Judge In Philando Castile Case Writes Letter Of Support To Jury
By Nigel Roberts
The judge who presided over the Philando Castile case is raising eyebrows.
Ramsey County District Judge William H. Leary III wrote a letter of support to jurors who acquitted St. Anthony, Minnesota police Officer Jeronimo Yanez in the fatal shooting of Castile, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Following the acquittal, many criticized the jurors after drawing their own conclusion based on a live stream after the shooting and police dashcam video—against the backdrop of a wave of high-profile police shootings of Black men.
Leary writes that the public criticism is based on “a failure to understand what you were asked to do,” according to The Star Tribune. The judge added that he’s writing to “re-assure you that you faithfully fulfilled the difficult task you were asked to undertake.”
Yanez pulled over Castile in July 2016 in a routine traffic stop. Castile, 32, told Yanez that he had a legal gun in his possession. Yanez warned him not to pull it out. Castile said he would not, but Yanez fatally shot him within seconds.
Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the car along with her 4-year-old daughter, broadcast the aftermath on Facebook Live. It unleashed widespread protests.
The jury of five women and seven men, which included just two people of color, acquitted Yanez, 29, on June 16 of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of endangering safety.
The Star Tribune reported that Leary sent his letter a few days after the release of dashcam footage of the encounter, which shows Yanez firing seven shots. Five of the bullets stuck Castile, two of them in the heart.
According to the newspaper, the judge writes that most of the public criticism stems from the dashcam footage and issues he did not ask the jury to consider.
“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. You were simply asked to determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether a crime had been committed,” he writes.
The Star Tribune noted that judges often address jurors immediately following a trial. It’s rare, however, for a judge write a letter to them several days later.
A spokesman for the Minnesota Judicial Branch told ABC News that “the letter must speak for itself.” The judge and prosecutor declined to comment to ABC News.
Yanez’s attorney, Earl Gray, told The Star Tribune that he appreciated the judge’s letter. “He told the jury they followed the law and did their duty,” Gray commented. “I’m sure the jurors felt better.”