One of the key witnesses in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd will not be testifying. Other than the officers themselves, the person with the greatest knowledge and observation of Floyd was his friend who was in the car with him, Morries Lester Hall. Hall, 42, has given public interviews but has declared that he will not testify in fear that he might incriminate himself. He was listed as a witness for both the prosecution and the defense. It is rare for someone who gave interviews to news organizations like CNN to refuse to testify in trial. Usually such witnesses decline to speak in any forum to maintain their silence.
Hall was with Floyd when he allegedly attempted to use a fake $20 bill at Cup Foods in Minneapolis. In the video shown at trial, Floyd appears high and the employee who flagged the fake bill also said on the stand that he appeared on drugs. The two men apparently were in the store previously and Hall may have tried to pass the fake money — raising the concern of self-incrimination.
The police also previously stated that Hall gave a false name to officers after Floyd’s death and then left Minneapolis. He was tracked down in Texas and arrested due to outstanding warrants for felony possession of a firearm, felony domestic assault, and felony drug possession. Floyd’s girlfriend also testified that the couple was addicted to drugs and that Hall would sell them drugs.
In a notice filed by Assistant Public Defender Adrienne Cousins, the court was informed that “Mr. Morries Lester Hall, through undersigned counsel, hereby provides notice to all parties in this matter that if called to testify he will invoke his fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Therefore, counsel for Mr. Hall respectfully moves this court to quash the subpoena … and release Mr. Hall from any obligations therein.”
Hall has given multiple interviews, including describing himself in a Times interview as a “key witness.” He insisted “I’m a key witness to the cops murdering George Floyd, and they want to know my side. Whatever I’ve been through, it’s all over with now. It’s not about me.”
In invoking the Fifth Amendment, it is about him and his desire to avoid self-incrimination. Many judges would be miffed about a witness who is actively engaging in public interviews about what he saw while refusing to do so under oath. However, Hall clearly has a constitutional right to refuse to testify.
It is doubtful that Hall’s public statements could be used as trial. Such press statements are admissible for cross examination or other specific purposes. Without the availability of cross examination, using public comments would be unthinkable to most judges and lawyers.
In my view, the refusal to testify is more of a blow to the defense than the prosecution. As a criminal defense attorney, I would have viewed Hall as witness who could open up areas of drug use, criminal conduct, and relevant history to advance the defense narrative. He would have likely done more harm than good for the prosecution in my view given his own conduct and history.