CINCINNATI (AP) — Jury selection began Thursday under tight restrictions after a judge rejected a defense motion to dismiss charges in the retrial of a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black motorist.
Attorneys for former University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing filed a motion Wednesday saying comments made in an interview by county prosecutor Joe Deters violated the judge’s gag order and were “a blatant attempt” to influence and bias prospective jurors.
Hamilton County Judge Leslie Ghiz ruled that the comments weren’t “egregious” enough to dismiss the case, but she warned prosecutors they could be held in contempt of court if anyone violates her order again. An assistant prosecutor apologized.
More than 200 prospective jurors reported to the Hamilton County courthouse for Tensing’s retrial on murder and voluntary manslaughter charges after a hung jury last November. Tensing, 27, testified in his first trial that he feared for his life when Samuel DuBose, 43, tried to drive away during a July 2015 traffic stop for a missing front license plate.
Ghiz told prospective jurors their identities would be protected. Journalists were barred from photographing or recording potential jurors, and there was increased security outside the courtroom. Protesters outside the courthouse held up signs demanding justice for DuBose.
Potential jurors will fill out lengthy questionnaires before courtroom questioning begins. The questions haven’t been made public, but those for the first trial included about racial attitudes and personal experiences with police.
In an interview with WCPO-TV that triggered the defense motion, Deters said, among other things about the case, that Ghiz could add lesser charges to the original two charges for the jury to consider. Some legal observers have suggested reckless homicide or negligent homicide could be considered.
However, Donyetta Bailey, president of the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati, said in a statement that no lesser included offenses appeared appropriate and that her group doesn’t believe “there is any basis” to present other charges to the jury.
Deters revamped the prosecution team for the retrial and took himself off the case. He also suggested the case should be moved to another county away from intense local interest, but Ghiz has voiced determination to keep it in Hamilton County.
Ghiz scheduled a Friday hearing on pending motions concerning potential evidence in the case, such as whether a T-shirt depicting a Confederate battle flag that Tensing wore under his uniform the day he shot DuBose should be admitted.
Tensing’s is among cases across the United States that have increased attention to how police respond to blacks.