Updates: Trial of third Aurora officer charged in death of Elijah McClain

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Flanked by members of his legal defense team, Nathan Woodyard arrives at the Adams County Justice Center on Thursday, October 19, 2023, for his trial in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.

Overview of the trials | Timeline of the Elijah McClain case | Listen to a podcast about the case

What to know:

Monday, Nov. 4

3:20 p.m. McClain's mother, Sheneen, leaves courtroom with fist raised in protest

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
After suspended Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard was found not guilty on charges over his role in the death of Elijah McClain, McClain's mother Sheneen McClain, right, and supporter MiDian Holmes joined hands and raised their fists in protest as they left a courtroom at the Adams County Justice Center, Nov. 6, 2023.

3:09 p.m. Jury finds Woodyard not guilty

An Adams County jury on Monday found Aurora police officer Nathan Woodyard not guilty for recklessly contributing to the death of Elijah McClain after just a day of deliberation. 

Prosecutors say that Woodyard gave the 23-year-old unarmed Black man a carotid hold and failed to provide proper follow up care while he was detained on the ground and unable to breathe.

Jurors, though, apparently believed Woodyard’s own argument under oath that he did what he was trained to do after the carotid hold -- a police maneuver that cuts blood flow off to the brain and briefly causes unconsciousness. He said he trusted officers and paramedics to care for McClain while he composed himself that August night in 2019.

Read the full story here.

— Allison Sherry, reporting from the courtroom.

2:45 p.m. The jury has reached a verdict

The jury will read its verdict in approximately 20 minutes. Follow here for live coverage.

— CPR News staff

Friday, Nov. 3

12:57 p.m. Woodyard's case is closed and deliberations are expected shortly

Nathan Woodyard’s defense attorney Andrew Ho closed their case, reiterating that it was not Woodyard, but the ketamine that killed Elijah McClain. He said that McClain’s death was a tragedy and that the case involves a lot of anger.

Ho pointedly talked to the jurors about the deliberations that are expected to begin shortly after 1 p.m. today.

"You took on the title juror, and in here in these walls you know that anger doesn't replace evidence,” he said. “Nathan Woodyard is here because he trusted people to do their jobs and they didn’t. Elijah McClain died. Now we're trusting you to do your job."

Ho said Woodyard couldn’t have know what fellow officers or the paramedics would do or not do for McClain.

Nathan Woodard entrusted Elijah McClain to the care and custody of his fellow officers, who entrusted Elijah McClain to medically trained professionals. Elijah McClain died. That matters. Nathan Woodard did not kill Elijah. He's not responsible for what other people did or did not do.”

He also reminded the jurors of something that a Dr. David Buether testified about how getting ketamine was what ultimately killed McClain.

"It's like you're making a chicken dish and the ketamine is the chicken. It's not the same dish if you have just chicken, but without the chicken is not the dish. The ketamine is the chicken. It's not the same dish if you have just chicken but without chicken is not the dish,” Ho said. “It's not guilty without ketamine. It's not the dish without ketamine — it is not guilty.”

The state had another 20 minutes to redirect. Jason Slothhouber used the time to again hammer the prosecution’s case that the ketamine would not have been deadly if Woodyard hadn’t put McClain in a carotid hold and had followed his training on what care to take with a person who has been subjected to that hold.

"If you have somebody in the terrible shape that Elijah McClain is again prior to the injection of a sedative, ketamine, of course it's going to be more dangerous,” Slothhouber said. “These doctors can explain the mechanism to you: this acidosis, this aspiration, this hypoxia. But you all could have watched this video yourselves and known that this is very dangerous.”

The judge released the jury for lunch and deliberations will begin after they return.

The court has said it will give a 30 minute notice if a verdict has been reached, but there is no timetable for that.

— Alison Borden, CPR News editor

11:36 a.m. The state presented closing arguments

After about 30 minutes of jury instruction, the state presented its closing arguments in the trial of Nathan Woodyard, who faces reckless manslaughter charges in the death of Elijah McClain. The jury was advised that they can also charge Woodyard with the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide.

State attorney Jason Slothhouber laid out how it was Woodyard’s actions before the ketamine was administered that put McClain in such medical distress and ultimately caused the 23-year-old’s death.

“The defendant didn't listen. He could have seen if he'd stopped to listen and asked questions who he was dealing with,” he said. “He was dealing with the kid who was walking on his way home dancing, listening to his ear pods. These actions in repeatedly escalating this encounter and in repeatedly ignoring his own training — that is what it means to be reckless.”

He also reminded the jury of the medical testimony.

“The carotid hold that the defendant did attribute to, helped cause Elijah McClain's death. It is part of that continuum that Dr. Mitchell was talking about that made Elijah so fragile, that put him in such a dangerous position before the paramedics absolutely inappropriately dosed him with ketamine. But when the defendant's actions put him in that position, when the paramedics also make a bad choice, it is so much more dangerous and so much more deadly. This is supposed to be the last resort, but Mr. Woodyard admits he should have just done it all differently. He admits, Hey, I should have just talked to this guy.“

Slothouber also directly mentioned the emotional testimony from Woodyard on Wednesday. He said that the defense was about to present its arguments soon.

“One thing I want you to think about while they're talking to you is how that regretful, emotional, empathetic version of Mr. Woodyard that you saw on the stand, that is not the version that he presented to Mr. McClain. Four years later, he has empathy about this situation, wants to understand that that night — that was not who he was. He didn't listen to Elijah McClain.”

