Yanez's lawyers ask Supreme Court for change of venue

Officer Jeronimo Yanez
Booking photo for St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez
Ramsey County Sheriff's Office

Attorneys for police officer Jeronimo Yanez filed a petition Wednesday asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to issue a ruling on a change of venue request that was denied by two lower courts.

Yanez is set to go on trial on May 30 for fatally shooting Philando Castile at a traffic stop last July in Falcon Heights. He faces a manslaughter charge and two counts of a dangerous discharge of a firearm.

Castile's death was livestreamed on Facebook by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds who was sitting in the passenger seat. The shooting sparked outrage and protests as demonstrators questioned if the only reason Castile was shot wasn't because of his actions that night, but the color of his skin.

Yanez's attorneys have been asking for a change of venue for the past two months, arguing it's not possible for the officer to get a fair trial in Ramsey County. Both the district court and court of appeals have denied requests to move the trial.

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"This is just a normal appellate procedure. It's routine that lawyers file petitions for additional review," Yanez's attorney Tom Kelly said of the Supreme Court petition. "We want to exhaust all our remedies."

This time, Yanez's lawyers focused their arguments more on public officials' statements rather than media coverage. The petition highlights remarks by Gov. Mark Dayton and cites quotes from him saying he believes there is a racial disparity problem in the state, and that he didn't think the shooting would've happened if the driver and passenger were white.

"Our motion has its genesis in the comments of Governor Dayton and Ramsey County Attorney (John) Choi and Representative (Keith) Ellison who collectively announced Officer Yanez's deep and unmitigated guilt," attorneys Kelly, Paul Engh and Earl Gray wrote, adding that those comments created a prejudicial environment in Ramsey County.

One reason the appeals court rejected the change of venue request is because Ramsey County District Judge William Leary left open the possibility that Yanez' attorneys could file another request to move the trial, once it starts, if they fail to find unbiased jurors in the county.

Leary also said moving the trial wouldn't automatically produce a panel of completely unbiased jurors who had not been exposed to media coverage of the shooting.

The Supreme Court could decide whether or not it will review this petition immediately. It could also schedule a hearing for arguments or make a decision without a hearing.