The trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez in last year’s fatal shooting of Philando Castile will remain in Ramsey County, where the death occurred, a judge ruled Thursday.
Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III issued his decision denying defense attorneys’ motion for a change of venue after hearing impassioned arguments in court Tuesday morning.
“The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that pretrial publicity is not solely determinative of whether a change of venue should be granted,” Leary wrote in his decision. “Rather, the fundamental issue is whether jurors from the community where the alleged crime occurred can honestly and in good conscience set aside pretrial publicity and their own impressions or opinions regarding the case.”
Yanez’s attorneys, Paul Engh, Earl Gray and Thomas Kelly, argued in court filings and at Tuesday’s hearing that media coverage was “slanted” against their client, and that the case had become an “omnipresent spectacle.”
In Donald Blom’s trial for the 1999 killing of Katie Poirier, Leary noted, the state Supreme Court upheld the district court’s decision to deny Blom’s second request for a change of venue.
“As in Blom, the death of Mr. Castile has been the subject of ongoing public comment locally, statewide and nationally,” said Leary’s decision. “Although … the impact of such publicity may be less in other areas of the state, Defendant concedes that no area of the state has been ‘shielded’ from such publicity.
“Certainly, it is more evident than ever that, given the saturation of electronic communication in the years since Blom … ‘our present methods of communication’ make it unlikely that any community has been impervious to forming ‘impressions or opinions’ regarding the case.”
The matter can be revisited during jury selection, Leary said, after potential jurors are asked to disclose their exposure to media coverage and their ability to remain impartial.
“Defendant has failed, however, to demonstrate at this time that there is a ‘reasonable likelihood’ that an unfair trial would occur in Ramsey County,” the judge wrote.
Gray had suggested that Yanez’s trial be moved to Brainerd, Duluth or St. Cloud.
Yanez, 29, a St. Anthony police officer, was charged Nov. 16 with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm in the death of Castile, 32, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights on July 6. The last two charges filed against Yanez, who is on paid administrative leave, are for endangering Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her then-4-year-old daughter, who were in the car at the time.
Reynolds broadcast the aftermath live on Facebook, bringing worldwide attention to Castile’s death.
In Thursday’s decision, Leary also denied defense motions to dismiss the manslaughter count, to separate the manslaughter charge from the other two charges into separate cases and to prohibit the prosecution’s use-of-force expert, Jeffrey Noble, from testifying at trial.
Leary wrote that Noble can testify to the reasonableness of Yanez’s actions, but cannot express an opinion on Yanez’s innocence or guilt.
Noble informed prosecutors that Yanez’s behavior was “not necessary, was objectively unreasonable and was inconsistent with generally accepted police practices.”
Yanez has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A trial is scheduled for May 30.