The defense has 70 minutes for its arguments before the case goes to the jury.

Alison Borden, CPR News editor

Thursday, Nov. 2

3:08 p.m. Jury excused early, closing statements scheduled for Friday

The state had no questions for Tereshchenko this afternoon. The defense has rested its case and the jury was excused early.

Judge Mark Warner and attorneys for both sides will spend the rest of the day hashing out jury instructions. Warner ordered the jury to be back in the court by 8:30 a.m. on Friday for the instructions and the closing statements.

Alison Borden, CPR News editor

1:39 p.m. Medical expert says the amount of ketamine given to McClain was an "overdose"

The trial for Nathan Woodyard started a little later than usual on Thursday. Judge Mark Warner had a pre-trial conference for the two paramedics facing charges in the death of Elijah McClain before the Woodyard trial could proceed. Jeremy Cooper and Peter Cichuniec’s trial will begin Nov. 27.

Just one witness has been called so far today, Dr. Nadia Tereshchenko, and the defense attorney was still questioning her as the jury broke for lunch. Tereshchenko is testifying as an expert witness in the field of paramedic protocol and pre-hospital care. Most of her testimony has been about how Cooper and Cichuniec’s interaction was below a reasonable standard of care — from arriving on the scene to administering the powerful sedative ketamine.

“They're not interacting, they're not assessing, they're not getting down on their knees and not asking anything. So, they're solely just absorbing what they're seeing and perhaps what they're hearing around them,” she said.

In addition to the behavior of the paramedics, Tereshchenko also testified about the effects and inherent risks of ketamine.

“Ketamine in and of itself is a medicine that has some significant danger,” she said. “It's a sedative that can stop your breathing, it can cause you to get overly sedated risks of aspiration. It causes quite a lot of potential risks as do lots of medicines that they carry, but it's not a Tylenol, it's much more significant.”

She also called the amount of ketamine that Cooper and Cichuniec gave the 140-pound McClain an overdose.

Alison Borden, CPR News editor

Wednesday, Nov. 1

4:49 p.m. Suspended officer Nathan Woodyard testifies

Nathan Woodyard testified in his defense this afternoon. He talked about how his father, also a police officer, inspired him to go into law enforcement and how he wanted to be an Aurora officer because that’s where he grew up. In a sometimes emotional exchange Woodyard told his attorneys that he feared for his life when Randy Roedema said, “Dude, he grabbed your gun.”

“I was expecting to get shot and I thought I'd never see my wife again,” Woodyard said about that moment he heard about the gun.

Woodyard said after Roedema’s comment, he assumed that McClain had a gun in his hand and thought he was in “true danger.”

He also revealed that he reached over to Jason Rosenblatt’s camera during the stop to turn on Rosenblatt’s body-worn camera, which was off for the beginning of the encounter. He also talked about using the carotid, which was the first time Woodyard applied the hold in a real-life situation.

“So there's very few things that you can do to somebody that we're trained on to stop their actions immediately. The carotid control hold being one of them,” Woodyard said. “So when I applied it, I was attempting to get him to give up or to render him unconscious so he could stop fighting for a gun so that we could put him in handcuffs.”

Woodyard testified that he could hear McClain say “I can’t breathe” after the carotid hold and after he was handcuffed. Woodyard then removed the ski mask that McClain was wearing and had vomited into.

“I thought the mask would at best be uncomfortable, but at worst be the cause of him not breathing. So after he was in handcuffs, I was closest to his head and after saying he couldn't breathe pretty much immediately, I took it off,” Woodyard said.

He said he thought that fixed the problem.

“After I removed the mask, I didn't think he had any ongoing breathing issues,” Woodyard said.

He said repeatedly that if he could go back and change the way he stopped and restrained McClain, he would. In cross-examination, state attorney Jason Slothhouber continued to ask Woodyard about the stop.

Slothhouber: Now, at this point in time when you are threatening to change the situation or to put Mr. McClain in handcuffs, you didn't ask him any questions like you're going home, where is your home?
Woodyard: No, I did not.
Slothhouber: You didn't ask him what he meant by saying I'm an introvert.
Woodyard: No.
Slothhouber: And you're personally aware through your training and personal experience that some people are different and they react differently to things.
Woodyard: Yes.
Slothhouber: When he says, please respect the boundaries that I'm speaking, you didn't ask him, how can I respect your boundaries?
Woodyard: No.
Slothhouber: Instead you responded with a threat to change the situation. This is one of those things that you wish you'd done differently.
Woodyard: Yes.

The state’s argument still pivots on what Woodyard was trained to do to de-escalate a situation and the care involved after putting someone in a carotid hold. After a redirect from his attorneys, which included returning to the testimony in which Woodyard thought removing McClain’s ski mask had fixed any breathing problems, he was excused.

The trial will continue tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

Alison Borden, CPR News editor

1:21 p.m. Testimony reveals no one in charge at the scene

Sgt. Dale Leonard spent the morning on the stand in the trial for Nathan Woodyard charged in the death of Elijah McClain. Leonard was called to the scene after Woodyard, Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt had stopped and forcibly restrained McClain.

According to Leonard, the scene was chaotic, with as many as 10 first responders — police, EMTs and paramedics from Aurora Fire there. The testimony indicated that no one at the scene was in charge. Leonard said that when paramedics arrived, his assumption was that they were in charge. From the body cameras, however, the paramedics made no move to put McClain in a recovery position before administering the ketamine.

