Attorneys asked prospective jurors Wednesday about their experiences with police, the racial makeup of their friends and their Facebook posts during jury selection in the trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez, who is charged with fatally shooting Philando Castile.
The proceeding grew tense when Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Richard Dusterhoft revealed that one woman, who previously told attorneys she only shared recipes on Facebook, had in fact shared three “pro law enforcement” posts in November 2016.
“Is that your Facebook account?” Dusterhoft asked as he showed the woman printed copies of the posts.
“Uh, I think so,” said the woman, who is from White Bear Lake.
Dusterhoft asked her about the posts.
“Oh, I don’t remember that,” she answered.
“Do you remember November 2016?” Dusterhoft asked.
The woman laughed.
“No, no,” she said, adding that she shared the posts because they included the phrase “in God we trust,” and “not because police.”
“Oh my goodness,” she said. “I don’t remember it, but I probably did it.”
“Probably?” Dusterhoft asked. “You said you don’t remember. …”
“Must be my age,” the woman said.
Dusterhoft twice asked Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III to excuse the woman from the ultimate pool of 23 jurors attorneys want to further vet Friday. Leary denied his request the first time after the defense objected, and denied it a second time after questioning the woman himself.
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 his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter, then 4, who were in the car. Reynolds used her cellphone to live-stream the shooting’s aftermath on Facebook.
The White Bear Lake woman, who is white, a young black man who graduated from White Bear Lake Area Schools and three middle-aged white men were “passed for cause,” meaning they will return Friday with 18 other potential jurors who will be whittled down to a jury of 15, three of them alternates.
All three white men said they owned guns; two of them also had permits to carry. One told the judge that he had watched Reynolds’ video and thought, “She seemed more concerned about videotaping than anything else, and then she went on a rant.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys will be allowed to use their peremptory strikes Friday, meaning they’ll be permitted to excuse anyone they want without first arguing the merits of their decision before the judge and other side. The defense has five strikes and the prosecution three.
Attorneys excused three women and one man Wednesday. One white woman had a high-risk pregnancy, another white woman was worried about her husband’s health and their family business and the third, a black woman, said the shooting “wasn’t fair.”
A middle-aged white man was excused after he said he was biased against Yanez because he felt that there was no reason to fire into a car with a child inside. Attorneys excused one woman Tuesday because she is related to Yanez.
If attorneys don’t pass 23 potential jurors by Friday morning, more will be called in next week. Fifty potential jurors were sworn in Tuesday, about a half-dozen of them people of color.
Defense attorneys had worried that publicity about the shooting would harm their chances of getting a fair jury, but most candidates said Wednesday they had little to no knowledge of the case. Most recalled seeing information on the news, radio or newspaper in passing, but said they did not follow developments closely.
The black woman who was excused showed intimate knowledge of the case, and said she strongly disapproved of Yanez’s actions. She also told the court that two white St. Paul police officers pepper-sprayed her once while she was trying to break up a fight in front of her home.
“No questions asked,” she said. “They just walked up and pepper-sprayed me.”
The woman said the incident upset her, and that the officers never apologized.
Leary asked her if, in her questionnaire, she wrote that, “There is no justice for people of color.”
Yes, she said.
Leary asked how she reached her opinion.
“Just seeing what’s going on nowadays between cops and civilians,” the woman said.
After several questions, Leary asked the woman if she could decide Yanez’s case on its own merits and not previous experiences and opinions.
“Yeah,” she said.
“It seems to me … like that would be very hard to do,” Leary said.
“Yeah,” the woman said.
“Do you believe in your heart that you can be fair and impartial to both sides?” Leary asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
The woman was dismissed.
Jury selection resumes Thursday morning.