Jurors deliberating whether officer Jeronimo Yanez was justified in fatally shooting Philando Castile last July 6 will have to decide whether Yanez panicked and ignored his training when he fired, or whether Castile caused the deadly encounter by not following the officer’s orders.
Ramsey County District Judge William Leary III gave the case to the jury of five women and seven men about 1:10 p.m. Monday after hearing closing arguments. Court adjourned at 4:30 and will reconvene at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen painted Yanez as an unreliable witness and argued that the St. Anthony officer acted prematurely during the traffic stop in Falcon Heights. Castile “never reached for his gun, let alone put his hand on it,” Paulsen said.
“He got nervous and he put his safety above the safety of everyone else,” Paulsen said of the seven rounds fired by Yanez. Castile was struck by five rounds; two tore through his heart.
Defense attorney Earl Gray told jurors that the state “failed miserably” in presenting its case. He emphasized the defense’s main contention: that Castile did not follow orders because he was too stoned from smoking marijuana and that he grabbed a gun in his right pocket, forcing Yanez to shoot.
“None of this would have happened but for Philando Castile,” Gray said. “[Yanez] sees the gun and [Castile] doesn’t follow orders. That’s enough to pull your gun out and end the threat.
Yanez “had to make a split-second judgment,” Gray said.
The jury heard from more than two dozen witnesses over five days of testimony last week, including an emotional Yanez, who cried on the stand Friday while saying that Castile ignored his orders and grasped a gun at his right thigh. He is charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of reckless discharge of a firearm.
Prosecutors argued that Yanez, 29, who is Mexican-American, racially profiled the 32-year-old Castile, who was black, when he stopped him on July 6 for a nonworking brake light in order to determine whether he was a suspect in the armed robbery of a nearby convenience store four days earlier. Evidence presented at trial showed that Yanez radioed his partner, Joseph Kauser, and said Castile matched the description of one of the suspects because of his “wide-set” nose.
Defense attorneys argued that Castile was the “causation factor” in the shooting because he volunteered that he possessed a gun without disclosing that he had a permit to carry it, and that he reached for it instead of keeping his hands visible, and was high on marijuana, rendering him incapable of following Yanez’s order not to reach for it.
“Castile was responsive and listening to Yanez,” Paulsen countered to the jurors on Monday. “The problem was Yanez wasn’t listening to him.”
Paulsen showed the jury a picture of Castile’s right index finger — his trigger finger — which was grazed with a bullet wound. There was no damage to Castile’s pocket or gun.
“Castile’s trigger finger could not have been on the gun when he was shot,” Paulsen said.
He also noted that Castile and his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was next to him in the car, both told Yanez that he was not reaching for a gun before the officer fired.
“He was about to say, ‘I was reaching for my wallet,’ ” Paulsen said.
Paulsen tried to discredit the defense’s arguments that Castile was partly to blame in his own death based on testimony from a defense toxicologist who claimed Castile had smoked marijuana about two hours before he was killed. Paulsen called the expert’s reasoning “junk science.”
Had Yanez told Castile to show him the gun and show his hands, “Everybody would have gone home safe that night.”
Gray refuted Paulsen’s claims, telling jurors that Yanez stopped Castile because of additional matching traits, including his hair and glasses. Castile — not Yanez — was the “substantial factor” in the fatal shooting, Gray argued.
“Guns and drugs don’t mix,” he said. “This is a classic example.”
Gray also questioned the credibility of the prosecution’s star witness, Reynolds, who livestreamed the shooting’s aftermath on Facebook, prompting outrage and protest.
“Diamond Reynolds, truth teller,” Gray said sarcastically as Reynolds watched in the courtroom gallery.
Gray told jurors that Reynolds’ and Castile’s marijuana use was relevant, because it affected their actions. He recounted how Reynolds had smoked marijuana with her sister at home before the shooting, and was about 15 minutes late to pick up her daughter.
“You don’t trust the words,” Gray said of the couple’s assertions that Castile wasn’t reaching for his gun. “You trust the action.”
Prosecutors had argued that Yanez never saw a gun because he used the pronoun “it” several times in a conversation with his supervisor the night of the shooting and during an hourlong interview with investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) the next day. However, prosecutors did not play the BCA interview during its three days of arguments.
Yanez testified that he used “it” instead of “gun” or “firearm” because he was stressed.
Gray urged jurors not to get caught up in semantics, telling them that “it” clearly referred to a gun.
“It’s not that hard of a case,” Gray said. “Don’t take words out of context. Look at the conduct.”
Furthermore, Gray argued, the defense never claimed that Castile wanted to shoot Yanez, simply that Castile posed a threat by ignoring the officer’s orders and grabbing a gun, creating a threat that forced Yanez to react.
“My gosh, if a police officer relied on words and not action, there’d be many more dead on the streets,” Gray said.
Reynolds walked swiftly through the courthouse lobby without comment after the jury was dismissed for lunch.
Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, also left without comment.
Gray had little to say, nor would he predict how long it would take the jury to return a verdict.
Several community figures spoke afterward, including longtime civil rights activist Mel Reeves and the Rev. Danny Givens, a liaison to Black Lives Matters Minneapolis. Reeves said the prosecution presented a strong case.
“And now they are blaming a dead man for his own death,” Reeves said. “The whole thing doesn’t feel good.”
Givens praised the prosecution for its sensitivity with the Castile family. When a verdict comes in, he said, “We will wrap our arms around the family and then go into the community.”
Said Reeves: “If the verdict comes back guilty, we will celebrate. If not, we will protest.”