Yanez trial: How things unfolded

ST. PAUL, Minn. - From the outset it was clear: The manslaughter trial of police officer Jeronimo Yanez for the shooting death of motorist Philando Castile would be a contentious affair, with not only Minnesota but the entire country looking on with interest and emotional investment.

Prosecutors maintained that Yanez used deadly force as his first, impulsive option, killing Castile during a traffic stop despite the fact the motorist informed him he was carrying a weapon and was not reaching for it. The Yanez defense team, after attempting to have the trial moved from Ramsey County, dug in and battled, telling jurors that the officer saw a gun in Castile's pocket and shot to save his life. 

Here is a breakdown of the major events from the two-week trial: 

TUESDAY, MAY 30: A short day in court as a pool of 50 potential jurors begins orientation. Defense attorneys enter a motion to omit references to Philando Castile having a legal permit to carry a firearm. The prosecution does not object, as long as jurors would be instructed to not consider it relevant whether Castile had a permit to carry. Judge William Leary III takes the matter under advisement. 

WEDNESDAY, MAY 31: Jury selection is proving a painfully slow process. KARE 11's Lou Raguse reports that despite the defense's assertion that people in Ramsey County have been inundated with media reports on the case, many jurors know almost nothing about the fatal shooting of Castile at the hands of officer Yanez. After Wednesday's afternoon session just 10 of 50 jurors have been questioned, with five advancing to a pool of candidates, and five being sent home.  

THURSDAY, JUNE 1: The pace of the jury selection process picks up, despite some objections as to who moves forward. One juror approved raised a challenge by the defense, because the man, who is white, said he attended a vigil for 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.

FRIDAY, JUNE 2: The potential pool of jurors is nearly full. Seven of those questioned and advanced to the pool of potential jurors are white males, all of whom are gun owners. Just two people of color have been advanced, including the woman who was challenged, unsuccessfully, by the defense team because of her lack of knowledge in the criminal justice system. 

MONDAY, JUNE 5: A final jury of nine men and six women (12 jurors, three alternates) is sat and both the prosecution and defense make their opening statements. The prosecution showed jurors the dash cam video of the traffic stop, which captured the quick escalation of the situation and seven shots rapidly fired from Yanez's gun.

In his opening statements Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Richard Dusterhoft said Castile took two shots to the heart. He then emphasized Castile's final words, "I wasn't reaching for it."

"He didn't tell him to freeze," Dusterhoft said. "He didn't tell him to put his hands up. It was Officer Yanez’s negligence from the traffic stop he chose to make that caused Mr. Castile's death."

The defense spent longer in their opening statements, stating though it happened quickly, "Castile's inability to follow commands is unfortunately timeless here."

Defense Attorney Paul Engh said in his opening statement that Yanez didn't just believe Castile was reaching for his gun, but that he saw him begin to pull the gun out before he fired those seven shots into the car.

The Yanez team asked the jury to remember the line, "OK don't reach for it then," saying it shows Yanez believed Castile was reaching for his gun.

TUESDAY, JUNE 6: After a brief stint on the witness stand the previous day, Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds gave her recollections of the day her boyfriend died, crying as prosecutors played the police dash cam video and Reynolds' own Facebook Live video of the shooting's aftermath back-to-back. 

Prosecutor Clayton Robinson showed the jury three still photos pulled from the Facebook video to prove that Castile still had his seatbelt fastened when shot by Yanez.

Under direct examination, Robinson asked Reynolds, "Why did you make that video?" 

She replied, "Because I know that the people are not protected by the police ... I wanted to make sure if I was to die in front of my daughter someone would know the truth."

During cross-examination Yanez defense attorney Earl Gray pushed Reynolds on the couple's regular use of marijuana, forcing her to admit that she and Castile smoked pot nearly every day of their two-or-three-year relationship. She said they regularly bought marijuana, including the stash officers found in the car after the shooting. Gray also pushed Reynolds on the fact her story changed about what Castile was reaching for in the moments before he was shot -- at one point saying it was his wallet and later saying he was trying to unbuckle his seat belt. 

Also Tuesday, Yanez's partner, Officer Joseph Kauser, testified that he sensed no danger as he approached the traffic stop on that fateful night. When asked by assistant prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen if, prior to the fatal shooting, he saw anything about the traffic stop that alarmed him, Kauser simply answered "no."

"Did you (prior to the shooting) feel threatened by what you saw?" Paulsen asked.

"At that point, I did not," the officer stated.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 7: This day brought a parade of expert witnesses to the stand. Nationally recognized use of force expert Jeffrey Noble told jurors, "It is my opinion that Officer Yanez's use of force was objectively unreasonable. It was excessive and inappropriate."

Under cross-examination, the defense pointed out Noble's opinion rests on the assumption Yanez did not see a gun in the car. Yanez later testified that he did. 

Noble, a former deputy police chief in California who once fatally shot a bank robber, also testified that in his opinion, Yanez's orders to Castile were unclear, and that he should have ordered Castile to stop and put his hands on the steering wheel or dash.

