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WATCH LIVE: Jury selection begins for Ray Tensing trial

Of 195 candidates, 12 will be selected to serve
Jury selection to begin for Ray Tensing trial
Posted at 11:42 PM, Oct 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-31 14:13:52-04

CINCINNATI -- "This is going to be a difficult case all the way around, folks. I don't want to sugarcoat that."

Monday morning, attorneys began the process of questioning nearly 200 potential jurors in court. Assistant Prosecutor Rick Gibson began Monday's questioning by asking jurors what they know about the case. Only two potential jurors said they knew nothing about the case.

WATCH Monday's jury selection in the live player below. If the live player doesn't load, click here

 

Follow along live with WCPO reporters in the box below:

 

Ultimately, 12 jurors and four alternates will be chosen to decide the fate of Ray Tensing. The former University of Cincinnati police officer is charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Sam DuBose nearly 16 months ago. Tensions have been raised by the fact that Tensing is white; DuBose was black.

RELATED: What the charges mean

"This trial is not about race," said Stew Mathews, Tensing's defense attorney, said. "This is not about skin color; it's about facts."

Several jurors indicated some concern over the role race plays in the case on their questionnaires, Mathews said. In court, no jurors spoke up concerning race.

Mathews also emphasized the presumption of innocence and asked jurors if they can consider Tensing innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A few jurors said they had already formed some opinions in the case but said they would be willing to hear new evidence in court.

Gibson also read through the list of potential witnesses who could be called to testify to make sure the witnesses are not family members or friends of the jury. Almost 100 people were subpoenaed to testify in the case.

Mathews said former UC President Santa Ono will likely be the first witness called; he will testify via deposition.

Mathews also said the jury will visit the crime scene in Mount Auburn. It's not likely for a jury to visit a crime scene -- the jury in the Kinsley Kinner in Butler County visited the crime scene during the trial last month.

The defense and prosecution also vetted potential jurors who may experience hardship at home or work if they need to serve on a jury for a full two weeks. No jurors expressed serious concern on Monday.

RELATED: Everything you should know about the Ray Tensing trial

Carl Lewis, a long-time criminal defense attorney observing the case, told WCPO that everyone's goal should be to select "a fair and impartial jury." Lewis says that means finding jurors who will judge the case on the evidence presented in court and not any preconceived notions, but he acknowledged that may be especially hard because so many people have already seen Tensing's body camera video of the shooting.

"If you believe that in your mind this video is it for me, I don't need to see anything else and I will not listen to anything else, that person should be removed," Lewis said."Whether you're a member of the NRA, whether you're a member of Black Lives Matter, whether you are Republican or Democrat -- there are just some topics that you cannot separate your predisposed position from the case - that's an individual that should not sit on a murder trial because they cannot be fair and impartial."

There were 234 potential jurors in orientation last week and 39 were excused, which means 195 could be questioned. Another two jurors were dropped after the first recess Monday. When the process begins, 12 candidates will be seated in the jury box based on numbers they were assigned last week, starting with the lowest. The process is expected to take several days - perhaps all week.

The defense and prosecution are likely to question each candidate on their opinions about the video, the police, Black Lives Matter and whether they feel safe sitting on the jury. Those were just some of the topics in a 25-page questionnaire that prospective jurors filled out last week.

Both sides have unlimited opportunities to ask the judge to excuse a juror for cause. They can also excuse four jurors without any reason - called a peremptory challenge. But Lewis pointed out that either side can challenge the other if it believes it's trying to remove jurors strictly on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.

Witnesses aren't expected to be called to testify until Nov. 7, according to subpoenas, but they could be called as early as this Friday.

She said she "would be shocked if the trial goes up to Nov. 18."

Tensing's attorney, Stew Mathews, has said that statements by prosecutor Joe Deters, Mayor John Cranley and other city officials poisoned the jury pool in Hamilton County and that Tensing could only get a fair trial with a change of venue.

If 12 neutral jurors cannot be selected, the judge can order a change of venue, which would allow for the case to be tried in another part of the state.

Mathews can request a change of venue at any time, but the judge wouldn't consider it until the jury selection process has played out, local attorney Mark Krumbein told WCPO.

ICYMI: What Happened Last Week

Several important actions in this case came out of Judge Megan Shanahan's courtroom last week.

> Shanahan denied a defense motion to enter evidence about DuBose's criminal record, health records or the autopsy report that found he had marijuana traces in his blood. She did allow the defense to enter  evidence of marijuana on DuBose's person and in the car DuBose was driving, which was registered to his girlfriend.

DuBose had been convicted of five felonies and spent nearly a year in prison for trafficking in meth and marijuana. He had been ticketed 21 times on misdemeanor marijuana charges and 25 times for driving while under suspensions or no operator's license, Shanahan said.

Tensing has said he stopped DuBose because DuBose was driving without a front license plate.

> Tensing's attorney told WCPO he would put Tensing on the stand to tell why he says he feared for his life. Asked about that by WCPO, one local attorney called that a "risky" move while another called it necessary.

> Deters kicked three spectators out of the courtroom before a hearing, saying they were "idiotic" and disruptive. Under criticism from both sides, Deters said he wished everybody would "shut up and let us do our jobs."

> Also,  the Sheriff's Office said it would beef up security in and around the courthouse to prevent disruptions while protecting peaceful demonstration outside.

The Sheriff's Office and Cincinnati police have been preparing for demonstrations and fear possible violence from outsiders.

Cincinnati still has deep scars from a similar police shooting in 2001. Two weeks ago, city leaders held a public forum - attended by DuBose's mother and brother - to try to ease those tensions.

"It will pull the scab off the wound,” said Greg Baker, director of police-community relations at UC. “We want to make sure that we are ready."

In 2001, the killing of Timothy Thomas, an unarmed 19-year-old black, by Stephen Roach, a white Cincinnati police officer, set off three days of rioting. Roach was not convicted. He said he thought Thomas was pulling a gun out of his waistband as he confronted him in a dark alley.

The Tensing trial will draw attention across the country and the globe after similar, recent police shootings of unarmed blacks in Cleveland, Ferguson (Missouri), Charleston, Minneapolis and Tulsa, and the killing of police officers in retaliation in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

The Amos Project and other local community leaders have called for transparency in the Tensing trial. Black Lives Matter Cincinnati says it expects nothing short of a conviction on the murder charge.

WCPO Reporters Tom McKee and Rose-Ann Aragon and Web Editors Greg Noble, Abby Anstead and Marais Jacon-Duffy contributed to this report.

See WCPO's complete coverage of the Tensing Trial at wcpo.com/TensingTrial.