint alone and being exhausted, most people recover from that. But seeing the video of (McClain) getting the ketamine and, two minutes later, his condition, I believe the ketamine administration was the most important factor into his coronary pulmonary arrest," Cina said.

Also testifying Tuesday was an Aurora police officer, a crime scene unit investigator and Ryan Walker, the EMT who provided the paramedics with the ketamine. He told the court he filled the syringe with a dose for a person who's about 220 pounds which is what was requested of him, based on what police officers estimated McClain to be.

Walker wrote in his initial report and testified on Tuesday that he had no knowledge of McClain's weight when he was asked to draw 500 milligrams of ketamine, which would be appropriate for someone approximately 220 pounds. Once officers got off McClain and he was loaded into the back of the ambulance, Walker estimated McClain was closer to 160 pounds, indicating the ketamine dose should have been lower.

He testified that once he realized McClain's actual size, he had concerns about the ketamine dose.

The trial is expected to resume Wednesday morning.

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