ST. PAUL, Minn. - A Ramsey County Judge expects to decide by Friday whether to move the trial of a St. Anthony police officer charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Philando Castile.
A motions hearing Tuesday morning saw defense attorneys for officer Jeronimo Yanez vigorously arguing that extensive and allegedly biased pre-trial media coverage makes it impossible for their client to get a fair trial. His team presented four newspaper headlines they criticized as biased, and referenced a press conference held by Gov. Mark Dayton in the wake of the Castile shooting.
Yanez's defense team told the court how they sent an investigator to Brainerd to speak with random citizens about the case. They assert 90 percent of those questioned said they didn't have enough information on the case to make a decision on the officer's guilt or innocence, which the defense says makes Brainerd a perfect place for the trial to be held. Defense attorneys also say Duluth or St. Cloud would be good alternatives to St. Paul.
"We believe he could get a fair trial outside the city of St. Paul," said Yanez attorney Earl Gray. "The law requires the venue be changed if you cannot get a fair trial. It is reasonably likely... and we believe it's reasonably likely... he can't get a fair trial here. Simple as that."
Gray also says that during his press conference announcing charges against Yanez, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi opined that the officer is guilty, an act that Gray calls both unethical and wrong. That alone, he maintains, is reason enough for a change of venue.
Judge William Leary expects to make a decision on the motion for change of venue by Friday. He did rule Tuesday against a defense motion to separate charges, which would have jurors consider the charges against Yanez one at a time. The officer's team believes considering the second-degree manslaughter charge alongside two counts of dangerous discharge of a weapon would confuse jurors, but Judge Leary disagreed.
Yanez concedes he fatally shot Castile the night of July 6, 2016 after a traffic stop. The officer contends Castile was reaching for his weapon and he felt his life was in danger. Prosecutors say Castile told Yanez he had a permit to carry and had a firearm in the vehicle but was not reaching for it.
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