Key defense requests were denied at a hearing Tuesday for the police officer charged with fatally shooting Philando Castile last year, but the door was left open for other contentious evidence that could come into play when the history-making case goes to trial later this month.
Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III ruled that Jeronimo Yanez cannot re-enact last year’s fatal shooting in the presence of Castile’s car while jurors watch.
One of Yanez’s three attorneys, Earl Gray, said that although not all of their motions were granted, the defense still has a strong case.
“We got rulings that will help us defend the case,” Gray said. “I’m not going to comment on the judge’s rulings. We have enough there to easily win this case.”
Several defense and prosecution motions were addressed at the pretrial hearing — the final one scheduled before the trial begins May 30. The judge reviewed requests by the defense to admit evidence of Castile’s alleged past marijuana use, his arrest and driving records and an interview Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, gave to police in an unrelated assault case.
Yanez, 29 was charged in November with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm after killing Castile, 32, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights on July 6. Reynolds and her daughter, then 4, were also in the car.
Defense attorney Paul Engh made an impassioned plea that Leary allow jurors to view Castile’s car in-person while Yanez re-enacts the traffic stop and testifies to what he saw and did.
“On a visceral level, the actual car and the seat and the blood … is visually arresting,” Engh said.
Seeing it in person would be “moving,” he argued, and “far superior” to seeing it in photographs, which is commonly how crime scenes are presented to jurors at trial.
“I’m a little concerned that you used the words ‘visceral’ and ‘moving,’ because that plays to people’s emotions rather than the facts,” Leary said.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Richard Dusterhoft opposed the defense request, noting that the car had been well-documented and that the shooting was also documented via squad video and Reynold’s Facebook Live video.
Leary denied the car visit and re-enactment.
Reynolds’ credibility was also hotly contested. Defense attorneys requested video and audio of a March interview she gave to St. Paul police regarding a recent assault in which she allegedly attacked a woman with a hammer.
Gray told Leary that the defense wouldn’t bring up the charges, but wanted the video and audio to show that she lied to police about her whereabouts during the assault.
“How is that relevant to this case?” Leary asked.
“We’re going to get into the bad act of not telling the truth to law enforcement,” Gray said.
Leary asked if the defense was going to make the inference that if she lied about the assault, she could be lying about Castile’s shooting.
“Yes,” Gray said.
Prosecutors opposed any mention of Reynolds’ assault case, which is being handled by the Washington County attorney’s office to avoid conflicts of interest.
“I think it’s absolutely clear … it has no relevance in this case,” Leary said of the assault charge.
Reynolds’ attorney in that case, Michael Padden, said it was unfair for Yanez’s defense to question his client’s truthfulness. She was not at the scene of the assault, Padden said, adding that he plans to file a motion to dismiss the case.
Defense attorneys wanted to present evidence about Castile’s alleged past marijuana use, including his response to a question on the topic on his permit-to-carry form, and Reynolds’ Facebook pictures and videos showing alleged marijuana consumption.
Leary said the defense can’t introduce the permit question or alleged past marijuana use. But, he said, if testimony touches on the subject matter, the defense can ask him to revisit the issue.
The same standard will apply to Castile’s arrest and driving records.
The defense will be allowed to present evidence about Castile’s alleged marijuana use the day of the shooting, which they have said contributed to negligence in his own death.
Gray said Castile was “stoned” the day he was killed, and that a defense expert will testify that the presence of THC in Castile’s toxicology report shows that he was intoxicated.
Jeffrey Paulsen, a federal prosecutor working with the Ramsey County attorney’s office, said the prosecution’s expert will deny that the correlation can be drawn. “Our expert says there is no way any reliable expert could make that judgment,” Paulsen said.
The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday also issued an order denying a review of the defense’s request to move Yanez’s trial to either Brainerd, Duluth, Hastings or St. Cloud. The defense brought their change-of-venue argument to the high court after it was rejected by Leary and the Minnesota Court of Appeals.