ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - The jury pool of about 50 men and women has been sworn in for the manslaughter trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer charged in the July 6 shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. One prospective juror is related to Officer Yanez, and they were dismissed right away.
“I was looking at the jury and was hoping to see more people of color on the jury," said John Thompson,a friend of Castile. "It seems like they went to Brainerd to get the jury.”
Defense requests more juror strikes
The defense team has already asked for more strikes during the jury selection process. Ramsey County Judge William Leary III denied that request. The defense is allowed five strikes and prosecutors are allowed three. There is no limit on strikes if a juror shows bias.
Yanez’s attorneys pushed hard to move the case out of Ramsey County, arguing the officer cannot get a fair trial in the Twin Cities due to pretrial publicity. The defense exhausted all measures, even petitioning the Minnesota Supreme Court, but those requests were denied.
Where did marijuana come from?
Tuesday morning, the defense told the court it received new information that Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, bought marijuana with Castile the day of the shooting. Officer Yanez’s attorneys want to know who sold the pot, where it was sold, and how much was purchased. Six grams of marijuana was recovered from the car.
Issue of Castile’s permit to carry
Both sides also argued over Castile’s permit to carry a firearm. Castile held a valid permit to carry from Hennepin County, issued on June 4, 2015. The defense wants to show that Castile lied about using marijuana, but prosecutors say that’s not relevant to Officer Yanez’s decision to shoot Castile.
In her Facebook Live video of the shooting aftermath, Diamond Reynolds mentions Castile's permit to carry three times to Officer Yanez. Judge Leary said he doesn't want it to be issue, and will instruct jurors to not consider those references. One potential solution raised in court was to remove those references from the video that will be submitted as evidence.
Whether or not Castile's permit to carry will be admissible remains undetermined, but should be resolved before opening arguments.
Philando Castile was killed July 6 during a traffic stop in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights. His death got instant attention as the shooting's gruesome aftermath was streamed live on Facebook by Castile's girlfriend, who was in the car along with her young daughter.
Prosecutors say Yanez shot Castile, a 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker, after Castile told him he was armed. The entire encounter lasted barely more than a minute. Authorities later found Castile had a permit to carry.
A criminal complaint gives a timeline of the July 6 traffic stop, as compiled by investigators from squad car audio and video recordings:
- 9:05 p.m. -- Castile's vehicle comes to a stop.
- 9:05:15-9:05:22 -- Yanez approaches vehicle on driver's side.
- 9:05:22-9:05:38: -- Yanez leans at driver's side window, greets Castile, tells him of brake light problem.
- 9:05:33 -- Officer Joseph Kauser approaches vehicle on passenger side, stands near rear door.
- 9:05:38 -- Yanez asks for driver's license and proof of insurance.
- 9:05:48 -- Castile provides proof of insurance.
- 9:05:49-9:05:52 -- Yanez glances at card, tucks it into outer pocket.
- 9:05:52-9:05:55 -- Castile tells Yanez: "Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me." Castile interrupts to say "OK" and places right hand on holstered gun.
- 9:05:55-9:06:02 -- Yanez says, "OK, don't reach for it, then." Castile says, "I'm ... I'm ... (inaudible) reaching ... Yanez interrupts to say, "Don't pull it out." Castile says: "I'm not pulling it out." His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, says, "He's not pulling it out." Yanez shouts: "Don't pull it out!" Yanez draws his gun with right hand while reaching inside driver's window with left. Yanez removes left arm from car, fires seven shots, the last at 9:06:02.
- 9:06:03 -- Reynolds yells: "You just killed my boyfriend!"
- 9:06:42 -- Reynolds begins livestreaming on Facebook.
Yanez, who is Latino, is charged with second-degree manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He's also charged with two lesser counts of endangering safety by firing his gun near Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter.
Proving the case
The statute Yanez is charged under requires prosecutors to show he acted with culpable negligence -- that he was reckless and acted unreasonably for the situation. His attorneys have argued Yanez reacted to the presence of a gun and had to use deadly force to protect himself.
Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Ohio's Bowling Green State University who tracks fatal police shootings, said convictions of officers are infrequent. Since the beginning of 2005, 81 officers nationwide have been charged with murder or manslaughter. A little more than a third were convicted -- 15 by jury and 14 by guilty plea, Stinson said.
But 39 percent resulted in non-convictions. Stinson said several high-profile cases recently ended in mistrials or acquittals when an officer testified that they feared serious bodily injury or death and had "no choice."
Jurors acquitted white Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer Betty Jo Shelby of manslaughter on May 17 after she testified that she fatally shot Terence Crutcher, an unarmed, black 40-year-old, out of fear when he didn't obey her commands. And the retrial of former University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing is underway after his first case ended with a hung jury last November. In his initial trial, Tensing, who is white, testified he feared for his life when he shot Samuel DuBose, an unarmed, black 43-year-old, as DuBose tried to drive away during a July 2015 traffic stop.
"Jurors are very reluctant to second-guess the split-second life-or-death decisions of an on-duty police officer involved in a violent street encounter with a citizen," Stinson said.
Yanez is expected to testify in his defense.
At least two videos are expected to be shown to jurors.
The video recorded by Reynolds shows a bloody Castile slumped over and moaning in the moments after he was shot. Yanez stands at the window, gun still aimed at Castile. Yanez swears and shouts: "I told him not to reach for it!" Reynolds replies that Castile was reaching for his ID, as Yanez requested.
Authorities also have audio and video from Yanez's squad car that haven't been made public. The criminal complaint says they show the traffic stop itself and an exchange of information before Castile tells Yanez: "Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me." Yanez replies, "OK, don't reach for it then" and repeatedly tells Castile not to pull out the gun. Castile says he was not reaching for it, and Yanez screams "Don't pull it out!" before he quickly pulls his own gun and fires seven shots at Castile.
Castile moans and says, "I wasn't reaching for it," according to the complaint.
An autopsy found traces of marijuana in Castile's system, and defense attorneys have indicated they will argue he was stoned, didn't obey the officer's commands and that his own actions contributed to his death. The defense plans to bring forward an expert to testify that the presence of THC showed Castile was intoxicated. Prosecutors say their expert will testify that such a conclusion can't be drawn.
Yanez's attorneys wanted to show the jury Castile's car and have the officer re-enact the shooting, but the judge rejected that.
The judge also won't allow the defense to introduce details about Castile's alleged past marijuana use or his arrest and driving record, but if testimony addresses those issues, the defense can ask the judge to reconsider.