CINCINNATI (CN) – During opening statements Thursday in the murder retrial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, the prosecution told jurors he didn’t use his police training during a fatal traffic-stop shooting, while Tensing’s defense argued he fired his gun out of fear.
Tensing shot and killed Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black man, during a traffic stop in July 2015, but his first trial last year ended in a hung jury and mistrial, despite video evidence of the incident captured on Tensing’s bodycam.
The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office brought the same charges in Tensing’s retrial, murder and voluntary manslaughter. The jury of seven white women, two white men, one black man, and two black women was seated on Wednesday. Jurors visited the scene of the shooting after the three-day jury selection process was completed.
On Thursday morning, prosecutor Stacey DeGraffenreid and defense attorney Stew Mathews gave their opening statements to the jury, and witness testimony began shortly thereafter.
In her brief statement to the jury, DeGraffenreid read the state’s indictment against Tensing and described it as a “roadmap” for the jury.
She spoke about the University of Cincinnati’s agreement with the city of Cincinnati that allowed campus police to patrol the entire city, but reminded the jury that the case is not about increased crime in the area that led to the agreement.
DeGraffenreid told the jury the shooting “was a very quick encounter … however, you will be able to use common sense and reach a decision in this matter.”
The prosecutor also told jurors that Tensing did not use his training during the traffic stop.
“Mr. Tensing was told not to reach into an automobile,” she said. “He’ll tell you that’s what he did. After he reaches in the car, he’ll tell you he was dragged, he was trapped. But once you see the video … you’ll be able to see that Mr. Tensing was not dragged. The evidence will show this is clearly a murder.”
Defense attorney Matthews made a lengthy opening statement to the jury, and began by voicing his disagreement with the prosecution.
“When I was growing up,” Mathews said, “my mother used to listen to a guy on the radio called Paul Harvey. … He had a tagline: ‘and now you know the rest of the story.’ And I’m here today to tell you the rest of the story.”
Mathews told jurors about Tensing’s lifelong desire to be a police officer – fueled in large part by his father, a firefighter – and then described the day of the shooting in detail.
He said that DuBose’s failure to immediately pull over gave Tensing reason to be suspicious, and when he asked for a driver’s license, “Sam never responded directly… and had so many excuses and dodges.”
Mathews – who repeatedly called Tensing by his first name during the statement – said the officer questioned DuBose about a bottle labeled “gin” in the car and began to suspect that DuBose might be impaired.
When Tensing asked DuBose to exit the vehicle and opened the door, Mathews says DuBose pulled it shut, “the first act of resistance.”
It was at this point in the traffic stop that Tensing reached into the car, attempted to shut it off, and tried to grab the keys out of the ignition, the attorney said.
“Ray will tell you he made a mistake,” Mathews told jurors. “But he felt like he was so close that he could reach in and get the keys out of the ignition.”
The attorney then described the shooting.
“The evidence will show [Tensing’s] arm was pinned to the window sill and the steering wheel as Sam DuBose mashed the accelerator and took off,” Mathews said. “He fired one shot at whatever he could fire at, and that shot entered the head of Sam DuBose. His intent was not to kill Sam DuBose; his intent was to stop the threat.”
In his conclusion, Mathews reminded the jury that “this is not like an NFL football game or an NBA basketball game where you have numerous camera angles of everything,” adding that “you will find that Ray Tensing had a legitimate fear that he was about to be dragged by the car.”
“He wasn’t a racist,” Mathews said of his client. “He wasn’t a hardhead, no-nonsense cop. … If [DuBose] had complied, he would have gone to jail … but he would not have been shot. What happened to Sam DuBose was terrible, but all he had to do was cooperate with the officer.”
Witness testimony began immediately after the opening remarks, with four witnesses scheduled for Thursday.
Tensing’s bodycam footage was shown during testimony of the first witness, UC Police Lt. Tim Barge.
Tensing lowered his head and refused to watch the portion of the video that showed him shooting DuBose. He will testify on his own behalf later in the trial.