CINCINNATI -- After a lengthy and often tense back-and-forth with local media, Judge Leslie Ghiz ruled Friday afternoon that she would release redacted juror questionnaires in the murder retrial of Ray Tensing -- after the trial is over.
Ghiz's ruling argues in part that releasing the questionnaires prior to or during the trial "would trigger parallel release to anyone in the general public, including groups with malevolent intent" and reiterates her courtroom argument that jurors who knew their questionnaires had been released could be influenced by that knowledge. According to her, the decision rests on her interest in protecting the jurors and preserving the integrity of the high-profile trial.
"The Court is concerned about the possibility that any members of the public, press or non-press, will interact with jurors during the trial in ways that invade the privacy of the jurors and ultimately negatively impact the fairness of the proceeding," Ghiz wrote. "The jurors could be approached or even harassed or offered money to provide information about themselves or the case."
WCPO and its parent company had filed suit to fight Ghiz's restrictions on media access to the trial and to call for the unredacted release of all 180 questionnaires filled out by potential jurors.
In the suit, attorneys representing WCPO argued that juror questionnaires are a matter of public records and that the information contained therein is vital to understanding the progress and outcome of the case.
"If the retrial proceeds under the current order (and with no completed juror questionnaires available for public inspection) the public and the press will not be able to meaningfully observe the proceedings and their First Amendment rights will be eviscerated," the suit says,.
NOTE: 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.
In the first Tensing trial, Judge Meghan Shanahan released redacted jury questionnaires, but not until two weeks after the trial ended in a hung jury. Jurors' names, addresses, family information and job history were blacked out, just as they will be when this round of questionnaires are released.
Ghiz's ruling said that the questionnaires would be released "immediately" after the trial with all personal identifying information redacted.
READ the full decision below.
Ray Tensing is a white former University of Cincinnati police officer who shot and killed Sam DuBose, an unarmed black motorist, during a traffic stop in 2015. Tensing's first murder trial garnered significant national attention as one of a series of highly publicized incidents of white officers killing black men, but ended with a hung jury.