CINCINNATI — After 25 hours of deliberations, jurors hearing the case against former University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing could not reach a unanimous decision on charges of murder or voluntary manslaughter.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, speaking for the first time in several days, after a gag order was lifted, revealed the jury was “leaning toward” convicting Tensing of voluntary manslaughter.
About the murder charge, Deters said the jury was leaning toward acquittal, suggesting at least one person thought the state proved the more serious of the two charges.
As Judge Megan Shanahan declared a mistrial, saying the jury of six men and six women were hopelessly deadlocked, a white female juror and a black female juror openly wept.
As the jurors walked out of the courtroom they avoided eye contact with Tensing – who like he has for most of the trial – showed little emotion. He stared straight ahead.
Prosecutors will now have to determine if they will re-try the case or dismiss it. Deters said he will make that decision before Nov. 28, when the next court hearing is scheduled.
“We’ve just got to make an assessment as to whether or not we can win at trial,” he said.
Tensing, 26, was charged last year with murder and voluntary manslaughter in the July 2015 shooting death of Sam DuBose as he tried to drive away from a traffic stop for not having a front license plate.
Deters estimated Saturday morning that if the case is re-tried, the collective costs for Hamilton County taxpayers will be more than $1 million.
Deters said he was proud, despite the result, of how the prosecution presented its case. He shrugged off suggestions of a strained relationship between his office and the law enforcement community.
“In my career I think I’ve cleared upwards of 100 police officers in use-of-force cases, but there are some people out there that think no matter what an officer does they shouldn’t be charged, which I think is nonsense,” he said.
Jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon in the trial, which began last week with opening statements.
Reactions to the mistrial
DuBose’s father, Sam Johnson, and aunt appeared to be the only family members in the courthouse when the mistrial was called just after 10 a.m. Saturday.
A short time later, standing in the hallway, away from the media Johnson appeared upset. He declined to talk. He and Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, along with the family’s civil lawyer Al Gerhardstein met behind closed doors with a victim’s advocate.
Gerhardstein, who has attended much of the trial, said he was in contact with the family.
“This is a really difficult time. They trusted in the system,” he said. “It’s very frustrating. I know this is not good news for them.”
For the family and for those in the community who mistrust police and the criminal justice system: “It doesn’t resolve anything. It just reinforces the mistrust… If anything it reinforces it. And for those who trusted that justice would be delivered? That’s on pause.”
Gerhardstein said he hoped Deters would re-try the case and do so quickly.
The last time a trial ended in a hung jury related to a officer-involved shooting was in 2001. In that case, jurors acquitted Robert “Blaine” Jorg on a misdemeanor assault charge in the death of Roger Owensby, Jr. But the jury in that case deadlocked over the felony charge of involuntary manslaughter.
The prosecutor in that case, Mike Allen, never retried that case, which was the first time a Cincinnati officer was ever indicted in the death of a suspect.
Rev. Troy Jackson, executive director of Amos Project, part of Black Lives Matter-led coalition, watched on live feed with demonstrators out front of the courthouse.
“The mood here is solemn,” he said. “If 12 people in Hamilton County cannot come to an agreement on a murder charge in this case, is it ever going to be possible to convict a police officer? They have carte blanche.”
At 10:25 a.m., Black Lives Matter leaders started a generator they had wheeled to the top of the courthouse steps to begin a demonstration.
A march scheduled for 6 p.m. will begin at 12:30 p.m., Jackson said.
“We’re not waiting until 6,” he said.
Demonstrators said the DuBose family was not given adequate notice to be in the courtroom for the announcement.
“I am completely and utterly disgusted by this verdict,” Brian Taylor, a member of the leadership of Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati. “I am completely and utterly disgusted that the DuBose family didn’t even have time to get here to hear the verdict.”
Cincinnati council member Yvette Simpson arrived at the courthouse shortly after the hung jury was announced.
“It’s been an especially hard week for me as an African-American,” she said in reference to Donald Trump’s election and the Tensing mistrial.
“People are saying, ‘What now?’ That’s a reasonable question. What I say is, ‘I feel your pain.’ If I get stopped, I want to feel safe.”
Simpson, a lawyer, said, “We need to change the system. It is tough getting 12 people to agree. I think the jury took a lot of time.”
UC Interim President Beverly J. Davenport released a statement following the mistrial.
“On behalf of the University of Cincinnati, I extend our thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by the tragic loss of Samuel DuBose. We cannot and will not let the outcome of this trial divide us. We remain steadfast in our commitment to building a just community anchored in trust, care, integrity and equity,” Davenport said via a news release.