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Judge’s pat on jury’s back was needed

William H. Leary III, the judge who presided over the Jeronimo Yanez trial, rightfully defended the jury with a letter he wrote afer the verdict of not guilty was reached.
Yanez, a city of St. Anthony police officer, faced charges of second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop.
The case has received enough publicity that we won’t rehash it here. But it is highly unusual for an officer to be prosecuted in a shooting. The fact that Castile was black, and the unusual action of the Ramsey County attorney’s office to press charges, prompted a great deal of media coverage.
And the jury’s verdict, delivered after five days and over 25 hours of deliberation, sparked protests not only locally, but throughout the nation. Many were critical of the jury’s verdict, not understanding how it failed to convict Yanez.
Judge Leary rightfully told the jury in his letter that the criticism was “likely due to a failure to understand what you were asked to do and that you faithfully fulfilled the task you were asked to undertake.”
The judge stressed that the trial was strictly about whether a crime was committed, not about the other issues that swirled around the periphery of the case.
“You were never asked to decide if racism continues to exist, whether certain members of our community are disproportionately affected by police tacts, or whether police training is ineffective. You were simply asked to determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether a crime had been committed.”
The judge is right, it was not the jury’s job to determine if those things exist. That does not mean that they do not exist, nor that they should not be addressed. Those issues are very real and need our attention. But it is not for a jury or a court of law to determine how they are handled; that is up to lawmakers and society.
The juries had a large number of items to consider in making its decision. Most particularly, it had to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a crime had occurred. The fact the jury deliberated as long as it did (and was, in fact, very close to being a hung jury) indicates that it took its job seriously.
The jury heard evidence, witnessed squad-cam and the personal video taken by Castile’s girlfriend, and arrived at a verdict. That verdict may have been different if the jury had been able to see, exactly, what occurred inside the squad car. This may be one incident in which, had the officer being wearing a body cam, there would have been no “reasonable doubt” about what happened.
The jury should be commended for the work it did. Agree with the verdict or not, the jury took its job seriously.
And while the verdict was not what many wanted, the case did bring focus on some issues that are a cause for concern for all of us — and we hope we can move forward and address those to be best benefit of all those in our society.