Ohio prosecutor will again try ex-police officer
CINCINNATI — An Ohio prosecutor said Tuesday he will again seek a murder conviction against a white former University of Cincinnati police officer, and wants to move the trial to find jurors who won’t be afraid or feel community pressure.
A judge declared a mistrial Nov. 12 in the Ray Tensing case, with jurors deadlocked after deliberating some 25 hours on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter in the July 2015 shooting of Sam DuBose by the since-fired University of Cincinnati police officer during a traffic stop.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said he will retry Tensing on both counts, but said the murder charge is appropriate.
“It’s my belief that Sam DuBose was murdered. Period,” Deters said.
Tensing’s attorney, Stewart Mathews, has asked the judge to acquit Tensing in the aftermath of the mistrial and wasn’t surprised by Deters’ decision on retrying him.
Mathews said he didn’t have an immediate position on the moving the trial out of the Cincinnati area, but would lean against it for various reasons including logistical and financial hardship.
“I don’t think a change of venue is going to have a huge impact on the outcome of this case,” Mathews said.
He had asked to move the first trial because of pretrial publicity and comments by Deters and other local officials. He noted Tuesday that a jury was seated in Hamilton County and doesn’t see a reason why another couldn’t be.
A hearing on the case is scheduled for Nov. 28 before Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan.
Tensing testified in his trial that he feared for his life when DuBose tried to drive away. Mathews said DuBose tried to use his car as a deadly weapon.
Deters repeated Tuesday that the shooting wasn’t justified, and that no one should be shot in the head in a traffic stop — DuBose was pulled over near the university campus for a missing front license plate.
“It troubles me deeply that this happened,” Deters said.
DuBose family members, the Cincinnati City Council and groups including faith leaders had called for a new murder trial.
City councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who is black, praised Deters’ decision Tuesday as continuing to “fight for justice” for DuBose’s family. She added in a statement that while a change of venue would be logistically challenging, it could “provide a better opportunity for a fair and impartial trial, and hopefully, a unanimous verdict.”
A state police union president criticized retrying Tensing, saying he had to make a split-second “life-or-death judgment call.” Jay McDonald of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio said in a statement the case could cause other officers to hesitate at critical moments, and is “especially meaningful at a time when police are being targeted and assassinated.”
Prosecutors said repeatedly during the trial the evidence contradicted Tensing’s story. They said jurors had leaned toward convicting Tensing on voluntary manslaughter.
He said jurors in the trial were, at one point, so worried about keeping their identities anonymous that they wouldn’t come out of their jury room.
The jury of 10 whites and two blacks was seated Oct. 31 for the first trial, conducted under beefed-up courthouse security.
Prosecutors drew attention to a T-shirt with a Confederate flag emblem that Tensing wore under his uniform the day of the shooting; Tensing said he wasn’t racist, didn’t single out black motorists and that the flag on the shirt didn’t have any meaning to him.
To convict Tensing, now 27, of murder, jurors had to find he purposely killed DuBose, 43. The charge carries a possible sentence of 15 years to life in prison. The voluntary manslaughter charge means the killing happened during sudden passion or a fit of rage. That carries a possible sentence of three to 11 years.
The case is among those across the country calling attention to how police deal with blacks. Trial continued Tuesday in Charleston, South Carolina, for a white since-fired patrolman, Michael Slager, facing 30 years to life if convicted of murder in the death last year of a black man, Walter Scott, shot while running from a traffic stop.