Here is an exchange between Leonard and state attorney Jason Slothhouber:

Slothhouber: That's not the recovery position.
Leonard: That is not the recovery position.
Slothhouber: That's not the recovery position that you were trained to put somebody in after a carotid.
Leonard: That's correct. But Fire is in charge here, not the police.
Slothhouber: Now, sergeant, you just testified a moment ago that the police are in charge of how somebody is restrained. That's correct, isn't it?
Leonard: That is true.

The confusion extended from that scene and turned heated in the courtroom. Throughout Leonard’s examination and cross-examination, attorneys for both sides lodged many objections and starts and stops with the judge intervening.

Leonard continued to describe the scene and talked about how police are trained on the carotid hold and recovery positions, but have little to no medical training. The state’s argument, though, was that it didn’t matter and that no one on the scene, particularly Woodyard who had applied the carotid hold on McClain, could have helped.

Slothhouber: Any one of you could have said, Hey, just roll him back on his side into the recovery position.
Leonard: Anybody could have said that.
Slothhouber: If somebody had said that, you would've said, yeah, let's do that.
Leonard: Of course.
Slothhouber: Anyone could have stopped this.
Leonard: Yes.

The number of objections became a topic for the attorneys after the jury was excused. Defense attorney Megan Downing took issue with how the morning unfolded and said it was part of a pattern.

“There is an exhaustive cumulative pattern here of just attempting to prevent exculpatory evidence that is improper. We have asked for a mistrial,” Downing said.

Judge Mark Warner denied the request. Suspended officer Nathan Woodyard will testify this afternoon.

— Allison Sherry, CPR News justice reporter, and Alison Borden, CPR News editor

Tuesday, Oct. 31

7:27 p.m. Former Aurora Police sergeant who was at the scene of when McClain encountered police took the stand Tuesday

Retired Aurora Police sergeant Rachel Nunez spent over 25 years with the Aurora Police Department, 15 as a sergeant.

In August 2019, then-Sgt. Nunez was Nathan Woodyard’s direct supervisor and was at the scene the night officers came in contact with Elijah McClain.

Officer Woodyard was the first to respond to a call of a suspicious person in the area of Colfax and Billings and the first officer to make contact with McClain as he was leaving a nearby convenience store. Nunez responded to Woodyard’s call for a supervisor and rescue. Sgt. Dale Leonard, who arrived ahead of Nunez, was the other supervisor in-charge. 

Body-worn camera footage from multiple officers, including Nunez, was played for the court Tuesday. She was asked to identify officers in each video. Footage showed Leonard debriefing Nunez on the incident as well as Nunez and Woodyard walking away from the scene to have a one-on-one conversation. That conversation was not recorded on body-worn cameras. Nunez told the jury that Woodyard needed peer support.

“I wanted to give him space to calm down and collect his thoughts,” Nunez said. “I just remember his eyes were large. They were big as if he were in shock from what just happened, and I just wanted him to explain to me what happened in an effort to calm him down.” 

For most of her testimony, Nunez struggled to remember certain events that occurred that night. She said that she didn’t recall hearing McClain have trouble breathing because she was focused on other things at that time. 

During cross-examination, prosecuting attorney Ann Joyce focused on Woodyard’s use of the carotid hold around McClain’s neck, which temporarily cut off blood to McClain’s brain, as well as Nunez’s role on the scene. Nunez told the jury that when she arrived she saw officers standing around. She was also told that the carotid hold was used twice on McClain.

Nunez also admitted that the Woodyard would’ve been better assisted by another officer when seeking peer support instead of a supervisor. 

Tony Gorman, CPR News justice reporter, from inside the courtroom

1:44 p.m. Forensic pathologist speaks on neck injury deaths and restraint holds

In 140 years of data gathered mostly from martial arts training, carotid holds administered correctly are largely safe, a forensic pathologist and expert witness called by defense attorneys for Nathan Woodyard told an Adams County jury on Tuesday.

Dr. Michael Arnall, a forensic pathologist in southwestern Colorado, reviewed body-worn camera footage, autopsy records, and medical records for 23-year-old Elijah McClain. McClain was violently subdued by police on Aug. 24, 2019, and then given ketamine by paramedics. He later died in a hospital. Three officers and two paramedics were charged in his death. 

On trial now is Aurora Police officer Nathan Woodyard, who gave McClain one of the carotid holds that caused him to briefly lose consciousness. 

Arnall said in his decades of experience as a forensic pathologist — including a stint at the Adams County Coroner’s Office, the county where this trial is being held — he had seen dozens of neck injury deaths. He said McClain didn’t have any injuries to his vocal cords or trachea or any other obvious signs he died because the carotid hold was administered improperly. 

“I can’t prove to you that Elijah McClain lost consciousness,” he said, noting that he had to rely on what he could hear in the body camera footage since a few cameras fell off in the struggle. “If it did occur, it may have lasted some short number of seconds.”

In almost three weeks of trial in front of a jury, prosecutors have tried to establish that the hold, which temporarily restricts blood flow to the brain and was an approved use of force at the time in Aurora, contributed to McClain’s death. 

“The carotid hold did not cause his death physiologically,” Arnall said.

Prosecutors also say Woodyard, who was first on the scene, didn’t follow proper training in putting McClain in the recovery position and checking for coherence after he administered the hold. 

In body camera footage, it appears that Woodyard left the scene for a period of time afterward.

