Fate of Cop Who Killed Castile in Jury’s Hands

St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Photo courtesy of Ramsey County Jail.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – Prosecutors and defense attorneys delivered closing arguments Monday over manslaughter charges that could send the Minnesota police officer who killed Philando Castile to state prison for 10 years.

St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, 29, has been charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. He faces up to 10 years in prison on the manslaughter charge.

Castile’s July 2016 killing received worldwide attention when his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her 4-year-old daughter, live-streamed the immediate aftermath on Facebook.

Castile had the right to be treated like an “ordinary citizen” the night he was pulled over for a broken tail light, prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen told jurors Monday morning.

Castile had no reason to believe he was being pulled over for any other basis, Paulsen stated.

“He did what he was supposed to do,” the prosecutor said.

He was courteous, non-threatening, offered no resistance and “didn’t even complain about being pulled over for such a minor offense,” Paulsen added.

Paulsen rebutted the defense’s argument that Castile ignored Yanez’s commands not to reach for his gun.

Paulsen said Castile was paying attention and denied reaching for his gun.

When Castile was telling Yanez that he was “not reaching for it,” Yanez admitted that he was experiencing tunnel vision simultaneously, Paulsen argued.

At this point in time the officer was “not listening” and Castile was shot five times in the chest without being told to stop, Paulsen said.

“This isn’t a murder case. It’s a manslaughter case,” he told jurors.

Paulsen also argued that any applied negligence and any claimed fault on the victim’s part isn’t a defense.

Ramsey County District Judge William Leary III provided jury instructions after he dismissed the court for lunch Monday afternoon.

The jurors will consider each of the criminal offenses brought against Yanez separately.

For the second-degree manslaughter charge, jurors will decide whether there was “culpable negligence” in Yanez’s conduct and if he created “an unreasonable risk” and caused “death or great bodily harm” to Castile.

The jury has to find three elements to convict Yanez of second-degree manslaughter: that the death occurred, Yanez caused the death of Castile by culpable negligence, and Yanez’s actions took place on July 6, 2016 in Ramsey County.

For the two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm, jurors will need to decide whether the officer discharged his firearm under circumstances that endangered Reynolds and her daughter, Dae-Anna.

Paulsen further argued that it would not have made sense for Castile to pull a gun on an officer.

“He had no reason to pull a gun,” the prosecutor said.

Paulsen explained to jurors that even if Castile pulled the gun, no bullets were in the gun’s chamber at the time and Castile would have had to use both hands to fire the gun anyway.

Paulsen relied on a PowerPoint presentation to articulate the major points of his argument, including Yanez’s statements to an agent from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

In his statement to the BCA about what he saw in Castile’s hand, Paulsen claimed Yanez said, “I know he had an object and it was dark.”

The statement was projected on a screen in white, bold lettering along with other various statements and main points.

Paulsen also showed jurors an autopsy photo of Castile’s right trigger finger.

The finger was injured during the incident and Paulsen explained to jurors that the photo is additional evidence that Castile’s trigger finger could have not been in his pocket or on the gun when he was shot.

“Yanez did not wait until he was sure….he got nervous and put his safety above everyone else,” Paulsen said.

The prosecutor said Yanez’s defense team may tell you that the shooting was Castile’s fault since Castile had marijuana in his system, but Paulsen said there is no credible evidence that he was actually impaired.

Paulsen also pointed out that Yanez was the only witness to testify that he smelled burnt marijuana.

The prosecutor concluded his closing argument by stating that all experts agreed on one thing: use of deadly force doesn’t become justified after the fact.

“We all know this is a sad case. But it is not a hard case,” Paulsen said. “He used deadly force as his first option and not his last resort.”

Following a brief recess, Judge Leary questioned three jurors about their encounter with a person who had shouted from a vehicle while some of the jurors were outside during recess.

According to one juror, the person shouted “Guilty!” from inside the vehicle and stopped at a streetlight.

The juror said she looked over and was surprised, but confirmed with Leary that the incident would not affect her decision in the case.

Attorney Earl Gray gave the defense’s closing arguments with conviction. In a boisterous tone of voice, Earl contested any theory that Yanez did not see a gun on Castile.

Gray immediately said he wanted to “get rid of that theory.”

Gray agreed that the officer did not say the gun was black in his initial statements, but Gray made clear that the reason was because Yanez “had just been traumatized.”

The defense attorney also refuted the inconsistencies in Yanez’s statements using the word “it” instead of “gun.”

Gray asked jurors what else Yanez could possibly be referring to other than a gun.

He also took aim at Reynolds’ reliability, telling jurors that she lied under oath about the $40 she received from a BCA agent after getting a ride home from after an interview.

Gray brought to jurors’ attention the THC in Castile’s system at the time of his death.

He said this evidence shows that Castile was “stoned under marijuana” when he was pulled over by Yanez.

He also contested the state’s argument that Yanez should have told Castile that he resembled a robbery suspect from four days prior.

Gray argued that it would be wrong to do so because if Castile was in fact the robber, Yanez would have placed himself in a situation to be shot.

Gray said, “That’s ridiculous!”

Castile told the officer he had a gun but failed to tell him that he had a permit to carry it, Gray explained to jurors.

At this point, Yanez may have been concerned or even threatened, according to Gray.

The defense attorney said Castile ignored Yanez’s orders and “his hand was down here,” demonstrating to jurors where Castile’s hand was during the interaction.

Gray went on to say that Yanez was traumatized and that “he saw the gun.”

The defense attorney then asked jurors, “Why else would he do this?”

Toward the conclusion of his closing argument, Gray told jurors that if they take in all the facts of the case they’ll see that the state “failed miserably.”

In his rebuttal, Paulsen reiterated to jurors that there was no credible evidence Castile was under the influence of marijuana and one cannot conclude he was under the influence simply because THC was in his system.

Paulsen also refuted Gray’s blow to Reynolds’ testimony about receiving $40 from the BCA agent, asking jurors, “What does that have to do with your decisions in this case?”

Yanez resorted to deadly force “before he was sure,” Paulsen said.

In Leary’s jury instructions, the reasonableness of use of force must be judged from the prospective of the officer at the moment of the scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.

“The determination of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments about the force that is necessary in a particular situation under circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving,” the instructions state.

Jury deliberations will continue Tuesday at 9 a.m.

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