Yanez Trial: Approved jury pool nearly filled

Only two more jurors are needed before attorneys start whittling down the numbers to select a final jury in the manslaughter trial of Officer Jeronimo Yanez.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -  Only two more jurors are needed before attorneys start whittling down the numbers to select a final jury in the manslaughter trial of Officer Jeronimo Yanez.

KARE 11's Lou Raguse says Friday's juror selection included seven white men, and all of them are gun owners. The first was a man in his 40s who recently moved to Minnesota from Dallas. During questioning he expressed empathy for the number of times Philando Castile had been pulled over for minor traffic offenses before the fatal night he was shot by Yanez.  

"I've been pulled over for similar things. I think there's honestly a problem there with how minor things grow and become warrants. And when you live where you can hardly afford fines, it seems like it's rigged against you," the man said. 

The second juror approved is an Air Force veteran in his 30s, who told attorneys and Judge William Leary he knows little about the case. The third juror, a light rail train operator, also said he did not know much about the shooting of Castile. 

Following a short break a fourth juror was also forwarded to the approved pool. 

One man, a member of the NRA, was challenged by the prosecution but eventually approved by the judge. 

Another man who was approved works for the MN sex offender program and says he has ties to St. Paul but travels to Moose Lake and St. Peter. He also said he works with law enforcement. 

Prosecutors and the Yanez defense team need an approved pool of 22 jurors before they begin using their strikes, to get down to the 12 jurors and three alternates needed to hear the case. So far, two people of color have been approved, though one -- an Ethiopian-American woman -- was challenged, so the defense could come back and strike. 

The defense team has made it clear Yanez plans to testify in his own defense. 

THURSDAY

Jury selection passed the halfway point by the time court dismissed Thursday in Ramsey County in the trial of the officer accused of killing Philando Castile.

So far 14 jurors have been approved, meaning nine more need to be approved before the pool can be narrowed down to the 12 jurors and three alternates who will decide the Officer Jeronimo Yanez's fate.

One juror approved raised a challenge by the defense, because the man, who is white, said he attended a vigil for Philando Castile in the days following the shooting and cried. The man, a scientist at a local college, admitted he has a bias against Officer Yanez based on what he's heard so far about the case. But he said he could set aside those feelings and make a decision based on the evidence.

Judge William Leary rejected the challenge and allowed the man to pass onto the next round, saying, "The totality of the questioning shows he is suitable to serve. Attending a vigil in and of itself is not a point for disqualification."

Another potential juror raised a challenge from the defense, because the woman didn't understand much about the U.S. Criminal Justice System. Under questioning by attorney Earl Gray, the 18-year-old woman who immigrated from Ethiopia admitted not knowing the meaning of "negligence," "credibility," or even what the U.S. Criminal Justice System is.

Judge Leary again rejected the challenge, stating that not many 18-year-olds would be able to answer those questions.

Jury selection, in effect a process of elimination, begins with questioning of the initial pool of 50 jurors. If a potential juror appears to be too biased, or has extenuating circumstances in their life, the judge dismisses them from the pool. When a total of 23 jurors are approved to move to the next phase of the selection process, the defense will strike (eliminate) five of them, and the prosecution will strike three, leaving the 15 who will hear the case. 

Earlier Thursday morning, three additional jurors were approved, bringing the total of those approved to nine. The first was a woman in her 60s who knows little of the case, and what she does know is based on the initial coverage of the shooting of Philando Castile. In a rare moment of levity when asked why she enjoys watching Judge Judy (she confessed to that fact on her questionnaire) the woman responded "I like how she doesn't fool around. She makes a decision and that's it."

The second juror moved to the next round of selection was a 24-year-old Caucasian woman who told attorneys "I honestly don't know anything about the case at all. Questioning for the woman lasted 30 to 40 minutes, significantly shorter than all previous jurors.

Prosecutors and the Yanez defense team also approved a third juror, a white male in his 40s who recently moved to Minnesota from Colorado. He said the first he heard of the shooting of Castile was when the judge spoke of it. The only topic of concern for attorneys was that the man seems to have feelings about the criminal justice system where what he called "victimless crimes" are prosecuted far too often. He also said he believes marijuana should be legalized, a view that could concern the Yanez team as they plan to make an issue of the fact Castile had allegedly used marijuana before the fatal interaction with the officer. 

