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Black judge removed from Philando Castile shooting case

Philando Castile, a cafeteria worker at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul, was killed after he was pulled over by Jeronimo Yanez.

Philando Castile, a cafeteria worker at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul, was killed after he was pulled over by Jeronimo Yanez.

Attorneys for Jeronimo Yanez invoked their right to remove a judge from his trial for killing Philando Castile, the black man Yanez and a partner pulled over in Falcon Heights this past July.

In a court filing Thursday evening, Yanez's defense moved for Judge Edward Wilson to be stricken, and a new judge appointed to hear the case against Yanez, who is charged with second-degree manslaughter and two other felonies. Attorney Earl Gray told the Pioneer Press the decision was based on "research" as well as his "personal experience." 

Ramsey County prosecutors aren't able to challenge the motion; each side can file to remove one judge from a case, and the request is automatically granted.

Taking Wilson off the bench was necessary for Yanez to get a "fair trial," according to Gray. The noted Twin Cities defense attorney said he'd argued before Wilson before, but couldn't cite why the judge would be unable to give the police officer a fair trial.

Here's a photo of Judge Edward Wilson.

Huh.

Wilson's been a judge in Ramsey County since his appointment in 1987. A 1974 graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, he started his career with the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis and later worked with St. Paul's Neighborhood Justice Center.

John Guthmann, chief judge of Ramsey County, said earlier in the week he'd appointed Wilson to the case because of his experience -- "our second most senior judge," Guthmann said -- and relatively open calendar, and not because he's black. 

Gray offered a similarly short explanation to the Star Tribune, saying the defense team "had to remove him. Simple as that."

Because of the relatively progressive demographics among Minnesota's judges, there's at least a small chance the next person handed the gavel in Yanez's trial place could also be non-white. A study earlier this year found Minnesota -- with about 10 percent of its total population minorities, and about 8 percent of its judges -- is among the best states in the country when it comes to proportional representation.

Odds are, it'll be a white guy. White men make up 53 percent of Minnesota judges -- 13 percent more than their share of the state population.

Last week, Yanez's defense telegraphed the major argument they'll be making at trial: that Castile was high on marijuana at the time he was pulled over, thus rendering him incapable of following Yanez's orders to not grab for his gun.