Jury unable to reach verdict in Ray Tensing trial, judge declares a mistrial

Jury unable to reach verdict in Ray Tensing trial, judge declares a mistrial
Tensing enters the courtroom during his first trial last fall. (Photo: Cincinnati Enquirer)
Sam DuBose (Photo: Cincinnati Enquirer)
Sam DuBose (Photo: Cincinnati Enquirer)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A mistrial has been declared in the murder trial of former University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing.

After about 24 hours of deliberating, the jury informed the judge Saturday morning that they were unable to come to a unanimous verdict.

Tensing was charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Samuel DuBose.

Deputies ushered Tensing out the back door of the courtroom after Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan announced the decision around 10:15 a.m.

The murder trial of the former white police officer who shot and killed a black man at a traffic stop lasted one week, but its impact will be measurably much longer.

The now-fired UC police officer shot DuBose after pulling him over on an off-campus street when he spotted the Honda Accord missing a front license plate on July 19, 2015. The entire exchange was caught on Tensing's police body camera.

Four jury members wanted to convict Tensing of murder, according to Hamilton County Prosectuor Joe Deters. The remaining eight elected to acquit him on the murder. The majority of jurors, eight total, voted to convict Tensing of voluntary manslaughter. Four wanted to acquit on that charge.

Deters said his office will decide whether or not to retry Tensing by Nov. 28.

Two very different versions of what caused Tensing, 26, to fire his service weapon, killing DuBose,43, with a single bullet to the head, left 12 men and women considering Tensing's guilt or innocence for three and a half days before deliberations resulted in a hung jury and mistrial Saturday.

Tensing said DuBose began to drive away and that he was being dragged by DuBose's car. But prosecutors argued the shooting was purposeful and said body cam video proves the car was not in motion when Tensing fired the fatal shot.

During the trial, Tensing took the stand himself and testified that he fired his gun at DuBose because he thought DuBose was going to run him over with his car and kill him.

He became emotional on the stand at times. He cried, sighed, used a tissue and asked the judge "Can I have a minute?"

Tensing never wavered in his original story, but he did add under oath it was his "perception" he was being dragged and would be killed.

"I felt my body moving with his car, he was picking up speed, I remember hearing the RPMs climbing and his engine revving," Tensing said.

"I was just thinking my legs are gonna get sucked into his car, he's gonna run me over, I'm gonna die on this street today."

His attorney, Stew Mathews, asked Tensing if he meant to kill DuBose.

"Were you mad at Sam DuBose or angry?"

"No, sir," Tensing said.

"Was it your purpose to kill him?"

"No, sir."

Tensing: 'I fired at him because I thought he was going to kill me'

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters called Tensing's version of events a "junk story" that "can't stand up in the face of overwhelming evidence."

"He says he had to stop the threat, there never was one," Deters told jurors.

Deters also noted there wasn't a single witness who saw Tensing dragged, including two of his UCPD colleagues who responded to the scene, and a motorist in front of DuBose's car.

"The video is the ultimate witness. It doesn't alter or change its story. It has no bias or prejudice. It consistently tells what it saw, whether it's the first time or thousandth time."

In evidence presented in court, it was revealed by the prosecution that Tensing wore a Smoky Mountains T-shirt that also had an image of the Confederate flag under his UCPD uniform the day of the shooting.

Tensing claimed it was an old t-shirt and that it "has no meaning to me."

Another prosecutor who assisted Deters, Mark Piepmeier, said when Tensing realized the evidence didn't back up his story, Tensing testified it was his "perception" he was being dragged and his life was in danger.

Two experts for the prosecution and one took the stand for the defense provided dueling testimony:

  • Forensic video expert Grant Fredericks showed a frame-by-frame breakdown of Tensing's body camera video that DuBose wasn't dragged. DuBose's car appeared to slightly move forward only 800 milliseconds before the shot. Tensing pointed his gun at DuBose's head before the car moved.
  • Police use of force expert Scot Haug testified Tensing's use of force was "unreasonable" in the "unjustified" shooting. He also said he found nothing to indicate Tensing was dragged and his decision to lunge into the car to knock out the key was technically unsound.
  • James Scanlon, a police training expert with more than three decades experience as a police officer, also showed Tensing's body cam video frame-by-frame. He noted it showed DuBose presented several "threat indicators" with his conduct including DuBose putting his arm over Tensing as a "serious, life-threatening" act.  He said Tensing was hung up in DuBose's Honda Accord and "thrown violently" DuBowe took off and turned left into Tensing when Tensing shot him: "I would be in fear of my life if I was in the situation."

If jurors could not find him guilty of murder, prosecutors asked them to convict him of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum 11 years penalty.

A conviction on that charge would have meant they believed he killed DuBose in a fit of rage or sudden passion after being provoked.

Tensing trial jurors weigh two very different versions

Tensing's attorney said Tensing was trying to keep from being run over and was in "sheer terror."

Mathews reminded jurors of body camera video they watched during the trial, footage showing three traffic stops Tensing made before he pulled DuBose over.

The video showed the officer was always polite, courteous, even-tempered and nice to the people he stopped. He even re-cited one driver, did not take him to jail and allowed another person to pick him up, Mathews noted.

Tensing would have acted the same during his encounter with DuBose, Mathews said, but DuBose knew Tensing likely would find the marijuana and $2,600 in cash in his car, which would have led to a felony conviction.

Mathews said Tensing had no intent or sudden fit of passion required to convict him of voluntary manslaughter or murder.

As for Tensing's body camera, Mathews said the device didn't necessarily see what Tensing saw with his own eyes.

There are no absolutes in law enforcement, Mathews told jurors: You can't use hindsight or Monday morning quarterbacking.

"Police officers are our last line of defense between the good guys and the bad guys," he said in his closing statement, adding that Tensing didn't go to work that day intending to kill. "I feel terrible for the DuBose family. So does Ray Tensing."

Mathews asked the jury to put themselves in Tensing's shoes: "Ask yourselves, would I have done anything different to protect myself?"

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