But Arnall, who was hired by Woodyard’s attorneys to testify, said carotid holds only require a minute or two of recovery before a person is OK.

“The effects of the carotid hold result in a need to recover for 20 to 60 seconds,” he said, noting that in body-worn camera footage, it appeared that McClain was in the proper position for that period of time. 

McClain did immediately begin vomiting multiple times -— at first into a ski mask he was wearing at the time officers approached him and then on the grass. Prosecutors say it was reckless negligence for officers not to ensure he wasn’t inhaling his own vomit as they tried to detain him.

“If there is another problem, like aspiration of food, that would be an independent problem,” Arnall told the jury.

He said he believes McClain’s cause of death was ketamine toxicity because the time between when he received the ketamine and the time he went into cardiac arrest is a compelling medical indicator of why he died.

On cross-examination and even before he testified, prosecutors attempted to discredit Arnall by suggesting that he prepared his report for the defense before he had fully reviewed footage from the cameras worn by officers on the scene. But Arnall calmly held firm to his conclusions.

McClain’s official autopsy states his cause of death as complications from ketamine followed by forcible restraint. 

Defense attorneys will continue to call witnesses this afternoon. 

— Allison Sherry, CPR News justice reporter, watching remotely

Friday, Oct. 27

4:15 p.m. The state rested its case Friday afternoon

The state rested its case Friday afternoon against Nathan Woodyard, a suspended Aurora police officer charged in the death of Elijah McClain, but not before defense attorneys challenged a forensic pathologist testifying for the state on whether a carotid hold alone caused Elijah McClain to die.

Woodyard had a relatively small role in McClain's detention that night. He administered the carotid hold to McClain, then stepped away from the scene at the request of supervisors, his attorneys said.

The carotid hold, which cuts blood flow to the brain and usually causes temporary unconsciousness, was an approved use of force at the time within the Aurora Police Department. It has since been banned by the state legislature.

“There is a lot that comes after the carotid hold that you believe contributed to his death,” said Megan Downing, Woodyard’s attorney, addressing Dr. Roger Mitchell, a forensic pathologist and chief medical examiner in Washington, DC. He was hired by the state as an expert witness in this case.

Lawyers for Woodyard have continued to paint McClain’s large dose of ketamine — Mitchell called it an “overdose” on the stand on Friday — as the cause for his death. The ketamine was administered by the paramedics, who arrived on the scene early but didn’t do anything until they were instructed by officers.

The two paramedics who administered the ketamine also face charges in McClain’s death and will face trial later.

“The only medical attention he received was an overdose of ketamine,” Downing said.

Mitchell was the final witness for the state and the jury was told not to come to the Adams County courthouse on Monday as lawyers for both sides work out which defense witnesses are going to be permitted and the instructions for the jury when they break to deliberate. The trial continues next Tuesday and closing arguments are expected by the end of the week.

— Allison Sherry, CPR News justice reporter, watching remotely

3:23 p.m. Forensic pathologist Dr. Roger Mitchell testified

A forensic pathologist who specializes in — and has written a book on — police custody deaths told an Adams County jury on Friday that he believes McClain’s manner of death is homicide caused by police actions and paramedic ketamine administration.

Dr. Roger Mitchell is the chief medical examiner in Washington, D.C. and was asked by prosecutors from the attorney general’s office to view body camera footage, medical and autopsy records for McClain.

On trial right now is Aurora police officer Nathan Woodyard, who was the first officer on the scene the night that McClain, a Black 23-year-old, was detained by Aurora police. Woodyard performed a carotid hold on McClain that caused him to briefly lose consciousness.

As a result of the hold, McClain started vomiting and grew slowly less verbal throughout the struggle with police. He was then given ketamine by paramedics. He lost his pulse in the ambulance, was briefly revived, and then had a heart attack at the hospital. He was declared brain dead a few days later.

Mitchell testified that the police’s body-worn camera videos show McClain suffering from hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen, and then acidosis, which is too much acid in the system. Both were caused by McClain’s struggle, including the carotid hold given by Woodyard, while officers were trying to arrest McClain on Aug. 24, 2019, he said.

“Before he gets the ketamine he needs help,” Mitchell said. “His baseline is gone. So, for me, he needed help before the ketamine and he needed help after the ketamine. I don’t know if he wouldn’t have gotten the ketamine if he would have lived or died. Of all the things that happened, the ketamine does not absolve the effects of the police actions.”

Defense attorneys are questioning Mitchell this afternoon.

— Allison Sherry, CPR News justice reporter, watching remotely

9:05 a.m. The trial against Aurora Police officer Nathan Woodyard resumed Friday

Woodyard is on trial for his involvement in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. He was the first officer to encounter the 23 year-old as he was walking home from a convenience store. Woodyard was the second officer to apply the carotid hold on McClain which caused him to lose consciousness.

There was no court Thursday as prosecutors had to wait until their witness arrive Friday. Attorneys requested that they use the day to work on jury instructions.

The prosecution’s final witness is nationally recognized forensic pathologist Dr. Roger Mitchell, Jr. He’s the former Chief Medical Examiner for Washington D.C., and currently the Professor and chair of Pathology at Howard University. He co-authored the book Death in Custody which labels deaths resulting from interactions with the U.S. criminal legal system as a public health emergency.

Mitchell gave testimony during the previous trial against officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt. Dr. Stephen Cina was contracted by the Adams County Coroner’s Office to perform the autopsy on McClain. Mitchell was hired by the state as an expert witness.

