Pros­e­cu­tors face up­hill po­lice mur­der-re­tri­als

Seek ju­rors will­ing to con­vict white of­fi­cers in fa­tal shootings of black men

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY DAN SEWELL

CINCINNATI | Fac­ing up­hill bat­tles to find ju­rors will­ing to con­vict po­lice of­fi­cers, pros­e­cu­tors in two states say they will try again to win guilty ver­dicts against white of­fi­cers in the fa­tal shootings of black men.

A judge in the case against for­mer Univer­sity of Cincinnati po­lice of­fi­cer Ray Tens­ing set a Mon­day hear­ing on a timetable for a re­trial. Ju­rors couldn’t reach a ver­dict on mur­der and vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter charges against him in the death of Sam DuBose, and a mis­trial was de­clared Nov. 12.

A South Carolina jury dead­locked Dec. 5 on the same charges against Michael Slager, a for­mer North Charleston of­fi­cer. The pros­e­cu­tor also pledged to try Slager again for the death of Wal­ter Scott.

Le­gal ex­perts say the mis­tri­als un­der­score the dif­fi­cul­ties pros­e­cu­tors face in po­lice cases, with many ju­rors un­will­ing to sec­ond-guess of­fi­cers’ split-sec­ond re­ac­tions when they claim to be in dan­ger.

“Juries tend to give po­lice of­fi­cers the ben­e­fit of the doubt,” said Mike Allen, a Cincinnati at­tor­ney and for­mer pros­e­cu­tor. “You can ar­gue till the cows come home whether that’s right or not.”

In both tri­als, the for­mer of­fi­cers tes­ti­fied in their own de­fenses and said they feared for their lives.

Mr. Tens­ing, 27, said he be­lieved he could be killed by DuBose’s car, as the 43-year-old man tried to drive away af­ter he was stopped by Mr. Tens­ing in July 2015 for a miss­ing front li­cense plate. Mr. Slager, 35, said the 50-year-old Scott wres­tled his stun gun away and pointed it at him af­ter he stopped Scott for a bro­ken tail light in April 2015.

Pros­e­cu­tors said ev­i­dence in­clud­ing Mr. Tens­ing’s body­cam video con­tra­dicted his story. A by­stander’s cell­phone video showed Mr. Slager shoot­ing Scott five times in the back, video that was widely seen and fur­ther in­flamed na­tional de­bate about how po­lice treat blacks.

“Even in the most egre­gious cases, it takes an aw­ful lot to get a jury to con­vict a po­lice of­fi­cer,” said Philip Stinson, a crim­i­nol­o­gist at Bowl­ing Green State Univer­sity in Ohio who tracks po­lice shoot­ing cases around the coun­try. “They just don’t want to be­lieve that a po­lice of­fi­cer can be ca­pa­ble of mur­der.”

The only po­lice of­fi­cer Mr. Stinson knows of who has been con­victed of mur­der by a jury for an on-duty shoot­ing since he be­gan com­pil­ing sta­tis­tics in 2005 is James Ashby. The for­mer small-town Colorado of­fi­cer was sen­tenced to 16 years in prison af­ter a jury in June con­victed him of sec­ond-de­gree mur­der for fa­tally shoot­ing Jack Jac­quez in the back in 2014 af­ter fol­low­ing him into the home of the slain man’s mother.

By Mr. Stinson’s count, 78 of­fi­cers have been charged with mur­der or man­slaugh­ter in on-duty shootings since the be­gin­ning of 2005. Those cases re­sulted in 27 con­vic­tions on at least one charge, 14 in jury tri­als. Thirty ended with­out con­vic­tions, in­clud­ing 15 jury ac­quit­tals. Twenty-one, in­clud­ing Mr. Tens­ing and Mr. Slager, are pend­ing tri­als or po­ten­tial re­tri­als.

Hamil­ton County Pros­e­cu­tor Joe Deters said he wants to move the Tens­ing case to an­other Ohio county, away from in­tense lo­cal at­ten­tion he be­lieves added pres­sure to ju­rors who at one point re­fused to come out of the jury room be­cause of fears about be­ing iden­ti­fied pub­licly.

It seems un­likely Hamil­ton County Judge Les­lie Ghiz, who took over the case af­ter the first trial judge re­cused her­self, would agree to move the trial with­out first try­ing to seat a jury in Cincinnati. Changes of venue are rarely granted and are usu­ally sought by de­fense at­tor­neys who feel their clients have been sub­jected to prej­u­di­cial pub­lic­ity.

Re­gard­less, Mr. Allen said, pros­e­cu­tors will be go­ing against jury ten­den­cies in po­lice shoot­ing cases.

“I do un­der­stand the pros­e­cu­tor’s de­sire to move the trial, but I think it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be the same in any ju­ris­dic­tion,” he said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

A judge in the case against for­mer Univer­sity of Cincinnati po­lice of­fi­cer Ray Tens­ing set a Mon­day hear­ing on a timetable for a re­trial. A mis­trial was de­clared Nov. 12 af­ter ju­rors couldn’t reach a ver­dict on mur­der and vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter chargers against him in the death of Sam DuBose.

A pros­e­cu­tor pledged to try for­mer North Charleston pa­trol­man Michael Slager again for the death of Wal­ter Scott af­ter a South Carolina jury dead­locked on mur­der and vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter charges.

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