CINCINNATI (CN) — Jurors on Tuesday visited the scene where an unarmed black man was shot and killed by a former University of Cincinnati police officer, shortly before opening arguments in the murder trial began.
Sam DuBose, 43, was shot in the head and killed following a traffic stop in Mount Auburn on July 19, 2015.
Ray Tensing, formerly of the University of Cincinnati police force, made the off-campus stop because DuBose's car didn't have a front license plate.
The situation escalated when DuBose refused to exit the vehicle.
Evidence in the case includes bodycam footage, which contradicted Tensing's claim that he was dragged by the car before shooting DuBose.
Tensing, who is white, was charged last year with murder and voluntary manslaughter.
He is represented by attorney Stew Mathews, whose motion for a change of venue was denied Tuesday by Hamilton County Judge Megan E. Shanahan.
Judge Shanahan began the trial by reading an order that grants her total control of the fifth floor of the Hamilton County Courthouse in an effort to control media coverage of the trial and jurors in particular.
When the jury returned from the scene of the shooting, Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters began his opening statement.
He described Tensing's traffic stop as "legitimate," and said that "even though Sam DuBose was able to produce the front license plate, it was still lawful for Tensing to ask DuBose to step out of the vehicle."
"What Tensing did next was not legitimate," Deters continued. "It was murder. It was totally contrary to the training he had received. It was totally contrary to the rules and regulations of the UCPD. It was totally contrary to the laws in this country concerning a justified shooting. And it was totally contrary to the oath he had taken as a police officer."
Deters called Tensing's version of the incident "unsupported by any other witness or any other evidence."
"In many cases that we handle, intent is one of the hardest things to prove to a jury," Deters explained. "Judge Shanahan will instruct you about the definition of mental states in this case...The evidence will show that this case is amazingly simple in terms of proving intent. The reason it is simple, is that you will hear from Tensing's own mouth that he intentionally shot Mr. DuBose in the head...This murder was totally unwarranted, completely intentional, and truly unjustified."
Mathews began his remarks by reminding the jury that opening statements "are not evidence."
"I just heard Mr. Deters describe the videotape ... and I will tell you, I must have been watching a different tape," the defense attorney said. "Nothing that he just described to you is on that tape."
Mathews outlined a plan implemented by the University of Cincinnati to reduce violent crime on and around campus, and stressed that Tensing simply "did what he was asked to do" when he pulled over DuBose.
Mathews admitted that Tensing made a "tactical mistake" when he reached into the car, but refuted Deters' claim that DuBose did not have a weapon.
"I will concede that DuBose did not have a gun, but I will not concede that he did not have a weapon. He had a 3,000 pound car," he said.
Mathews concluded his opening argument by reminding the jury that DuBose had over $2,600 in cash and marijuana in the vehicle on the day he was killed.
The attorney called the shooting "instinctive" and said that Tensing "fired to stop the threat and to try to save his own life."
Jury selection for the case took only one day, and prosecutors are hopeful the case won't be a long one.
"I think we're pretty comfortable that this case will be over sometime next week," Mark Piepmeier, assistant chief prosecutor, said on Monday during the selection process.
The University of Cincinnati settled a civil case with DuBose's family — which includes 13 children — in January for $4.85 million, plus free tuition for all his children.
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