— Tony Gorman, CPR News justice reporter, from inside the courtroom

Wednesday, Oct. 25

3:31 p.m. Police training was the focus in the trial of Nathan Woodyard on Wednesday

Aurora Police Sgt. Kevin Smyth took the stand during the morning half of the day. He’s a full-time instructor at the Aurora Police Training Academy. A lot of the testimony is similar to the last trial for officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt.

He went through methods the academy uses to train cadets.  When it comes to control or restraint holds, he said officers receive a pass or no pass grade. They must pass practical and written exams in order to complete the course.

Symth explained the use of the carotid hold and how the technique is different from a chokehold. The move is where a person puts an arm on both sides of someone’s neck, without putting pressure on the front of the neck, the airway, and squeezing the carotid arteries on both sides of the neck. The purpose of the move is to restrict blood flow to the brain with enough pressure to render the person unconscious.

During Elijah McClain’s encounter with officers, the 23-year-old was put in the carotid hold twice, once by Rosenblatt in which McClain did not pass out, and one by Woodyard which did make him lose consciousness. At the time, the policy said an officer is supposed to apply the hold just once on a person. The Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity bill was signed into law in June 2020, banning law enforcement from using the carotid hold and chokehold as a use-of-force method. The Aurora City Council passed a similar bill locally later that year.

— Tony Gorman, CPR News justice reporter, watching remotely

Tuesday, Oct. 24

6:06 p.m. Toxicologist on the effects of ketamine

Defense attorneys grilled Michael Lamb, a forensic toxicologist at National Medical Services Laboratory, on whether ketamine is dangerous outside of a hospital setting.

Lamb testified on Tuesday at the trial for suspended Aurora Police officer Nathan Woodyard, who faces reckless manslaughter charges in the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old who was forcibly stopped as he was walking home, restrained and given a large dose of ketamine, a powerful sedative.

The autopsy report for McClain lists the cause of death as complications from the administration of ketamine after forcible restraint.

Lamb demurred in a lot of questions, saying he was neither an expert on the anesthetic nor a medical doctor.

But he said that ketamine moves quickly through the system though and the amount can be reduced by half after some period of time, but he also said ketamine affects different people in different ways.

Read the full story here.

— Allison Sherry, CPR News justice reporter, from inside the courtroom

12:55 p.m. Elijah McClain's toxicology report

It was a quick morning Tuesday at the trial for Nathan Woodyard. The now-suspended Aurora Police officer was the first to encounter Elijah McClain, putting McClain in a carotid hold by using his arms on the sides of McClain's neck to cut off blood flow to McClain's brain and causing him to lose consciousness.

The nurse who drew McClain’s blood and three employees from NMS Labs in Pennsylvania were on the stand this morning. The NMS Labs tested McClain’s blood after he died. The toxicology report was included in the autopsy report.

Andrea Libhart, a nurse, told the jury her process in drawing blood samples from patients. She said CPR was used on McClain in the ER until he was transferred to the ICU.

NMS Labs supervisors Robert Paul Hessler, Rachel Davidovics and analyst Allison Rosegarden testified. All were involved in the testing of McClain’s blood samples.

The toxicology report found ketamine and cannabinoids in McClain’s blood. So far, pulmonologists and forensic pathologists have testified during both trials that cannabis found in McClain’s system did not contribute to his death. They also said that he received a therapeutic dose of ketamine — meaning that the dose was not outside the range normally given to people in medical settings.

The defense had only a few questions for the NMS employees.

The court took an earlier recess at 10 a.m. because a state witness’s plane had not yet landed at Denver International Airport — about a 20 minute drive from the Adams County courthouse.

— Tony Gorman, CPR News justice reporter, watching the trial remotely

Monday, Oct. 23

10:04 a.m. Court is not in session today

The trial of Nathan Woodyard will continue tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 24.

— CPR News staff

Friday, Oct. 20

5:18 p.m. EMTs testify about witnessing Elijah McClain in medical distress and an Aurora police trainer discusses carotid hold tests

The EMT who gave Elijah McClain CPR in the ambulance testified about finding no pulse on the 23-year-old when he was put on a gurney on the night of Aug. 24, 2019. Aleesa Gonzalez and her partner, Ryan Walker, who also took the stand Friday, worked with Aurora Fire as employees of Falck, a private ambulance operator. Gonzalez was an EMT in 2019 when she and Walker arrived on the scene where Elijah McClain was in medical distress. Falck contracts with the Aurora Fire Department, but Gonzalez said that Aurora Fire has the final medical control.

Gonzalez testified how she gave McClain CPR for two minutes straight, before letting someone else step in to continue the chest compression. She then left the back of the ambulance and drove them to the hospital. She said McClain was then in cardiac arrest. Gonzalez, on cross-examination, said that the decision to administer ketamine was made before she got to the scene and that Aurora Fire made the call.

Grant Heyneman, a trainer with the Aurora Police Department, was the last person on the stand Friday. He was part of the practical exam for the officers’ training for the carotid hold, a move that uses a person’s arm to wrap around another person’s neck to cut off that person’s blood supply to the brain in order to make them pass out.

Heyneman trained Officer Nathan Woodyard and walked the state attorney through what officers and cadets are required to learn and test for when being trained on the carotid hold. The training was the only pass/fail class at APD — so officers were required to get the hold correct or be retrained and retested.“The pass/fail though is strictly for the carotid because it is such a high liability thing,” Heyneman said.

