George Floyd's girlfriend has described how the couple became addicted to opioids because of chronic pain in emotional testimony at his US murder trial.
Courteney Batya Ross, 45, is the first person who personally knew Floyd to testify at the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former police officer filmed kneeling on the 46-year-old's neck for more than nine minutes before he died.
She offered an intimate portrait of the man whose final moments have been watched by millions across the globe, describing how he offered to pray with her when they first met in 2017.
Ross described how Floyd had become addicted to powerful prescription painkillers, like countless other Americans whose lives have been torn apart by the country's opioid epidemic.
"It's a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids," Ross, who wore a red, 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."
Floyd's alleged drug use will be central to the case against Chauvin, who is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, and third-degree murder.
The reference to opioid addiction is likely to chime with millions of Americans as the country reels from a deadly epidemic. Researchers have blamed a raft of addiction problems on the overprescription of powerful painkillers, which often act as a gateway to illicit street drugs such as synthetic heroin.
The prosecution has argued that Chauvin's decision to kneel on an unarmed Floyd until he became motionless was a substantial factor in his death on May 25 last year.
Chauvin's lawyer has argued that Floyd's death was caused by fentanyl and methamphetamine found in his system, as well as underlying health problems.
The prosecution called Ross to testify yesterday in a bid to head off the argument that Floyd's death was caused by drug use.
She told the court the pair had tried "really hard" to overcome their addictions, but Floyd had relapsed in May 2020, the month he died.
His family attacked the defence strategy, accusing Chauvin's lawyer of a character assassination.
"We fully expected the defence to put George's character and struggles with addiction on trial because that is the go-to tactic when the facts are not on your side," said Ben Crump, a representative for the family.
"Tens of thousands of Americans struggle with self-medication and opioid abuse and are treated with dignity, respect and support, not brutality."
In court, Ross shared details of her life with Floyd, recalling through smiles and tears his dedication to his family, his love of food and dedication to his daily exercise regime.
She described how she first met him in 2017 at a Salvation Army centre in Minneapolis, where he was working as a security guard.
"It's one of my favourite stories to tell," she said, smiling toward the jury, describing how Floyd approached her as she waited in the lobby.
"Floyd has this great, deep, southern voice, raspy," she said, "and he was, like, 'Sis, you okay, 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 date soon afterwards and were still together at the time of his death, she said.
Floyd had adored his mother, she said, and was a "shell" of his former self after her death in 2018. He was also devoted to his two daughters, she said.
She also detailed Floyd's addiction to prescription opioids and a back injury he developed from playing sports.
At times they took prescribed painkillers and at other times they illegally obtained opioids.
"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."
The trial continues.