CINCINNATI (AP) – A defense attorney charged Wednesday that prosecutors tried to inject race as “a smoke screen” into the murder trial of a white former police officer who said he feared for his life before fatally shooting an unarmed black man during a traffic stop in Ohio.
A prosecutor countered in closing arguments that the evidence “absolutely destroys” Ray Tensing’s claim. Assistant Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said the University of Cincinnati officer’s body camera video, witness testimony and physical evidence all counter Tensing’s story that he was being dragged by the car as Sam DuBose tried to drive away.
“He was in sheer terror,” Tensing attorney Stewart Mathews told jurors. “He was scared to death … the evidence is very clear that a car can be just as deadly as a gun or knife.”
He criticized prosecutors for pointing to Tensing’s T-shirt worn under his uniform that day. The “Great Smoky Mountains” shirt had a Confederate flag on it. Mathews said it had “no evidentiary value.”
Mathews told the Hamilton County jurors that prosecutors failed to prove Tensing purposely killed DuBose, required to convict him for murder. He said they also didn’t prove Tensing acted in a fit of rage or sudden passion, as required to convict him of voluntary manslaughter.
Jurors were expected to begin deliberations following the arguments and the judge’s instructions in the case of Tensing, 26, who was fired by the University of Cincinnati after the July 2015 shooting of DuBose, 43, near campus.
Tensing wept on the stand Tuesday. He said his arm was stuck in DuBose’s car at the time and the car was turning toward him.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to run me over and he’s going to kill me,'” Tensing said.
Last week, an expert hired by prosecutors testified that his analysis of Tensing’s body camera video shows the officer was not being dragged by the car. A defense witness Tuesday testified that a frame-by-frame analysis of the video shows Tensing was justified in fearing for his life because his body was “violently twisted” during the confrontation.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters asked Tensing about an outside report that eight out of every 10 drivers that Tensing pulled over for traffic stops were black, the highest rate of any University of Cincinnati officer.
Tensing said he was often unaware of a driver’s race, did not single people out unfairly, and was not racist.
Tensing also testified that the Confederate flag on his T-shirt had no meaning to him.
___Associated Press writer Dan Sewell contributed in Cincinnati.