Minnesota judge backs jurors who acquitted officer of black motorist's death

(Reuters) - The jurors whose acquittal of a Minnesota police officer in the fatal shooting of a black motorist sparked public protests received a message of support from the judge who presided over the case, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported on Tuesday.

Ramsey County District Judge William Leary told the jurors in a letter that, notwithstanding widespread criticism, they applied the law fairly when they acquitted officer Jeronimo Yanez last month for the killing of Philando Castile during a traffic stop last July, the Star Tribune said.

"As we discussed when we met shortly after the verdict, I cannot convey my own opinions as to guilt or acquittal, but your verdict was fully supported by a fair interpretation of the evidence and the law you were obligated to apply," the newspaper quoted Leary as saying.

22 PHOTOS
Crime scene photos from the shooting of Philando Castile
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Crime scene photos from the shooting of Philando Castile

The gun belonging to Philando Castile lies on the ground outside his car, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017.

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

Bloodstains and bullet holes are seen in the front seat and seatbelt in the car of Philando Castile, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

The bloodied car insurance papers of Philando Castile are seen in the pocket of St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez in an investigation photograph after Yanez fatally shot Castile during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

A still image from police video shows Diamond Reynolds crying next to her daughter while handcuffed in the back seat of a police patrol vehicle, after her boyfriend Philando Castile was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in the Falcon Heights suburb of St Paul, Minnesota, U.S. July 6, 2016. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez poses for investigation photographs after he fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop in July 2016, in a combination of photos released on June 20, 2017 after a jury declared Yanez not guilty of second-degree manslaughter. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

The car of Philando Castile is seen surrounded by police vehicles in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

A child's car seat is seen at the rear of Philando Castile's car, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

The gun belonging to Philando Castile lies on the ground outside his car next to bloodstains and a shoe, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

An investigator holds the wallet of Philando Castile in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

A shell casing from a bullet fired at Philando Castile lies outside his car, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 


(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

Bloodstains and a marker are seen on the car of Philando Castile, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

A bullet hole is seen in a bloodied seat belt in the car of Philando Castile, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

Bloodstains and bullet holes are seen in the front seat and seatbelt in the car of Philando Castile, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

A still image from police video shows Diamond Reynolds being comforted by her daughter while handcuffed in the back seat of a police patrol vehicle, after her boyfriend Philando Castile was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in the Falcon Heights suburb of St Paul, Minnesota, U.S. July 6, 2016. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

A bullet extracted from the car of Philando Castile is seen in an evidence photo taken after Castile was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

Bloodstains are seen next to markers outside the car of Philando Castile, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

Bloodstains surround a bullet hole in the car of Philando Castile, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

An investigator lifts fabric to show a bullet lodged in the car of Philando Castile, in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

Bloodstains are seen next to a marker in the car of Philando Castile in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

The trajectory of where a bullet became lodged next to a child's chair in the rear seat of the car of Philando Castile is seen in an evidence photo taken after he was fatally shot by St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in July 2016. Picture released June 20, 2017. 

(Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Handout via REUTERS)

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Leary's office was closed for Tuesday's Independence Day holiday, but when the Star Tribune reached him on Monday he declined any further comment.

The shooting in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights was among a wave of high-profile police killings of black men, which sparked street protests in cities across the United States.

It drew additional attention because Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was sitting in the car's passenger seat, broadcast the bloody aftermath of the incident on Facebook Live.

Yanez, 29, the son of a Mexican immigrant, testified that he had feared for his life after Castile, 32, told him that he was carrying a firearm and reached for his wallet when Yanez asked to see identification. Reynolds testified that Castile never reached for the handgun he was licensed to carry.

