By Jonathan Allen
MINNEAPOLIS, April 1 (Reuters) - George Floyd's girlfriend smiled through tears as she told a jury on Thursday how they first met when he offered to pray with her, less than three years before his deadly arrest, and described how they both struggled with opioid addiction.
Courteney Ross was the first person who personally knew Floyd to testify at the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer caught in widely seen video kneeling on the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old handcuffed Black man, for about nine minutes.
"It's a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids," Ross, who wore a heart-shaped brooch on her black jacket, told the jury. "We both suffered from chronic pain: mine was in my neck, his was in his back."
Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter charges. In a central dispute of the trial, his lawyers have argued that Floyd's death, ruled a homicide at the hands of police, was really an overdose caused by the fentanyl in his blood.
Prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general's office have told the jury they will hear medical evidence to contradict this and that Floyd's drug use is irrelevant to the charges against Chauvin.
Here are some key moments from the fourth day of witness testimony:
COURTENEY ROSS, FLOYD'S GIRLFRIEND
"It's one of my favorite stories to tell," Ross said, smiling toward the jury, when asked by a prosecutor how she first met Floyd in August, 2017, at a Salvation Army homeless shelter, where he worked as a security guard.
She was waiting in the lobby to see the father of her son, tired after closing up the coffee shop where she worked. Floyd approached her.
"Floyd has this great, deep, southern voice, raspy," she said, "and he was, like, 'Sis', you ok, sis'?'"
He sensed she felt alone, and offered to pray with her.
"It was so sweet," she said. "At the time I had lost a lot of faith in God."
They had their first kiss in the lobby that night and, but for the occasional break after a lovers' quarrel, were together until his death, she said.
They took walks in the parks and around the lakes of Minneapolis, which was still new to the Texas-raised Floyd, and ate out a lot: "He was a big man," she said, describing his daily weightlifting, "and it look a lot of energy to keep him going." She said he adored his mother, who died in 2018, and his two young daughters.
At times they took prescribed painkillers. At other times they illegally obtained opioids. Sometimes they shook the habit, sometimes they relapsed.
"Addiction, in my opinion, is a lifelong struggle," she said. "It's not something that comes and goes, it's something I'll deal with forever." (Reporting by Jonathan Allen Editing by Alistair Bell)
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