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When George Floyd’s girlfriend of nearly three years took the stand in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial Thursday, she revealed, through tears, that the slain Black man’s “pet name” for her was “mama.” That’s what Floyd called out multiple times as he lay dying in the street last May.
But Courteney Ross, who had an on-again-off-again romantic relationship with Floyd since the two met in August 2017, still felt he was asking for his mother.
“He called her ‘mama,’ too,” she said referring to his mother, who passed in May 2018. “It’s just different the way he said it. It’s kind of hard to describe.”
During more than an hour of testimony at the Hennepin County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, Ross revealed a much more intimate look at Floyd, who died underneath Chauvin’s knee as he was being arrested for allegedly using counterfeit money at a convenience store in the city’s southside. Ross, visibly crying through much of the questioning, also spoke about her and Floyd’s past struggles with drug addiction.
“Our story, it’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids,” she said. “We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck, and his was in his back.”
Ross told the courtroom that Floyd, whose death set off a national reckoning with the police treatment of Black Americans, was an active man; he often played sports with the local youth and frequently lifted weights and was first prescribed painkillers after sustaining a sports-related injury. He’d spend years trying to overcome his addiction in rehab along with her and on his own.
Thursday marked the first time the defense focused squarely on Floyd’s drug use, a major part of the defense’s legal strategy. During cross-examination, Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson asked Ross about Floyd’s drug-related hospitalization two months prior to his death. At the time, Ross took Floyd, who was complaining of stomach pains and foaming at the mouth, to the hospital.
Details of Floyd’s March emergency room visit echoed some of the same symptoms he’d complain of in the moments before his death: In police body camera footage shown to jurors Wednesday, officers asked Floyd about foam around his mouth after they handcuffed him and sat him down for questioning, and later, when Chauvin was kneeling on Floyd’s neck, he complained that his “stomach hurts.”
While the medical examiner’s autopsy of Floyd noted the drugs in his system, the 46-year-old Black man’s death was ruled a homicide—meaning someone else’s actions killed him. The report also specifically states that the 11 nanograms of fentanyl in his system, although often considered a lethal dose, did not kill him.
Ross also revealed that Morries Hall and Shawanda Hill, both of whom were sitting in the vehicle Floyd was driving at the time of his arrest, had sold Floyd and Ross opioids in the past. Ross said she didn’t like Hall because he enabled their ongoing battle with addiction.
At the start of her testimony for the prosecution, Ross also told the story of how she and Floyd met, one of her favorite memories of Floyd, she said. She had been waiting for her son’s father to meet her downstairs from a shelter he was staying at the time, when Floyd noticed her looking visibly frustrated and walked over.
“Floyd has this great Southern voice, raspy. He was like, `Sis, you okay, sis?’” she said, as she dabbed away tears from her eyes. “I was so tired. We’ve been through so much, my sons and I. And [for] this kind person just to come up and say, ‘Can I pray with you?”
“It was so sweet,” she said. The two kissed for the first time that same day.
Ross’ emotional testimony follows other heavy accounts from people who witnessed Floyd’s death. Several of the bystanders called to the stand so far, including an off-duty firefighter, a third-grade teacher, a mixed martial artist, and two high school students, have cried as they recounted what it was like to watch Floyd’s final moments last May.
Chauvin has been charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. If convicted, he faces up to 65 years in prison.