— Alison Borden, CPR News editor, watching the trial remotely

3:15 p.m. What to call the police restraint maneuver used on Elijah McClain

A big part of the trial for Nathan Woodyard, the officer who stopped Elijah McClain as the 23-year-old was walking home from a convenience store, is the restraint used that caused McClain to lose consciousness. Woodyard was the first officer on the scene and used that restraint on McClain.

We’ve called it a carotid hold in our stories online and on air, but realized that not everyone knows what exactly that means. Not to mention that witnesses on the stand at the last trial and the current one use different terms to describe it.

The move is where a person puts an arm on both sides of someone’s neck, without putting pressure on the front of the neck, the airway, and squeezing the carotid arteries on both sides of the neck. The purpose of the move is to restrict blood flow to the brain with enough pressure to render the person unconscious. 

In court Thursday, forensic pathologist Dr. Stephen Cina and state attorney Jason Slothhouber discussed the hold, and the semantics around it. 

Cina:... being that there literally is no footage available of the early sequence events including a sleeper hold, I'm still not sure if that could have played a role in being that I have a doubt that I mean I believe be restrained, may have, could have, might have contributed to his susceptibility to the ketamine. …

Slothhouber: Now just one sort of grammatical point. We appear to have a theme today of people using different terms for the technique that was done here, whether it's choke hold or sleeper hold or carotid hold. Is carotid hold the most accurate way to describe what was done here?

Cina: I think technically lateral restraint hold is the best term, but a carotid hold works or a sleeper would be if you're a WWE fan, you may be more familiar with that.

Slothhouber: All right. Would it be fair to say if you do say a word like choke hold or sleeper hold what you're referring to, is that lateral restraint or carotid hold?

Cina: Yes, but I'm happy to be consistent with whatever you want to use today.

Slothhouber: OK to use carotid hold?

Cina: That'll be fine with me.

The carotid hold is banned across the state as part of a sweeping police reform bill, in part inspired by McClain’s death. The city of Aurora specifically banned the hold in 2020 after McClain’s death months after the state legislature did. 

The hold was legal at the state and local level at the time that McClain was violently stopped. Aurora police officers were previously extensively trained on the carotid hold — witnesses in the previous trial testified about that training, and it’s expected that the state will also call the officer at the Aurora Police Department who trained cadets and officers on the carotid hold.

— Alison Borden, CPR News editor, watching the trial remotely

2:29 p.m. Aurora officer becomes emotional during testimony

It was an emotional morning Friday at the trial of Aurora Police Officer Nathan Woodyard. The five-year Aurora Police Officer Alicia Ward was on-scene when officers detained Elijah McClain in August 2019. She arrived as Officer Randy Roedema pinned the 23-year-old with his knee. Ward also witnessed paramedics inject McClain with the powerful sedative ketamine.

The prosecution presented to the jury body-worn camera footage from officers that night including Ward. Ward admitted that she was more familiar with Woodyard than Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt, who were co-defendants in the first trial over McClain’s death. Ward’s body-worn camera footage showed her gathering evidence and other personal items including the ski mask worn by McClain that night. He vomited in the mask while on the ground.

As state attorney Jason Slouthouber played the footage to the jury, he asked Ward to identify the officers on the footage. Testimony became intense when footage of McClain on the ground was played. Ward told the jury that she heard him groaning and noticed his muscle clenching. She said that she thought McClain could be attempting an assault. Ward told the jury that Roedema told her to place her knuckles behind McClain’s ear. She explained that the area is a pressure point. Ward said she didn’t have to use the maneuver on him. When Slothouber asked her if McClain was in the recovery position, she began to struggle with her answer.

Slothouber presented testimony she gave in the previous trial in which she said McClain wasn’t in the recovery position and appeared toppled. She began to cry as Slothouber questioned her relationship with Woodyard as a reason she couldn’t directly answer the question. The prosecution ended with Ward’s body-worn footage of her observing the ketamine injection and officers loading a sedated McClain into the gurney.

— Tony Gorman, CPR News justice reporter, reporting from the courtroom

11:20 a.m. Two Aurora officers and a former coworker of Eljiah McClain take the stand

The trial got started this morning with two Aurora Police Officers and a former coworker of Elijah McClain’s at a Greenwood Village Massage Envy. Both were witnesses in the first trial. Officer Darren Dunson was on the scene and assisting the officers — gathering glasses and a cell phone — that night McClain was stopped on Aug. 24, 2019. Madison Freeman’s voice cracked as she described McClain and the time they spent working together. She says he often took runs during breaks and complained about how cold he was. The defense declined to cross-examine Freeman.

And then Officer Alicia Ward took the stand. She was standing near McClain when he was injected with ketamine. She also collected the face mask that McClain had vomited into and the earbuds that McClain was using for evidence. The body-worn camera footage from that night was played for and described by both officers during their testimony.

— Alison Borden, CPR News editor, watching the trial remotely

Thursday, Oct. 19

3:30 p.m. Testimony from Dr. Stephen Cina, the forensic pathologist who performed Elijah McClain's autopsy

The forensic pathologist who performed Elijah McClain’s autopsy, Dr. Stephen Cina, was unclear under oath on why exactly McClain died. He said McClain aspirated, but he couldn’t say whether it was what caused him to die.

