Late in their second day of deliberations Tuesday, the jurors in Kim Potter's manslaughter trial issued a pair of questions in court, one suggesting that they're having trouble reaching a consensus and a second asking to handle her gun outside of a box where it is secured with zip ties.
The jurors ended deliberations for the day shortly after 6 p.m. They will resume Wednesday morning.
The written questions were read at 4 p.m. in open court in Potter's trial for the shooting death of Daunte Wright. The first read: "If the jury cannot reach consensus, what is the guidance around how long and what steps should we take?"
Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu responded by re-reading the jury instructions, which guided the jury to deliberate with a view toward mutual agreement "if you can do so without violating your individual judgment," adding that jurors "should not hesitate to reexamine your views and change your opinion if you become convinced that they are erroneous, but you should not surrender your honest opinion" to reach a verdict.
In the second question, the jury asked: "Can the zip ties be removed from Exhibit 199, Potter's gun, so it can be held out of the evidence box?"
Chu agreed that a deputy could remove the unloaded, secured gun from the box for the jury to examine.
The defense objected to Chu re-reading the jury instruction and to her decision to unsecure the gun. Chu overruled both.
The questions were read over a livestream with prosecutors, Potter and her defense attorneys present. They came after an estimated 10-plus hours of deliberations continued into the afternoon Tuesday.
When the questions were read, most of the jurors appeared impassive, not revealing much, according to a pool reporter. One juror, a white man in his 40s, appeared the most alert on the edge of his seat with his hands folded between his legs.
The jury's question about a lack of consensus was similar to one asked during the 2017 manslaughter trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the St. Anthony police officer who was ultimately acquitted in the shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.
After 2 ½ days of deliberations in Yanez's case, Ramsey County District Judge William H. Leary III gave a nearly identical direction that Chu gave the Potter jury Tuesday afternoon.
Two days later and after roughly 30 hours of deliberation in Yanez's trial, the jury's not guilty verdicts on all counts were read in court. One of the jurors, Dennis Ploussard, said the jury had been deadlocked 10 for acquittal and two for conviction.
After a morning of closing arguments in Potter's trial Monday, the jury received the case early in the afternoon and stopped deliberating at 6 p.m.
As previously ordered by Chu, the jurors will remain sequestered throughout deliberations until they reach unanimous verdicts on two counts, first- and second-degree manslaughter.
Six women and six men are on the jury. Nine are white, two are Asian women and one is a Black woman. Potter is white, Wright was Black.
Four jurors are in their 40s, three are in their 20s, two are in their 60s, two are in their 50s and one is in her 30s.
During the closing arguments, no one disputed Potter made a mistake, but prosecutor Matthew Frank said that's not a legitimate defense. He and fellow prosecutor Erin Eldridge repeatedly cited Potter's years of training as a 26-year veteran who should have known better than to grab her gun from her right hip when she meant to grab the Taser from her left.
"This was no little oopsie," Eldridge said. "This was a colossal screwup, a blunder of epic proportions. It was precisely the thing she had been warned about for years, and she was trained to prevent it. It was irreversible and fatal."
In response, defense lawyer Earl Gray asked how Potter could be found to "recklessly, consciously handle a gun" when she thought she was holding a Taser. "It's totally believable, totally true she didn't know she had her gun," he said. "She'd never shot her gun in 26 years."
Frank provided the rebuttal argument, the final word, after Eldridge gave the state's initial closings and Gray spoke for Potter. If the jury convicts the 49-year-old Potter of either charge, she faces a sentence of several years.
Gray argued that Potter, who testified tearfully in her own defense Friday, made a mistake in firing her gun instead of her Taser but also that she was justified in using deadly force because Wright had a warrant for illegal possession of a firearm and was trying to flee at the risk of dragging her sergeant.
The defense attorney was dismissive of the prosecution's use-of-force expert, Seth Stoughton, a law professor from the University of South Carolina, who testified that the officers should have let Wright leave and arrest him later.
"That's not protecting the public," Gray said. "That's not serving the public. They had to stop him."
Eldridge, however, said Wright was not armed and posed no threat to the officers.
"Accidents can still be crimes if they occur as a result of recklessness or culpable negligence," Eldridge said, adding that Potter's failure to recognize that she was holding her gun instead of her Taser "establishes her recklessness."