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Jury Selection Begins In Trial Of Minnesota Officer Charged In Philando Castile's Death

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Jury selection began in St. Paul today in the trial of a police officer charged with killing a black man he pulled over. Philando Castile's death last July was streamed on Facebook Live by his girlfriend. Tim Nelson of Minnesota Public Radio says this is the first time a Minnesota officer has been tried for a duty-related shooting.

TIM NELSON, BYLINE: The points of contention in this case surfaced even before potential jurors got into the courtroom. Defense attorneys for St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez offered preliminary motions disputing how to handle details in the trial, including new disclosures that Philando Castile and his girlfriend may have picked up a bag of marijuana just before the shooting. Defense attorney Earl Grey said it spoke to the heart of the case. Castile had a gun in his pocket when he was stopped. Although he had a gun permit, an autopsy showed Castile had THC in his system. Under Minnesota law, it's illegal to carry while under the influence. Castile did tell Yanez about the gun seconds before Yanez shot him seven times as he sat in his car with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter. The shooting occurred in Falcon Heights, a suburb between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, turned to Facebook Live as the officer was still standing at the window, gun drawn.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIAMOND REYNOLDS: We got pulled over on Larpenteur.

JERONIMO YANEZ: (Shouting) I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand open.

REYNOLDS: He had - you told him to get his ID, sir, his driver's license. Oh, my God, please, don't tell me he's dead. Please don't tell me my boyfriend just went like that.

YANEZ: Keep your hands where there are, please.

REYNOLDS: Yes, I will, sir. I'll keep my hands where they are.

NELSON: Authorities haven't talked about the case in the run-up to the trial, but Prosecutor John Choi said last fall the officer had crossed a line regarding the use of deadly force, even for police facing someone armed with a gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN CHOI: His dying words were in protest that he wasn't reaching for his gun. There simply was no objective threat posed to officer Yanez or to anyone in that car.

NELSON: Jeronimo Yanez now faces a second-degree manslaughter charge. In the courtroom this morning, 50 jurors took an oath to fairly consider the case. Fewer than a half dozen were African-Americans. That could matter because race may play a role in the case. Even Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton asked days after the shooting if it would have happened if Castile hadn't been black. The officer who shot him is Latino. John Thompson was Castile's friend and watched as the prospective jurors took their seats today. He says the racial makeup of the jury pool gives him pause.

JOHN THOMPSON: You know, for me, I look at the jury and said it's not diverse enough, you know, but can they be fair?

NELSON: Jury selection is set to resume tomorrow, and the trial is expected to take at least three weeks. Jeronimo Yanez's lawyer says he expects the officer to take the stand in his defense. For NPR News, I'm Tim Nelson in St. Paul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.