74 Seconds: The trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez | Minnesota Public Radio News


74 Seconds: The trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez

In July 2016, officer Jeronimo Yanez shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a Twin Cities suburb. The world watched the aftermath, live on Facebook. Yanez was charged in Castile's death. Jurors found him not guilty on all charges June 16, 2017.

This is the archive of MPR News' live coverage of the trial, starting from the beginning. The newsroom also covered the trial and its aftermath on the air, online and in the 74 Seconds podcast.

    What you need to know: Police officer goes on trial this week in St. Paul

    Satellite trucks sit parked outside of the Ramsey County County Courthouse in St. Paul Tuesday. (Evan Frost | MPR News)
    By Riham Feshir and The Associated Press
    The trial for St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, 29, for the shooting death of Philando Castile begins Tuesday, May 30.
    Yanez shot and killed Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn., on July 6, 2016. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed the aftermath live on Facebook just seconds after Yanez fired his seventh and final shot. 
    Prosecutors say Yanez shot Castile, a 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker, after Castile told him he was armed. The entire encounter lasted 74 seconds. Authorities later found Castile had a permit to carry.
    Castile's shooting was among a string of killings of blacks by police around the country, and the livestreaming of its aftermath attracted even more attention.
    The public outcry included protests in Minnesota that shut down metro highways and surrounded the governor's mansion.
    Castile's family claimed he was profiled because of his race, and the shooting renewed concerns about how police officers interact with minorities. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton also injected his viewpoint, saying police likely wouldn't have fired if Castile had been white.

    What are the charges?

    Ramsey County Prosecutor John Choi charged Yanez with one count of second-degree manslaughter, alleging that Yanez was culpably negligent in shooting Castile. That charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine, or both.

    Yanez also faces two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for endangering Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter, who were both in the car at the time of the shooting. Each of those charges carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.


    How has Yanez pleaded?

    Yanez has pleaded not guilty to all charges.


    What does the law say?

    The statute Yanez is charged under requires prosecutors to show he acted with culpable negligence — that he was reckless and acted unreasonably for the situation. His attorneys have argued Yanez reacted to the presence of a gun and had to use deadly force to protect himself.

    Philip Stinson, a professor of criminal justice as Bowling Green State University, has been tracking the number of officers who have been charged with murder or manslaughter from on-duty shootings. Since 2005, just 80 officers have faced manslaughter or murder charges out of thousands of fatal shootings.

    But even when charges are filed against an officer, the rate of conviction is low, according to Stinson's research. Just 29 of those 80 officers either pleaded guilty or were convicted by a jury, while 31 of the cases ended without a conviction. The rest of the cases are still pending.
    Stinson said several high-profile cases recently ended in mistrials or acquittals when an officer testified that they feared serious bodily injury or death and had "no choice."
    Jurors acquitted white Tulsa, Okla., police officer Betty Jo Shelby of manslaughter on May 17 after she testified that she fatally shot Terence Crutcher, an unarmed, black 40-year-old, out of fear when he didn't obey her commands. And the retrial of former University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing is underway after his first case ended with a hung jury last November. In his initial trial, Tensing, who is white, testified he feared for his life when he shot Samuel DuBose, an unarmed, black 43-year-old, as DuBose tried to drive away during a July 2015 traffic stop.
    "Jurors are very reluctant to second-guess the split-second life-or-death decisions of an on-duty police officer involved in a violent street encounter with a citizen," Stinson said.
    Yanez is expected to testify in his own defense. Authorities also have audio and video from Yanez's squad car that haven't been made public.

    What have been the major issues so far?

    Change of venue

    Yanez’s attorneys have filed several requests to move the trial out of Ramsey County, citing media coverage and comments by elected officials, which they argue is skewed against Yanez. Their requests have been denied in district court, the state court of appeals and the state supreme court.

    But Ramsey County District Judge William H. Leary III has left an opening for the defense to file for a change of venue during jury selection.


    An autopsy found traces of marijuana in Castile's system, and defense attorneys have indicated they will argue he was stoned, didn't obey the officer's commands and that his own actions contributed to his death. The defense plans to bring forward an expert to testify that the presence of THC showed Castile was intoxicated. Prosecutors say their expert will testify that such a conclusion can't be drawn.


    Yanez's attorneys wanted to show the jury Castile's car and have the officer re-enact the shooting, but the judge rejected that.

    Castile’s history

    The judge also won't allow the defense to introduce details about Castile's alleged past marijuana use or his arrest and driving record, but if testimony addresses those issues, the defense can ask the judge to reconsider.

    What is expected to happen on the first day in court?

    Prospective jurors are expected to receive a questionnaire that they’ll fill out the first day. After that, jury selection will begin and it could take all week. A spokesperson for the state court information office, Kyle Christopherson, said the trial is expected to last three weeks, in total.
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