ST. PAUL, Minn. – Lawyers for a Minnesota police officer charged with fatally shooting a black motorist asked a judge Tuesday to move the trial, saying publicity has made it impossible to seat an unbiased jury in the St. Paul area.
St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in the death of Philando Castile. Castile’s girlfriend, who was sitting in the passenger seat when Castile was shot in Falcon Heights, livestreamed the bloody aftermath on Facebook.
Defence attorney Earl Gray argued that Yanez, who is Latino, couldn’t get a fair trial in Ramsey County, where the shooting occurred in July 2016, because of extensive media coverage of the case. He suggested moving the May 30 trial to Duluth, St. Cloud or Brainerd, outside of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
Grey also noted remarks by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi that were critical of the officer’s actions. Dayton has said he did not think the shooting would have happened if Castile had been white; Choi has said no reasonable officer would have acted as Yanez did.
“There’s no way you can get him a fair trial (in Ramsey County),” Gray told the judge. “You get outstate, I assure you we will pick a jury very quickly.”
Prosecutors said moving the trial wouldn’t achieve anything because the case received widespread publicity. Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Clayton Robinson Jr. also argued that questionnaires and other steps taken during jury selection would help ensure jurors’ impartiality.
Judge William H. Leary III didn’t immediately rule on the request, but he took issue with a suggestion Gray made during the hearing about local protesters possibly targeting jurors’ homes if Yanez were ultimately acquitted.
“To suggest that individuals’ homes (could be) burned … is simply not true,” the judge said.
Castile, 32, was an employee of St. Paul public schools when he was shot. His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, has said Castile was reaching for his wallet when he was shot. Another defence attorney, Tom Kelly, has said Yanez was reacting to the presence of a gun.
Leary denied one motion by the defence, to separate the manslaughter count against Yanez from other counts that he intentionally endangered passengers in Castile’s car. Reynolds’ then-4-year-old daughter was also in the car with Castile when he was shot.