23 PHOTOS
Protests after the Philando Castile, Alton Sterling shootings
See Gallery
Protests after the Philando Castile, Alton Sterling shootings
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 7: People hold banners and chant slogans as they march from Union Square Park to Grand Central to protest the killing of 3 black men by police in 48 hours, in Manhattan, New York on July 7, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 7: Police take security measures as people hold banners and chant slogans as they march from Union Square Park to Grand Central to protest the killing of 3 black men by police in 48 hours, in Manhattan, New York on July 7, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 7: People hold banners and chant slogans as they march from Union Square Park to Grand Central to protest the killing of 3 black men by police in 48 hours, in Manhattan, New York on July 7, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 7: People hold banners and chant slogans as they march from Union Square Park to Grand Central to protest the killing of 3 black men by police in 48 hours, in Manhattan, New York on July 7, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 7: People hold banners and chant slogans as they march from Union Square Park to Grand Central to protest the killing of 3 black men by police in 48 hours, in Manhattan, New York on July 7, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 7: People hold banners and chant slogans as they march from Union Square Park to Grand Central to protest the killing of 3 black men by police in 48 hours, in Manhattan, New York on July 7, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 7: People hold banners and chant slogans as they march from Union Square Park to Grand Central to protest the killing of 3 black men by police in 48 hours, in Manhattan, New York on July 7, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 7: People hold banners and chant slogans as they march from Union Square Park to Grand Central to protest the killing of 3 black men by police in 48 hours, in Manhattan, New York on July 7, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 7: People hold banners and chant slogans as they march from Union Square Park to Grand Central to protest the killing of 3 black men by police in 48 hours, in Manhattan, New York on July 7, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 07: Activists march along 42nd Street and 11th Avenue in response to the recent fatal shootings of two black men by police, July 7, 2016 in New York City. Protests and public outcry have grown in the days following the deaths of Alton Sterling on July 5, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile on July 6, 2016, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. (Photo by James Devaney/Getty Images)
Demonstators as they march through the city and call for justice for Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile as they rally on July 7, 2016 in New York. Black motorist Philando Castile, 32, a school cafeteria worker, was shot at close range by a Minnesota cop and seen bleeding to death in a graphic video shot by his girlfriend that went viral Thursday, the second fatal police shooting to rock America in as many days. / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstators are arrested by the NYPD after they march through the city and call for justice for Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile in the middle of Times Square July 7, 2016 in New York. Black motorist Philando Castile, 32, a school cafeteria worker, was shot at close range by a Minnesota cop and seen bleeding to death in a graphic video shot by his girlfriend that went viral Thursday, the second fatal police shooting to rock America in as many days. / AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
BATON ROUGE, LA - JULY 07: Protesters wave signs in front of the Triple S Mart on July 7, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Alton Sterling was shot by a police officer in front of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge on July 5th, leading the Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
Demonstrators gather at the Governor's Mansion in St. Paul, Minnesota, on July 7, 2016, to protest the latest shooting of a black man by police in Falcon Heights, Minessota. Philando Castile, 32, a school cafeteria worker, was shot by police after being pulled over while driving. The incident was captured in a video viewed by some two million people Thursday, as civil rights investigators probed a similar incident in Louisiana. / AFP / Joy Powell (Photo credit should read JOY POWELL/AFP/Getty Images)
People take part in a protest for the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile during a march along Manhattan's streets in New York July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
People take part in a protest against the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile during a march through Times Square in New York July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
A group of protesters demonstrate near a prayer vigil in memory of Alton Sterling, who was shot dead by police, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
A woman chants out of the window of a bus as a group of protesters demonstrate near a prayer vigil in memory of Alton Sterling, who was shot dead by police, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
A group of protesters demonstrate near a prayer vigil in memory of Alton Sterling, who was shot dead by police, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
A group of protesters demonstrate outside of a church during a prayer vigil in memory of Alton Sterling, who was shot dead by police, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Berton Boreaux holds a sign on the hood of a bus as a group of protesters demonstrate near a prayer vigil in memory of Alton Sterling, who was shot dead by police, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
People gather outside the Governor's residence to protest the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by Minneapolis area police during a traffic stop on Wednesday, in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S., July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Adam Bettcher
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Shortly after the June 16 verdict, authorities released a video from the dashboard of his Yanez's police cruiser showing him firing seven shots into Castile's car, five of which struck Castile, including two in the heart.

Leary, in his letter dated June 23 and filed with the courts on June 28, told the jurors that criticism of their decision was based on "a failure to understand what you were asked to do," the Star Tribune said.

Rather than determine whether there was racism, the newspaper quoted the judge as telling the jurors, "You were simply asked to determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether a crime had been committed."

The jury of seven men and five women, 10 of whom were white and two black, found Yanez not guilty of second-degree manslaughter and other charges, sparking street protests.

Castile's family and the city of St. Anthony, Minnesota, last week said they reached a $3 million settlement in the case.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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