Almost immediately, the jury in the trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez was leaning toward a not-guilty verdict an all counts.
The vote was 10-2, and after nearly 30 hours of deliberation, the two holdouts weren’t budging, said juror Dennis Ploussard.
Lots of opinions were shared, but in the end they were able to sway the two remaining “no” votes when breaking down the legal definition of the charges. He said they focused on the “culpable negligence” required for a conviction on the manslaughter charge.
Ultimately, Ploussard said, the prosecution didn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Yanez was guilty in the shooting death of Philando Castile.
“This was very, very difficult for all us,” Ploussard said Friday afternoon in an interview at his home. “This was a very, very trying case.”
There were two black jurors, but Ploussard said they were not the two voting against acquittal. He declined to identify the two holdouts, who changed their minds Friday afternoon.
Ploussard was sure the jury would have been hung if it hadn’t come up with an acquittal on Friday afternoon. The judge had already told them that he would bring them back to continue deliberations on Monday.
The jury attempted to get a verdict on the first day of deliberations, “but that wasn’t going to happen,” Ploussard said. Then the standoff started.
“We really went through all the testimony and evidence,” he said. “Later in the week, we completely changed our focus and started to discuss the manslaughter charge and what elements needed to be met for conviction.
“We just broke it down,” listing 25 points on a whiteboard, he said.
Yanez’s interview with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was a key stumbling block for the two holdouts, Ploussard said. The way the officer worded his statement by never using the word “gun” made them believe Yanez never saw one, he said. Although prosecutors frequently made reference to the interview, they never admitted it into evidence while presenting their case. A late bid to do so during defense testimony was denied by Ramsey County District Judge William H. Leary III.
The jurors also discussed making sure they put their emotions aside and concentrated on what was presented at trial.
“It was a battle,” Ploussard said. “I got to a point Friday that I spoke to the other jurors for 15 minutes. I felt that they weren’t really giving me their reasons why they wanted to convict.”
On Friday morning, one of the holdouts was writing down his thoughts about a conviction. Ploussard asked him to share his notes. He declined all morning. By afternoon, the juror changed his vote. And a few minutes later, the last holdout also agreed with an acquittal, Ploussard said.
The jurors became very tight and always treated each other with respect even when opinions strongly differed, he said. They almost immediately agreed to acquit on the two counts of reckless discharge of a firearm because an expert in court said Yanez shot at such an angle that it protected the others in the car and put himself at greater risk.
Ploussard said he wasn’t surprised to hear that Yanez was fired on Friday because he believes he wouldn’t be safe as a St. Anthony police officer. But he also said Yanez should no longer be an officer, period.
Ploussard said he was shocked when members of the Castile family cursed out loud after the verdict and stormed out of the courtroom. He said he wasn’t prepared for that reaction, “but I should have been.”
“I felt their pain,” he said. “I feel sorry for them.”
David Chanen • 612-673-4465