Judge writes ju­rors in po­lice shoot­ing, says they did duty

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The judge who presided over the man­slaugh­ter trial of a Min­nesota po­lice of­fi­cer ac­quit­ted in the fa­tal shoot­ing of black mo­torist Phi­lando Castile took the un­usual step of writ­ing to the ju­rors to tell them that he sup­ports them de­spite wide­spread pub­lic crit­i­cism of their ver­dict.

“I write to re-as­sure you that you faith­fully ful­filled the dif­fi­cult task you were asked to un­der­take,” Ram­sey County Dis­trict Judge Wil­liam Leary III said in his let­ter to the jury, the Star Tribune of Min­neapo­lis re­ported Tues­day.

The judge told ju­rors that he was not pro­vid­ing his own opin­ion of St. An­thony of­fi­cer Jeron­imo Yanez’s ac­tions dur­ing the fa­tal traf­fic stop last July in the St. Paul sub­urb of Fal­con Heights, but wanted to con­vey that their ver­dict “was fully sup­ported by a fair in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the ev­i­dence and the law you were ob­li­gated to ap­ply.”

Reached Mon­day, Leary is­sued a short state­ment to the news­pa­per that said, “I ap­pre­ci­ate your in­ter­est, but I don’t be­lieve any dis­cus­sion would be of any ad­di­tional value.”

The ver­dict on June 16 sparked a rally at the state Capi­tol that gave way to a march through St. Paul that shut down light rail ser­vice and ended with a con­fronta­tion with au­thor­i­ties on In­ter­state 94.

Leary sent his let­ter a few days af­ter au­thor­i­ties re­leased dash­board cam­era video show­ing the His­panic of­fi­cer fir­ing seven shots at the 32-year-old el­e­men­tary school cafe­te­ria worker in a mat­ter of sec­onds, just af­ter Castile in­formed Yanez that he was armed. The shoot­ing gained wide­spread at­ten­tion af­ter Castile’s girl­friend, who was in the car with her then-4-year-old daugh­ter, streamed its af­ter­math live on Face­book.

Dur­ing his trial, Yanez, 29, tes­ti­fied that Castile ig­nored his com­mands not to pull out his gun. The of­fi­cer said he feared for his life. Ac­cord­ing to squad car video that cap­tured the shoot­ing, Castile said, “I’m not pulling it out,” be­fore Yanez opened fire. Castile’s last words were: “I wasn’t reach­ing.”

His girl­friend later said Castile was reach­ing for his wal­let.

In his let­ter, Leary broke down the mul­ti­ple el­e­ments of the law that pros­e­cu­tors were re­quired to prove be­yond a rea­son­able doubt, in­clud­ing whether Yanez acted with gross neg­li­gence and reck­less­ness.

“The state’s fail­ure to prove any of the re­quired el­e­ments of the charge re­quired that you, the jury, re­turn a ver­dict of not guilty,” Leary wrote.

Leary wrote that the crit­i­cism has fo­cused pri­mar­ily on re­ac­tion to the squad car video and is­sues that the jury was never asked to ad­dress.

“You were never asked to de­cide whether racism con­tin­ues to ex­ist, whether cer­tain mem­bers of our com­mu­nity are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by po­lice tac­tics, or whether po­lice train­ing is in­ef­fec­tive,” he said. “You were sim­ply asked to de­ter­mine, be­yond a rea­son­able doubt, whether a crime had been com­mit­ted.”

Yanez at­tor­ney Earl Gray said he ap­pre­ci­ated Leary’s let­ter.

“He told the jury they fol­lowed the law and did their duty,” Gray said. “I’m sure the ju­rors felt bet­ter.”

The Ram­sey County at­tor­ney’s of­fice said in an email Tues­day that it had no com­ment.

“It’s un­usual to do a let­ter af­ter the fact, but there’s noth­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate about this let­ter,” said area de­fense at­tor­ney Joe Tam­burino, who was not in­volved in the case. “I say hats off to him for do­ing this, be­cause the jury re­ceived an in­or­di­nate amount of crit­i­cism. The is­sue was whether the state proved its case, not greater so­cial is­sues.”

On the Web De­tails on re­cent po­lice shoot­ings nwadg.com/shot-by-po­lice

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