Philando Castile Trial Kicks Off After Memorial Day

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

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – The much-anticipated manslaughter trial of the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop last summer is set to begin Tuesday with jury selection.

The immediate aftermath of the July 2016 shooting was live-streamed on Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was a passenger in the car along with her 4-year-old daughter.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi charged St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, 29, with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm in November.

Yanez pleaded not guilty to both charges in February.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen, representing the state of Minnesota, successfully argued that Yanez is not entitled to qualified immunity.

Evidence of Castile’s use of marijuana could be the focus of Yanez’s defense.

Yanez’s attorneys said blood drawn from Castile showed high levels of THC, the chemical compound in marijuana.

Castile told Yanez that he had a gun in a vehicle during the traffic stop, and at the time, he had a valid permit to carry.

However, defense attorney Paul Engh has argued that because Castile had marijuana in his system at the time of the incident, he did not have the right to carry a gun.

Ramsey County District Judge William H. Leary, overseeing the case, ruled last week that the defense attorneys are not allowed to bring up past marijuana use but are allowed to show evidence about marijuana allegedly used by Castile the day of the shooting.

In March, defense attorneys also sought to move the case to another venue, arguing that “slanted” media coverage of the case in Ramsey County negatively impacted prospective jurors.

“The media coverage and protests have never suggested an iota of fault in Mr. Castile’s conduct,” Yanez’s attorneys wrote in a memo. “That one-sidedness is ‘potentially prejudicial.’”

But Judge Leary denied the motion weeks later and decided to keep the trial in St. Paul, finding that Yanez failed to show that there is a “reasonable likelihood” a trial in Ramsey County would be unfair.

Yanez’s trial begins Tuesday at 9 a.m. with jury selection.

According to a May 4 order, courtroom attendees are not allowed to wear or carry signs, buttons or clothing that call attention to Castile, Yanez or any witnesses.

In addition, “courtroom attendees shall not make any facial expression, gesture, utterance or change of demeanor that conveys any opinion or belief in response to a statement of a party or witness, argument or statement of counsel, or ruling of the court.”

Prosecutors said they aren’t commenting on the case leading up to trial. Yanez’s defense attorneys did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

At the time of his death, Castile was a 32-year-old cafeteria worker at the J.J.Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul.

In a statement the day after the shooting, St. Paul Public Schools said Castile was described by colleagues as “a team player who maintained great relationships with staff and students alike.”

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