Does a request for specific expert testimony in the murder trial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing suggest that jurors may be considering acquitting him?
Jury deliberations have stretched into a third day in the murder trial of a white former police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man during a traffic stop near the University of Cincinnati.
Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan sequestered the jury of 10 whites and two blacks for a second night Thursday. They arrived Friday to resume deliberations.
The judge says jurors requested to review testimony by experts on police use of deadly force. Twenty-six-year-old Ray Tensing has said he feared for his life when 43-year-old Sam DuBose tried to drive away in July 2015.
Authorities, downtown businesses and schools have been monitoring developments closely. Some businesses released employees early Thursday, and at least two schools closed in anticipation of a verdict that could bring strong reactions.
A request for testimony during a jury trial is not at all out of the ordinary but what specific testimony the jury requests indicates on which specific points a jury needs clarification.
In then-officer Tensing’s shooting of Ray DuBose as DuBose tried to drive away, the jurors are likely attempting to ascertain if a reasonable man in Officer Tensing’s position and state of mind would have reasonably concluded that his life was in danger by DuBose attempting to drive away.
“When you talk about a person who’s actually pointed a gun at someone’s head, fired, and then when they’re interviewed they say that’s exactly what I intended to do – ‘I was looking to stop the threat,’ [that] is essentially purposeful murder in my eyes,” Harris said. “The only question for me … you do have allegations of a car moving. it’s up to the jury whether they believe it or not. A car can be used as a weapon. There are no ‘ands, ifs or buts’ about that.”
It’s the defense’s responsibility to prove self-defense, Harris noted.
“So with that, I can see why they’re fighting and arguing over whether they’ve proved that affirmative defense … I would guess that’s where the argument is at this point,” Harris said.
Each sides’ witnesses testified that they drew different conclusions from Tensing’s body camera video and each side’s attorneys claimed the video supported its case. There is no dispute that Tensing shot DuBose. The dispute is over whether he had justifiable cause.
While I’m only speculating, I think that could very well hinge on whether they felt it was reasonable for Tensing to reach into the car, either to try to shift the car into park or it remove the keys and kill the engine (I’m sorry; with the election I’ve not kept close track of the testimony). That decision is, after, all, what put Tensing inside the vehicle, and being partially inside the vehicle as DuBose attempted to escape is what put Tensing’s life in a position where it was in danger.
The prosecution and defense both presented use of force experts, with differing opinions.
The defense’s use of force expert, James Scanlon, said his analysis of Tensing’s body-camera video confirmed Tensing’s testimony: his arm was trapped in DuBose’s car; he was being dragged as DuBose “mashed” the accelerator and pulled way from the stop; the movement of the car violently twisted Tensing; he lost his balance and started to fall; Tensing fired in self-defense.
“I would be in fear of my life if I was in that situation,” said Scanlon, a 33-year veteran of the Columbus police force and now a police trainer. “My opinion is the actions of Ray Tensing were justified, reasonable and consistent with all police tactics and training.”
The prosecution’s expert, Scott Haug, an Idaho police chief and police trainer, testified that Tensing “acted irresponsibly” and his use of force was “not justified.”
According to Haug, DuBose did not pose a threat to Tensing; Tensing violated proper police procedure when he reached into DuBose’s car, and Tensing overreacted to minor traffic violation.
In the end, I suspect that the jurors are going to determine that Tensing put himself in much great danger by reaching into the vehicle, and created the conditions by which he felt his life was put at risk.
The murder conviction Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters is seeking still seems grossly overcharged, however, and I suspect that the jury is attempting to determine whether to acquit Tensing for Sam DuBose’s death, or to find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter.