ST. PAUL, Minn. – A Minnesota police officer who fatally shot a black motorist seconds after the man told him that he was carrying a gun “he did what he had to do” in a thorough motivated use of violence, a lawyer argued Monday.
Hours earlier, prosecutors responded that officer Jeronimo Yanez never saw a gun and had plenty of options to fall short Philando Castile, a 32-year-old school cafeteria worker they say was never a threat.
Yanez the murder trial went to a jury, after both sides gave closing arguments, they recapped their versions of a shooting that drew extra attention because Castile’s girlfriend is online to see the gruesome aftermath on Facebook.
Yanez’s attorney, Earl Gray, reminded the jury of the officer’s testimony that Castile looked like a man who robbed a convenience store four days earlier. He said Castile disregarded the officer’s orders and grabbed his gun because he was stoned on marijuana. And he said Yanez was afraid for his life.
“And then he drew his gun, and he did what he had to do,” Gray said.
Prosecutor Jeff Paulsen marked autopsy evidence in his closing argument, reminding the jury of a bullet wound to what would have Castile trigger finger — and that there is no corresponding bullet damage, nor wounds in the area of Castile the right pants pocket, where he carried his gun. He also referred to the testimony of the first responders of Castile pistol fall out of his pocket, he was loaded on a plate.
He asked the jury to think what might have happened if Yanez, when told of the cannon, it was just a step back and a few metres to a better assessment of the situation. The officer could have heard Castile say he was just trying to get his wallet, Paulsen said.
“If he had done that, everyone would have gone home safely that night,” the prosecutor said. He has also referred to a testimony of the defense witnesses who portrayed Yanez as a good and honest man.
“The victim in this case was a good man,” Paulsen said, and referred to Castile job at a primary school. “The children were crazy about him, and he was a role model for them. And now they’ve been deprived of that role model.”
Castile had THC, the high-giving ingredient of marijuana, in his blood when he died. The two sides called competing experts that disagreed on the question of whether Castile was unable to work. Grey hit the issue again in his closing.
“Guns and drugs don’t mix. This is a classic example of the reason why, if you are a user of drugs, even marijuana, you’re not allowed to have a gun,” Gray said.
Yanez, who is Latino, is charged with second-degree manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and with two lesser counts of endangering the safety of Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond, Reynolds and her daughter for firing his gun in the car in the near of them.
Conviction for the manslaughter charge requires the jury to find Yanez guilty of “culpable negligence”, which the court described the jury instructions as gross negligence with an element of recklessness.
After three white alternates were dismissed after the close of arguments, the 12-member jury consists of two blacks. The rest is white. No one is Latino.
Yanez testified Friday that he stopped Castile in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights, because he thought Castile looked like one of the two men who had robbed a nearby supermarket a few days earlier. A faulty brake light gave the officer enough reason to pull him over, a number of experts testified.
Squad-car video repeatedly played for the jury last week show that the situation escalated quickly, with Yanez photography of Castile, only a few seconds after the driver who volunteered, “Sir, I must tell you, I have a firearm on me.” Five of the officer’s seven shots struck Castile.
After he shot Castile, Yanez is to be heard on the patrol car video to tell a supervisor that he did not know where Castile gun was than that he told Castille to get his hand out. Yanez testified Friday that he meant that he did not know where the gun was “until I saw it in his right thigh area.”
Paulsen reminded the jury of the recorded statements on Monday, saying they should consider them carefully. Gray said prosecutors were taking the statements out of their context.