“We know he vomited while he was in restraint and we know he vomited in the ambulance,” he said. “I can’t tell when the aspiration happens — I’m 51 percent that it happened in the ambulance and 49 percent that it happened … before.”

Cina said he came to that conclusion after seeing that McClain wasn’t vigorously coughing after he apparently threw up in his mask — which, like drinking a glass of water down the wrong tube, can be a sign of drowning.

“After he vomited, he was talking and apologizing,” he said. “He didn’t do violent coughing.”

Cina also said McClain appeared to be dying after receiving the ketamine dose, but that he has never seen a death purely from ketamine before in the thousands of autopsies he’s conducted.

“This level of ketamine was too much for him at that time. I can’t tell you if he got this dose of ketamine in a hospital setting, if the same situation would have happened,” Cina told the jury. “Is it possible aspiration and maybe an asthma attack caused this death? Yes, that’s possible.”

Defense attorneys for Nathan Woodyard plan on questioning Cina for the rest of the afternoon.

— Allison Sherry, CPR News justice reporter, reporting remotely

3:12 p.m. Testimony from the morning

In testimony earlier today, Nathan Woodyard's defense attorney, Megan Downing, tried to establish that Elijah McClain may have inhaled a potentially lethal amount of vomit, but he didn't do it with police present.

In cross-examination of a state witness Dr. David Beuther, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health, Downing said McClain likely aspirated in the ambulance during the paramedic administration of CPR. She was trying to put blame on the paramedics — rather than the officers who detained McClain.

Beuther acknowledged McClain also vomited in the ambulance but that it's difficult to determine when and how much vomit got in his lungs when he first started throwing up after the carotid hold. He had a mask on and officers failed to remove it for several minutes after he started vomiting. The mask is part of the evidence in these cases and jurors in the last trial actually saw it, with the vomit inside of it, inside a plastic case.

Evidence of aspiration can be seen in McClain's ex-rays of his lungs.

"We actually don't know how much of this occurred at the very beginning versus during this event versus in the ambulance or possibly even in the ambulance transfer into the hospital," Beuther said. "How we know that at least some of the aspiration occurred early at the beginning of this interaction with the law enforcement officers was that mask that there was obvious evidence of stomach contents in the mask and on the body-worn camera video, there was more than one episode of vomiting that was going on and a high risk of aspiration."

— Allison Sherry, CPR justice reporter, reporting remotely

9:28 a.m. Elijah McClain’s amended autopsy

Attorneys representing Nathan Woodyard will likely point to McClain’s autopsy as the reason their client should be found not guilty in the charge of reckless manslaughter. It was certainly a point of contention during the previous trial.

Initially, the Adams County coroner signed off on an autopsy performed by a contract pathologist who called McClain’s cause and manner of death “undetermined.” But during the secretive grand jury proceedings last year during which the pathologist had access to body-worn camera footage, that autopsy was changed by the same pathologist to "death by ketamine after forcible restraint." The manner of death, which refers to the way that a death occurred, is still undetermined.

Thursday morning proceedings start with Dr. David Beuther talking about the reports he filed after examining McClain’s medical records, X-rays, body camera footage and other evidence.

— Alison Borden, CPR News editor, watching the trial remotely

Wednesday, Oct. 18

7:24 p.m. National lung doctor who filed reports on McClain's death testifies for a second time

A national lung expert returned to the stand in this trial to give strikingly similar testimony about Elijah McClain’s medical condition the night he was forcibly arrested. Dr. David Beuther, pulmonologist at National Jewish Health testified that McClain likely inhaled a potentially lethal amount of vomit while he was wearing a ski mask. 

The prosecution presented multiple diagrams of the human lungs, windpipe, esophagu  and other parts of the respiratory system. Beuther explained to the jurhow an effective cough cycle works. He said McClain was not in a position that he could effectively cough due to vomit in his lungs.

“He's vomiting while he still has the mask on. We know that we can see it inside the mask and he's restrained. So he has no way to get that mask off,” Beuther said. “So when he breathes in, now instead of getting clean air through a piece of fabric into him, the only thing that he can breathe in is his own vomit. He literally has a bag full of vomit and that's what he's breathing in.”

As the prosecution presented body-worn camera footage from different officers from various  angles, Beuther explained the stages McClain went through while under arrest. Similar to the previous trial, he said McClain suffered from acidosis, hypoxia and aspiration.

Beuther also told the jury that McClain had marijuana in his body at the time of his death. Cannabis is legal in Colorado. Ketamine was eventually administered to McClain after he had started inhaling his vomit. Beuther told the jury that the sedative affected McClain’s breathing.

“It would cause shallower breathing. It potentially can even cause vomiting in some cases,” Beuther said. “So the concern is that you want to monitor very closely how you're breathing before the drug and how you're breathing after the drug and be ready in a heartbeat to support your patient if they do stop breathing.” 

Beuther said McClain appeared on body worn camera footage to be barely breathing after the ketamine injection. He mentioned that he viewed footage of paramedics trying to save McClain in the ambulance en route to the hospital. Beuther said more could have been done to save McClain before the paramedics arrived on scene. 

He said they did everything that they could to save him on the way to the hospital.

“In the world of critical care, we would call him dead at this point,” Beuther said. “But we can sometimes bring you back from the dead. So there's another step we call ‘really dead.’ Really dead is we don't think there's a chance that we can get you back. And he was kind of dead because of the lack of heart function and the lack of breathing.”

Beuther said doctors were unable to revive McClain because of  severe brain damage caused by a long period of no oxygen.

Others witnesses who testified

Dr. Marc Moss also testified as an expert witness. He’s currently a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a critical care physician at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.

He told the jury that McClain was in his care two days after he was admitted to the hospital. Moss said he tested McClain’s breathing. He was the doctor who declared McClain to be brain dead. Moss also said that McClain went into cardiac arrest before he arrived at the hospital This stopped the heart from pumping. His lungs were filled with fluid.

— Tony Gorman, reporting from the CPR Newsroom

1:45 p.m.: Testimony from Amanda Kelsey and APD Lt. Delbert Tisdale

Attorneys on both sides wrapped up testimony from investigator Amanda Kelsey. The prosecution questioned her about her assignment on the night that Aurora Police forcibly arrested Elijah McClain. Kelsey testified that she took photos and video of the scene. The jury viewed footage of her gathering evidence of the plastic bag handles that carried McClain’s iced teas from the nearby Shell station.

Kelsey also told the jury that she was present at Dr. Stephen Cina’s autopsy of McClain. She said she collected 88 photos of the autopsy. Five of those photos were expected to be presented to the jury, but an off-the-record discussion at the bench with Judge Mark Warner stopped the admission of those photos as evidence.

Most of the day so far has been from prosecution witness Aurora Police Lt. Delbert Tisdale. Tisdale oversees the APD’s electronic division which includes body-worn cameras.

Prosecutors have taken a more in-depth look at body-worn camera footage than in the previous trial. During examination, Tisdale was asked to identify at least half a dozen officers in footage from several officers on-scene.

The testimony gives some insight into just how many officers, paramedics and firefighters were at the scene as McClain was in respiratory distress.

During cross-examination, the defense focused more on officers’ voices and the equipment used during the confrontation. Tisdale told the jury that Aurora PD used a different body-worn camera that can easily fall off when used. He also located Woodyard when he’s on-camera at different times during the footage.

— Tony Gorman, reporting from the courtroom

10:30 a.m.: A recap of day one

Prosecutors and defense attorneys made opening arguments in the trial of Nathan Woodyard yesterday.

State prosecutors said that the now-suspended Aurora police officer didn’t follow his training the night he detained Elijah McClain, and those missteps were a form of recklessness that ultimately led to the 23 year old’s untimely death.

But Woodyard’s attorney Megan Downing told jurors that Woodyard was “woven into the tragedy of this case,” and that the large dose of ketamine for McClain’s 140-pound bodyweight did.

Read the full story here.

— CPR News Staff

Tuesday, Oct. 17

5:28 p.m.: Four witnesses were called to the stand today

Of the four witnesses called to the stand today, three of them also testified at the previous trial. The state called:

  • Attorney General's office investigator Ron Ryan, who is testifying about the location of the encounter and evidence collection.
  • Raminder Aulakh, the owner of the Shell convenience store where Elijah McClain bought three iced teas on the night of Aug. 24, 2019.
  • Employee of Aurora’s 911 system Debra Furler. She took the 911 call on Elijah McClain on the night he was violently arrested.
  • Crime scene investigator for the Aurora Police Department Laverne Amir, who testified about taking photos of McClain in the ER at UCHealth hours after his deadly encounter with police. Amir was the only witness called that did not testify in the trial for Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt that wrapped up with a split verdict last week.

The trial will start on Wednesday morning with Amir still on the stand.

— Alison Borden, CPR News editor

2:07 p.m.: The trial of Nathan Woodyard is underway.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Nathan Woodyard, second from left, arrives at the Adams County Justice Center Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023, for opening arguments in his trial in the death ion Elijah McClain.

The trial of Nathan Woodyard is underway. Opening statements in the case were presented this morning. The state has the burden of proof that the officer acted recklessly in his interaction with Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old man who had committed no crime. Woodyard was responding to a 911 call about a suspicious person and had his hands on McClain within eight seconds of the encounter. Woodyard also used the carotid hold on McClain, in which he used his arm to cut off McClain's blood supply to his brain and caused him to pass out.

The state’s opening arguments were reminiscent of the opening of the previous trial. Prosecution attorney Ann Joyce showed clips from the body-worn camera footage to the jury to walk them through what happened when McClain was forcibly arrested. She said the trial is about Woodyard and his teammates doing nothing to help McClain while he couldn’t breathe.

“Mr. Woodyard chose to go hands-on in eight seconds without any explanation. Elijah McClain is attempting to have a conversation. Mr. Woodyard, the evidence will be, is focused on having a confrontation,” she said.

The defense’s opening statement was pointed and began with defense attorney Megan Downing simply stating: Mr. Woodyard did not cause Mr. McClain to die.
Downing said that Woodyard was doing his job as a police officer with the information he had at the time.

“The evidence is that it was not the stop. It was not going hands-on in eight seconds. It was not the struggle. It was not the carotid hold,” Downing said. “The only killer in the case is ketamine.”

— Alison Borden, CPR News editor

8:30 a.m.: Opening arguments are set to begin today.

Opening arguments in a trial for the last of three Aurora police officers to be charged in the death of Elijah McClain are set to begin at 10 a.m. today. CPR Justice Reporter Allison Sherry will be in the courtroom. We’re expecting to hear some repeat testimony, such as the body-worn camera footage, in this trial for Nathan Woodyard, but the application of an effective carotid hold will likely play a larger role here.

— Alison Borden, CPR News editor