Defense attorneys asked whether a suspect who was impaired by marijuana could put an officer at increased risk, but Noble rejected the idea that Castile was impaired by that drug. He said Castile made no mistakes while being followed for more than a mile by Yanez, and pulled over immediately when Yanez activated his light bar.

Earlier, BCA forensic scientist Lindsey Garfield testified that there was not a bullet in the chamber of Castile's 9 mm pistol, and that the gun was not ready to fire. Prosecutors showed the jury photos of the bullet holes in Castile's car that were fired by Yanez, one of them lodged into the center console and one that pierced the back seat, just 16 inches away from where the 4-year-old daughter of Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was sitting.

On cross-examination, Yanez's defense team maintained that the officer would not know Castile's gun was not ready to fire simply by looking at it during the short and intense confrontation between the two.

The defense also showed the jury pictures of the car's ash tray, which was filled with cigarettes and loose tobacco. Yanez's lawyers pointed out blunts, or marijuana-mixed cigarettes, made by pulling out tobacco and adding pot to the cigarette. Garfield testified that the BCA did not test the ash tray contents for the presence of marijuana. 

THURSDAY, JUNE 8: The defense team for Yanez went on the offensive, building their case with testimony from an expert witness in the area of use of force. Former police officer Joseph Dutton is convinced that Yanez saw a gun before he shot Castile during the traffic stop. Dutton was a police officer for 31 years and now teaches classes on the use of force. He says he reviewed videos and police reports and is convinced by Yanez telling investigators he saw Castile's hand form a C-shaped grip of the sort that would be used to grab a thick gripped pistol.

Dutton said that's the type of detail a person wouldn't make up out of thin air. During cross examination, prosecutors said a person could also make a C-shape with a hand when releasing a seat belt buckle, but Dutton dismissed that idea.

Glenn Hardin, a former supervisor of Minnesota's state toxicology lab, also testified as a witness for Yanez's defense.

Defense attorneys argued Castile was stoned at the time of the shooting, which happened in the seconds after he informed Yanez that he was carrying a gun. Hardin said he examined autopsy reports showing Castile's blood levels of THC, the substance in marijuana that gives a high.

The Yanez defense team also called St. Anthony Police Chief John Mangseth, who testified that Yanez was a solid officer with no disciplinary problems. During cross examination prosecutors asked the chief about protocol when pulling over someone who admittedly has a weapon. Mangseth said asking that person to place his hands on the steering wheel is protocol, something Officer Yanez did not do in the moments before he fatally shot Castile. 

FRIDAY JUNE 9: Officer Yanez took the stand in his own defense Friday, sobbing as he took jurors back to the day he fatally shot Castile.

"I was scared to death," he said on the stand. "I thought I was going to die. My family popped into my head. My wife. My baby girl."

Yanez's voice broke several times as he recounted the series of events on that fateful day -- a day he said he felt he had no other choice than to fire his weapon during that traffic stop.

"I was forced to engage Mr. Castile," he said. "I did not want to shoot Mr. Castile. Those were not my intentions."

When he told Castile not to reach for his weapon, Yanez said, "I was able to see his right hand, it was in a C-shape. And he continued to pull out the firearm."

"He had total disregard for my commands," he continued.

During the cross examination, Yanez was questioned why he didn't tell the BCA investigators a description of Castile's gun but instead, told an officer who drove him home afterwards.

Yanez said he had nothing to hide during his interview with the BCA. 

Shortly after Yanez's testimony, the defense rested its case.

MONDAY, JUNE 12: The jury heard closing arguments and deliberated for about a half-day. 

Assistant Ramsey County Prosecutor Jeff Paulsen began by describing what he called Officer Yanez's impulsive decision that led to Castile's ultimate death -- one that he said makes him guilty of culpable negligence.

"Officer Yanez used deadly force as a first option rather than a last resort," he told the jury.

Paulsen spent a considerable amount of time questioning why Yanez would say Castile was going for his gun when it made zero sense for him to do so.

"He had no reason to do that. He had every reason not to do that," he said. "It doesn't make sense."

There's just too much doubt to whether or not Yanez saw Castile's gun, Paulsen told the jury.

"You have to be sure before you shoot. He wasn't even close to being sure," he said. "We all know this is a sad case. But it isn't a hard case when it comes to assigning criminal liability."

Defense attorney Earl Gray did not pull punches during his closing argument, saying prosecutors had "failed miserably in proving beyond a reasonable doubt."

Gray was more emphatic in his argument, calling the state's case "unfair," especially their claim that there is zero evidence Castile was pulling out his gun out of his right pocket. The gun was later found in that pocket.

"How did Officer Yanez know that unless he saw it? He knew where the gun was and he described it. How in the world can the State of Minnesota, the prosecution, be so unfair about that statement?" Gray said.

Gray told the jury they "could reasonably infer" that Castile sat in his car and smoked marijuana while Diamond Reynolds, her sister and daughter went inside Cub Foods prior to the shooting. He told the jury "drugs and guns don't mix," and that Castile being stoned contributed to his failing to follow Officer Yanez's command not to reach for the gun.

In closing, Gray told the jury, "It's not that hard of a case. Think about it. Think about an officer in that position."

The jury has been deliberating since about 2 p.m. Monday. 

© 2017 KARE-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment