ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota jury will have to decide whether a police officer was justified when he fatally shot a black motorist just seconds after the elementary school cafeteria worker informed him he had a gun.
Closing arguments were set for Monday in the manslaughter trial of St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop July 6 in a case that drew widespread attention after Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed the gruesome aftermath on Facebook. The jury was expected to begin considering the case later Monday after just five days of testimony, evidence and arguments.
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 Reynolds and her daughter for firing his gun into the car near them.
The 15-member jury includes two black people. The rest are white. None is Latino. It's not clear which three members are the alternates, who will be dismissed after closing arguments.
Yanez testified Friday he stopped Castile in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights because he thought Castile looked like one of two men who had robbed a nearby convenience store a few days earlier. A faulty brake light gave the 29-year-old officer a legally sufficient pretext for pulling him over, several experts testified.
Squad car video played repeatedly for the jury last week shows the situation escalated quickly, with Yanez shooting Castile just seconds after the 32-year-old volunteered, "Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me." Five of the officer's seven shots struck Castile, who had a permit to carry the gun.
Prosecutors called several witnesses to try to show that Yanez never saw the gun and acted recklessly and unreasonably. Prosecution use-of-force expert Jeffrey Noble testified there was "absolutely no reason" to believe Castile was a threat.
But two defense use-of-force experts backed up Yanez's claim that he did see Castile pulling the gun, and that the officer had a reasonable belief that his life was in danger.
After he shot Castile, Yanez is heard on the squad car video telling a supervisor variously that he didn't know where Castile's gun was, then that he told Castile to get his hand off it.
Yanez testified that he clearly saw a gun and that Castile ignored his commands to stop pulling it out of his pocket. His voice choked with emotion as he talked of being "scared to death" and thinking of his wife and baby daughter in the split-second before he fired.