A jury pool of seven women and 16 men have advanced to the final selection phase for the trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez, who is charged with fatally shooting Philando Castile.
Two of the final 23 prospective jurors are people of color, an issue that has featured prominently in three days of juror questioning. Yanez is Mexican-American, and Castile and two passengers who were in his car at the time of the shooting are black.
Yanez, 29, a St. Anthony police officer, is charged with second-degree manslaughter for fatally shooting Castile, 32, and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for endangering his passengers — girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter, then 4. Reynolds used her cellphone to live-stream the aftermath on Facebook.
Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III said the final stage of jury selection would occur at 1:30 p.m. Monday. Defense attorneys will be allowed to automatically strike five of the prospective jurors that day, and the prosecution three. A dozen jurors and three alternates will serve on the jury.
Opening statements and testimony are expected to start Monday afternoon. Yanez’s attorneys have told prospective jurors that he will likely testify.
Leary said that Monday morning he would address a defense motion to toss out any mention of Castile’s permit to carry the handgun he had at the time he was shot, and possibly another evidentiary issue he did not specify.
The jury pool featured people spanning decades in age, blue-collar workers to academics to retirees, survivors of childhood rape and sexual abuse, military veterans, several gun owners and at least three people who have a permit to carry a firearm.
A small number of prospective jurors said they knew nothing about the case until they were called for jury duty, most had little to moderate knowledge of the case and a small number were very familiar with the case. Nearly all who watched, heard or read news of the case said they didn’t seek it out, but rather, came across it as part of their regular attention to current events.
The two people of color who advanced are a young black man who is a manager at a Wendy’s and an 18-year-old female Ethiopian-American college student. The man was asked Wednesday for his opinions on law enforcement, and said he had no firsthand experience with police.
Defense attorney Thomas Kelly asked him if he had read stories about other incidents of police use-of-force.
Yes, the man said.
“… In some cases, they do shoot unarmed people — not just black people,” the man said. “It’s not every cop.”
One juror questioned and eventually approved Friday told the court that he did not know Castile, but that Castile and his son were acquaintances in high school.
“He thought that Mr. Castile was a pretty good guy, that’s what I recalled,” said the man, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and reportedly one of the first people in Minnesota to obtain a permit to carry when it became legal.
Prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to persuade Leary to excuse the man, a former long-distance truck driver, after he told the court that people with a firearm and a permit to carry should not divulge the information to police.
Squad audio captured Castile voluntarily informing Yanez that he had a firearm on him shortly before Yanez shot him seven times. (Castile did not mention his permit to carry, which he obtained in 2015.)
“That is not the correct way to deal with a police officer,” said the man, who admitted knowing about the case. “You don’t say that.”
One white woman and eight white men and were added to the pool Friday: a female lab assistant, a pipe fitter who spent seven years living in Asia and Guatemala, a former U.S. Air Force combat medic, a light rail operator, a car detailer from St. Paul’s East Side, a former U.S. Army medic who also worked as a land surveyor and special education teacher, an employee with the Minnesota Sex Offender Program and a young designer.
Leary led the vetting of potential jurors over three days of questioning, which occurred individually outside the earshot of other potential jurors. The judge asked most about their experiences with law enforcement, thoughts about the criminal justice system, media exposure to the case and their ability to set aside previous knowledge and opinions to judge evidence fairly and impartially.
Prosecutors asked several prospective jurors if they have co-workers, friends or neighbors who are people of color, and whether their experiences with them were positive or negative. All prospective jurors who were asked reported positive interactions with people of other races, some through close relationships and others through more distant acquaintances.
Defense attorneys asked potential jurors about their decisionmaking process when faced with important or urgent matters, their exposure to marijuana users and their perceptions of how marijuana affects people. Prospective jurors who took a class to obtain a permit to carry a gun were asked what they were taught to say and do if stopped by a police officer while carrying a firearm.
Defense attorneys have said Castile was culpably negligent in his own death because he was high on marijuana when Yanez stopped him. Castile showed a delayed response and did not obey the officer’s orders, they argued in court filings.