Attorneys for Officer Jeronimo Yanez made last-minute arguments critical to his self-defense strategy Tuesday, the contentious first day of trial in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile.
Before the judge could swear in the pool of 50 potential jurors, defense attorneys argued to toss out any mention of Castile's permit to carry the handgun he had at the time he was shot. Yanez's team also wants to examine whether Castile lied about his alleged marijuana use.
But Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III didn't immediately rule on the permit issue, and the marijuana use remains open for debate.
Yanez, 29, a St. Anthony police officer, is charged with second-degree manslaughter for shooting Castile, 32, and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for endangering Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter, then 4, who were in the car. Reynolds used her cellphone camera to live-stream the shooting's aftermath on Facebook.
Yanez appeared in court Tuesday morning in a gray suit, white shirt and purple tie, and used public entrances to the courthouse for the first time.
Defense attorney Earl Gray told the court that in a transcript provided by prosecutors, Reynolds made three references to Castile's permit to carry. He moved to strike them from the trial, which is expected to last three weeks.
If the state wants to admit Reynolds' statements, Gray said, the defense should be allowed to examine whether Castile lied about his alleged marijuana use on the permit application. Prosecutors previously pushed back against that line of questioning.
"They're opening the door," Gray said.
Defense attorneys have long argued that Castile was culpably negligent in his own death because he was high on marijuana at the time of the traffic stop, and subsequently should have never possessed a gun. The prosecution has conceded that THC was found in Castile's blood, but maintained that he did not use marijuana that day.
Federal prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen, who is assisting the Ramsey County attorney's office on the case, said that Reynolds' statements about the permit were made on both her Facebook Live video and police squad video.
Although authorities say Castile told Yanez that he had a firearm on him before he was shot, he did not say that he had a permit to carry.
Paulsen argued against the redaction, noting that any alleged misstatement Castile made on the permit he acquired in 2015 is irrelevant, because it was not known to Yanez at the time of the traffic stop and could not have affected his state of mind.
Leary proposed omitting the statements at trial and instructing jurors to refrain from wondering whether Castile had a permit to carry. Gray agreed to the solution, and although Paulsen called it a "very reasonable compromise," prosecutors reserved the right to respond more fully by 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The defense raised the question of Castile's alleged marijuana use in a second motion after receiving an interview from prosecutors May 22 in which Reynolds said Castile accompanied her when she bought marijuana the day of the shooting.
Gray pressed the court to compel prosecutors to reveal more about Reynolds' marijuana transaction, which apparently occurred one to two hours before the shooting.
That information, including the difference between the amount she purchased and the six grams recovered in Castile's car, could lead to a "reasonable inference" about whether marijuana was smoked in the car before the shooting, he argued.
"[Reynolds] says they didn't smoke it, so I think it's a red herring," Paulsen countered.
Leary granted the defense's motion, but Paulsen said prosecutors don't know who sold Reynolds the marijuana, where the transaction occurred or how much was sold.
Leary will allow the defense to question Reynolds about the details of the transaction, but said he would not require prosecutors to re-interview Reynolds before trial. If necessary, Gray said, the defense will recess at trial and find the dealer based on her testimony.
A pool of 50 prospective jurors was sworn in after the arguments.
Yanez stood and addressed the group briefly with, "Good morning," after an introduction from the judge. Court was adjourned about 10:25 a.m. so jurors could fill out questionnaires to vet their knowledge of the case, among other issues.
One juror, a woman, was immediately dismissed after defense attorneys told the court she was related to Yanez.
The pool included about a half-dozen people of color.
"It could have been a little more diverse," said Castile's close friend, John Thompson, who attended Tuesday's proceedings. "I look at the jury and say, 'They're not diverse enough,' but can they be fair?"
Jurors will be questioned individually starting Wednesday morning.
Castile's mother, sister and uncles were not in the courtroom. Yanez's parents and two older brothers were also absent, although about a half dozen men in suits sat in benches reserved for Yanez's family. Local and national representatives with the National Latino Peace Officers Association were also there to support Yanez.
Thompson said Castile's family would attend the trial once testimony began.
"They're blowing a smoke screen," Thompson said of the defense's focus on marijuana. "I'm happy this day is here. I lost a good friend."