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Judge rejects Castile jury request to hear cop’s testimony

The jury weighing the case of a Minnesota police officer who shot and killed a black motorist gave new sign Friday of their struggle to reach a verdict, asking a judge to have the officer’s entire testimony re-read to them.

Judge William Leary denied the request. He told jurors he could not grant it, but did not explain why, and sent them back to work.

It was the fifth day of deliberations in Officer Jeronimo Yanez’s manslaughter trial in the death of Philando Castile. Castile, a 32-year-old school cafeteria worker, was shot during a traffic stop July 6 in a St. Paul suburb, just seconds after he informed Yanez he was carrying a gun. Castile had a permit.

Yanez, who is Latino, testified that Castile disregarded his commands not to pull out the gun and that he feared for his life. Prosecutors insist Yanez never saw the gun and say he overreacted to a non-threat.

The trial included squad-car video of the traffic stop, but the wide view did not show exactly what took place inside Castile’s car, leaving jurors largely in the position of whether to believe the officer’s testimony. A key part of the prosecution case was statements Yanez made that seemed to suggest he didn’t know where the gun was.

The first sign of the jury’s struggle came Wednesday, when Leary summoned the apparently deadlocked jury to court, reminded the panel of its duty to try to reach a verdict and sent the jurors back to work.

While Leary didn’t spell out the reasons for denying their request Friday to review Yanez’s testimony, prominent Minnesota defense attorneys noted the jury’s instructions when the trial began to listen carefully, take notes and rely on their memories.

If testimony from one figure is re-read, it’s almost like they’re testifying again, said Marsh Halberg, a defense attorney not connected to the case.

“It puts undue weight and influence on one part of the case,” he said.

The failure to reach a quick verdict reflects the infrequent convictions of police officers.

Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University who tracks fatal police shootings, found that almost 40 percent of the 82 officers nationwide charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005 were not convicted. That included several recent cases that ended in mistrials or acquittals when officers testified they feared for their lives, Stinson said.

Yanez faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the second-degree manslaughter charge, though sentencing guidelines suggest around four years is more likely. He also faces two lesser counts of endangering Reynolds and her daughter for firing his gun into the car near them.

Conviction on the manslaughter charge requires the jury to find Yanez guilty of “culpable negligence,” which the judge described in jury instructions as gross negligence with an element of recklessness.

The 12-member jury includes two black members. The rest are white. None is Latino.

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