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Prospective Tensing jurors whittled down in heated first day of jury selection

73 jurors excused, 107 remain
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Posted at 8:45 AM, Jun 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-05 06:33:33-04

CINCINNATI -- In a heated day that included blasting members of the media and considering motions to move the trial to another county, the judge in Ray Tensing's retrial excused 73 potential jurors who showed up for jury selection Friday. A little over 100 people remain in the jury pool.

Earlier in the day, Judge Leslie Ghiz admonished the media, saying they have threatened a fair trial in the interest of getting viewers and selling newspapers. She warned she would kick out all media if reporters accidentally or intentionally violate her order on media coverage restrictions.

"This is a court of law. I think the media has forgotten that," Ghiz said in a lengthy harangue before starting jury selection.

"I think the media thinks that it is their duty to walk in and to voir dire this, or to question this jury panel as if they were conducting voir dire, and it’s offensive.

"I am telling you: One step out of line and that's the end of it ...  I’m at the end of my rope with the media."

Tensing's defense attorney Stew Mathews also issued a motion Friday to dismiss the charges against his client, claiming "the media...turned this trial into a circus."

Mathews issued another motion to move the trial out of Hamilton County. The prosecution and defense have each filed for a change of venue previously. Assistant Prosecutor Seth Tieger agreed with Mathews Friday and said the trial should be moved.

Ghiz said she would "take (the request) under advisement" and begin questioning jurors Friday in an attempt to seat a fair and impartial jury.

RELATED: Tensing trial could still leave Hamilton County

Ghiz has been at odds with Cincinnati's news media, who collectively sued the judge for access to the courtroom, permission of electronics, a video livestream and photography and access to completed juror questionnaires. 

Ghiz said the atypically strict rules for news media were an attempt to "preserve the jury pool" who "feared for their safety."

Attorneys for the media organizations said Ghiz's proposed restrictions are contrary to law and a violation of the First Amendment. Monica Dias, attorney for Scripps/WCPO, said Ghiz should consider less restrictive means -- even the possibility of moving the trial out of Hamilton County -- before drastically restricting media access.

“The First Amendment, Ohio Supreme Court case law and the United States Supreme Court case law protect the right of the media as the eyes and ears of the public to enter the courtroom, watch the proceedings and make sure the proceedings are handled in a just manner,” Dias said.

Ghiz ruled late Thursday evening to allow a "pool" camera and one still photographer to film trial proceedings for all news organizations' use -- the same setup as the first Tensing trial under Judge Megan Shanahan.

Ghiz is designating five seats in the courtroom for authorized media outlets (four during voir dire). Ghiz originally wanted to allow three seats for media members, with seats determined by a lottery. Other media members can watch trial proceedings via livestream in the media room.

Ghiz placed a gag order on attorneys for both sides of the trial days after she was handed the case. She reiterated that the gag order was still in place and would remain in place throughout the trial.

Ghiz dropped her ban on electronic devices on the fifth floor of the courthouse and said she would allow authorized media outlets to use smartphones, tablets and such in the media room. However, she's still banning electronic devices in the courtroom and hallways.

One issue that's yet to be resolved is the release of juror questionnaires.

WCPO does not publish juror names or images that show jurors' identities without the permission of those jurors. However, WCPO believes it is important for journalists to be able to contact jurors and talk to them about what happened during the trial and deliberations -- if jurors are willing to talk.

Ghiz doesn't want the filled-out juror questionnaires released in any form - redacted or not. And neither do prospective jurors, she said. Ghiz said the 180 people who filled out the questionnaire expressed concern for protecting their private information and safety. She pointed to responses on two questions about juror feelings on the chance their names are made public.

READ: Full list of 194 questions for potential Tensing jurors

"Out of those 180 there were 77 responses who either don't want to serve if their identities are revealed or information is released to the media or have a safety concern," the judge said.

But Jack Greiner, attorney for the Cincinnati Enquirer, countered by pointing out that 103 people answered just the opposite.

"What that demonstrates conclusively is the majority of the the (jury) pool is not concerned," he said.

RELATED: Everything you need to know before ex-officer Ray Tensing's murder retrial begins

During voir dire Friday, Tieger asked jurors if they would be willing to serve on a jury if their questionnaire answers and public information is released; dozens of jurors raised their hand and said "no."

The remaining 107 potential jurors will be questioned Monday.

Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati police officer, is charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter in the 2015 shooting death of Sam DuBose, a black motorist. DuBose did not have a gun in his car. Tensing has claimed he shot DuBose in self-defense, alleging DuBose tried to speed off from the stop.

For complete trial coverage, visit wcpo.com/TensingTrial.