Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Monday in the shooting of Philando Castile, and they will have to sift through conflicting testimony to determine whether officer Jeronimo Yanez killed Castile out of self-defense or poor judgment that deviated from reasonable police conduct.
Jurors are scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. to hear closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys, and then deliberate until 4:30 p.m. Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III told jurors on Friday that they could deliberate until 6 p.m. if they unanimously agree on the extension.
Jurors will not be sequestered during deliberations, but some juries request permission to continue late into the night when feeling optimistic about their progress. They will reconvene at 9 a.m. Tuesday if they haven’t reached a verdict.
The jury heard from more than two dozen witnesses over five days of testimony, including an emotional Yanez, who cried on the stand Friday while saying that Castile ignored his orders and grabbed a gun.
Prosecutors argued that Yanez, who is Mexican-American, racially profiled Castile, who is black, when he stopped him on July 6 for a nonworking brake light in order to verify whether he was a suspect in the armed robbery of a nearby convenience store four days earlier. Evidence presented at trial showed that the St. Anthony police officer radioed his partner, Joseph Kauser, and said Castile matched one of the suspects because of his “wide-set” nose.
Defense attorneys argued that Castile was responsible for his own death because he volunteered that he possessed a gun before disclosing that he had a permit to carry it, grabbed his gun instead of keeping his hands visible, and was high on marijuana at the time, rendering him incapable of following Yanez’s orders.
Yanez, 29, is charged in Ramsey County with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of reckless discharge of a firearm for shooting Castile, 32, in Falcon Heights.
Prosecutors tried to show that Yanez failed to follow key police protocol during the traffic stop. Officers from St. Anthony and Roseville police, including Yanez’s police chief, testified that officers should stand by the confluence of the driver’s and back passenger’s doors when conducting a traffic stop, request armed drivers to place their hands on the steering wheel or dash, ask about the location of any guns in a vehicle and warn fellow officers about the presence of weapons.
But the officers also told the court that every incident is unique, and that traffic stops are among the most dangerous aspects of an officer’s job due to drivers’ unpredictability.
“Officer discretion is an inherent part of the job,” St. Anthony police Chief Jon Mangseth said when questioned by defense attorney Paul Engh Thursday.
“There’s no second-guessing — hindsight — involved, is that right?” Engh asked.
“Yes,” Mangseth said.
Evidence showed that Yanez stood at Castile’s window and informed him about the nonworking brake light. The officer then asked for Castile’s driver’s license and insurance. Castile produced the insurance information and told Yanez that he had a “firearm.” Yanez ordered Castile not to reach for it and fired seven times. Castile was struck by five rounds; two of them tore through his heart.
Yanez also never warned Kauser or officers who later responded to the scene that he apparently saw a gun, according to dashcam footage from his squad played several times in court.
Prosecutors suggested that Yanez never saw a gun because he used the pronoun “it” several times in a conversation with his supervisor the night of the shooting and during an hourlong interview with Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigators the next day. However, prosecutors never played the BCA interview for jurors during its three-day case.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Rick Dusterhoft tried to play the BCA interview Friday during the defense’s case, but Yanez’s attorneys objected and Leary denied the prosecution’s move.
Defense attorney Thomas Kelly called Dusterhoft’s attempt an “improper impeachment” of Yanez’s testimony, and argued that it was impermissible for the prosecution to introduce the tape during the defense’s case.
“They can’t just play a tape and say, ‘Aha!’ ” Kelly said.
Leary was critical of the prosecution’s last-minute gesture, saying he would have appreciated earlier notice. Leary allowed Dusterhoft to ask Yanez about apparently inconsistent statements, but only through oral references to portions of the BCA interview.
Yanez testified under cross-examination from Dusterhoft that he used “it” instead of “gun” or “firearm” because he was stressed and traumatized from the shooting, lack of sleep and alleged harassment he received at home.
Defense attorneys attacked the credibility of several prosecution witnesses, from Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, to its toxicologist to a character witness who knew Castile professionally but not personally.
Reynolds and her daughter, then 4, were in the car when Yanez killed Castile. Reynolds livestreamed the aftermath on Facebook, igniting outrage and protest.
Reynolds testified under cross-examination from defense attorney Earl Gray that she made several inconsistent statements to investigators and the public, including whether Castile was reaching for his wallet or seat belt when he was shot.
Prosecutors have said Castile was reaching for his wallet in order to comply with Yanez’s first instruction.
The defense also tried to humanize Yanez early on, and reinforced it again during his testimony Friday. Engh told jurors during opening statements last Monday that Yanez was the youngest of three boys born to Mexican-American parents who came from migrant farmworker families. Engh pointed them out in the first row of the courtroom, along with Yanez’s brothers and pregnant wife. Engh also told jurors that Yanez and his wife have a young daughter.
Defense attorneys called four character witnesses on Yanez’s behalf: a childhood friend, a college roommate, his best friend’s father and a 71-year-old neighbor who paid Yanez in high school to take her adult son, who has Down syndrome, to movies, lunch and high school sporting events.
“He’s very well-regarded and very well-admired in our town,” said the South St. Paul neighbor, Sheryl Benning. “scrupulously honest.”
The first thing Kelly asked Yanez about when he took the witness stand at 1:30 p.m. Friday was his family. Kelly pointed out that Yanez’s wife, parents and one of his brothers were sitting in the front row.
By contrast, prosecutors never mentioned Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, or sister during its opening statements or case. The two, along with several friends and supporters, attended the trial. Prosecutors called one character witness for Castile, a schoolteacher at his workplace, J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul.
The teacher, Anna Garnaas-Halvorson, testified that she knew Castile as a devoted nutrition services supervisor who adored students.
“Phil was very dependable, reliable,” said Garnass-Halvorson. “He was very … laid back. Knew all the kids’ names.”
But Gray easily made the point that Garnass-Halvorson knew nothing about Castile outside of school, an attempt to boost the defense’s depiction of Castile as a habitual marijuana smoker who flouted the law every day for years, and the day he died with a jar of marijuana in his car.
Garnass-Halvorson testified that she didn’t know Castile socially.
Reynolds testified that Castile was a nonviolent man who doted on her and acted as a father figure to her daughter from another relationship. She also told the court that she and Castile smoked marijuana nearly daily during their three-year relationship.
The jury of six women and nine men will be whittled down to 12 before deliberations. As it stands, there are two jurors of color, a young black man who works as a manager at a fast-food restaurant and reported having no encounters with law enforcement, and an 18-year-old female Ethiopian-American college student the defense unsuccessfully tried to get rid of twice, citing what they said was her lack of knowledge about the American criminal justice system.
The jury also includes: a White Bear Lake woman who initially told attorneys she only shared recipes on Facebook and then admitted that she shared three pro-law enforcement posts days after Yanez was charged last year, a male wellness coach who said too many “victimless” crimes are prosecuted and that marijuana should be legalized, a female emergency room nurse and a young male designer with two low-level marijuana offenses.