Two jurors, both who admitted knowing a lot about the case, were excused.

A white woman in her early 20s began crying while she was being questioned by Judge Leary. She said, I've been struggling really hard with the possibility of taking on that role. I don't think I could be an impartial juror."

And a white man in his 50s or 60s said he under normal circumstances he would be able to be an impartial juror, but current family financial issues would cause too much of a distraction during the trial.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 31

Jury questioning is proceeding at a very slow pace in the trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the St. Anthony Police officer who fatally shot motorist Philando Castile.

After court dismissed Wednesday, 40 of the 50 potential jurors remain to be questioned. Five jurors have been dismissed for various reasons. And five will remain in the final pool from which the jury will be selected.

The first juror to be dismissed was a woman who is a relative of Yanez. She was excused Tuesday. On Wednesday morning a pregnant woman with five children was allowed to go home, and a middle-aged woman who runs her own business and cares for her sick husband was excused as well. 

The first juror to be dismissed was a woman who is a relative of Yanez. She was excused Tuesday. On Wednesday morning a pregnant woman with five children was allowed to go home, and a middle-aged woman who runs her own business and cares for her sick husband was excused as well. 

RELATED:  Yanez trial: How we got here

Five people have been passed for cause, meaning they still have a chance to make the final jury unless the prosecution or the defense uses a strike to eliminate them later this week. 

Perhaps the most surprising development in the jury selection process is how little potential jurors say they know about this high-profile case involving the death of an African American motorist. One potential juror, a black man in his 20s, remembered hearing about the shooting when it happened but said he can't recall many details. He incorrectly assumed Diamond Reynolds is a minor. Yanez attorney Tom Kelly extensively questioned the man about his feelings on officer-involved shootings, particularly shootings of unarmed black men. 

RELATED:  What potential jurors are being asked

"I think, 'How does this happen? He was unarmed,'" the man said about another case he had heard about. "But it's not something you could put against every cop."

The man admitted he sometimes feels people with money or power "get off" by hiring high-priced attorneys but he said he wouldn't hold against Yanez the fact he's hired three lawyers in this case.

The second juror kept in the pool was a middle-aged white woman who said she hasn't heard a thing about the shooting of Philando Castile. "Not a word," she said. "I don't watch the news." The potential juror did admit she knew of protests that took place on the freeway following the shooting of Castile, but did not know what those protests were for. "There were protesters who walked out onto the freeway and stopped traffic." 

During questioning the woman told attorneys she has served on a jury in a previous criminal trial in Ramsey County, and that they found the defendant guilty on one charge and not guilty on four others. 

After a short break prosecutors asked the judge to dismiss the potential juror from White Bear Lake, saying they found posts on her Facebook page expressing support for law enforcement. Prosecutors did not object to the tone of the posts, but the fact that the woman under oath she had not shared posts of that nature on her social media accounts. "The only thing I share on Facebook is recipes," she was quoted as saying. 

When confronted with printouts of the posts the woman said she didn't remember sharing them but agreed that she must have. Still, the judge denied the motion to excuse her for cause, meaning she could still end up on the jury. 

The third potential juror to be questioned, an African American woman in her 40s, knew a lot more about the Castile shooting than the two people who came before her. "I think the police officer was careless when he opened fire. That wasn't right," she wrote in her juror questionnaire. "The shooting wasn't fair plus there was a a woman and child who could have been injured." Despite her opinions, the woman told Judge William Leary III she believed she could be fair and impartial if seated on the jury.

The fourth juror, a white man in his 50s, also said he hadn't heard about the Yanez case until he read a newspaper article about it Tuesday night. The judge earlier on Tuesday had asked jurors to avoid news coverage of the case. The juror had gone through a firearm training course and was enthusiastic about the chance to serve on the jury. The judge allowed him to remain in the pool.

Juror #6 is a white man in his 60s who is allowed to remain in the pool.  He is a gun owner, has heard very little about the case, and respects law enforcement.

Juror #7 was a white man in his 40s or 50s who was dismissed after he told the just there is no way he can give Jeronimo Yanez a fair trial. "To unload a gun into a car with a child inside, there's just no reason, in my mind," the man said.

Prosecutors and the Yanez defense team will select 12 jurors and 3 alternates to hear the manslaughter case. 

Jury selection will resume Thursday at 9 a.m.

© 2017 KARE-TV


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