A white St. Paul man who said he cried at a memorial vigil for Philando Castile was among those admitted to a jury pool in the third day of selection for the trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez.
Nine potential jurors were approved and four were excused Thursday. A total of 14 prospective jurors, two of them people of color, have been approved since Wednesday. Nine total have been excused, including one woman who is related to Yanez.
Yanez, 29, a St. Anthony police officer, is charged with second-degree manslaughter for shooting Castile, 32, and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for endangering Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter, then 4, who were in the car. Reynolds used her cellphone to livestream the aftermath on Facebook in a video viewed by millions.
The man who attended the vigil expressed strong opinions, admitting that he thought Yanez's actions were "excessive." But under lengthy questioning by the attorneys and Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III, he said he could set aside his opinions and decide the case based on evidence presented in court.
"That would be my duty," said the man, a biology professor who used principles of science to explain how he would do that.
The man said he learned about the shooting soon afterward and followed subsequent news coverage.
"I felt that it was a suspicious situation," he said.
In his jury questionnaire and on the witness stand Thursday, he also said that he attended a vigil for Castile at Castile's workplace, J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul.
"I was sad," he explained after Leary probed further. "Any death is a tragedy. I wanted to go and pay my respects and be with the community.
"I was genuinely emotional. I cried."
Defense attorney Paul Engh asked if he could also have empathy for Yanez.
"Yes, I believe so, in that this was obviously a very complicated situation," the man said.
Engh asked if it was "fair" to say that the man could have a bias against Yanez.
"I could have a bias," the man said.
Defense attorneys moved to excuse the man. Prosecutors resisted, and Leary denied the motion.
"He continually and strongly affirmed his ability to" set aside his opinions, Leary said.
During individual questioning, attorneys also approved a younger white female cook who is a survivor of childhood rape, a white man who told the court he had never heard of the case until he was called for jury duty, a white woman who is a licensed practical nurse, a white woman who works as an emergency room nurse, an 18-year-old Ethiopian-American female college student, a white female tech support worker, a retired white male gun owner who followed news of the case and a white man who does construction work and owns several shotguns and rifles.
Attorneys excused a younger white woman who broke down in tears at the prospect of having to serve on the jury, a white man who said he could not focus on the trial because of his father's financial and health issues, and a white man who said 90 percent of court evidence is "hearsay" and that he would not be a good juror.
An older white woman was also excused after she revealed that she was in the next room when a bomb exploded at Dayton's department store in downtown St. Paul in 1970. The woman told the court that she listened to Reynolds' video, but couldn't watch it, and that the Castile shooting stirred up traumatic feelings from the explosion.
Defense attorney Earl Gray tried to remove the 18-year-old college student, who immigrated to the United States when she was 10. Gray asked the woman if she was a citizen, and then asked her to describe the American criminal justice system and to define felony, misdemeanor, credibility and impeachment.
Dissatisfied with her answers, Gray moved Leary to excuse her, telling the court (after she had been led out of the room) that she was "simply not competent" and that any other 18-year-old could "quite easily" answer his questions.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Richard Dusterhoft pushed back, noting that Gray didn't ask any other potential jurors to define the legal terms. (Leary did ask many about their feelings regarding the criminal justice system.)
"She seems to be an intelligent young woman," Leary said before denying Gray's request.
Attorneys are hoping to whittle the original group of 50 prospective jurors down to 23 by late afternoon Friday. They'll then pick 15 to serve on the jury; three of them alternates.
Monday morning is reserved for additional jury selection and discussion regarding some trial evidence.
Opening statements and testimony could begin at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Leary said. Engh told potential jurors several times Thursday that Yanez will testify at trial.