By Ginny McCabe
CINCINNATI (Reuters) - A former University of Cincinnati police officer charged with murdering a black Ohio man during a traffic stop was acting in self-defense and is not a racist, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Body camera video of the July 2015 stop showed officer Ray Tensing, 26, who is white, shot Samuel DuBose, 43, in the head after pulling him over for a missing front license plate on his vehicle. The entire incident lasted a few minutes.
The killing fueled demonstrations against use of lethal force by white officers against unarmed blacks and other minorities, which has been the focus of nationwide protests.
"When they (police) are threatened, they have the right to protect themselves and that is what Ray Tensing was doing that day," Tensing's lawyer, Stew Mathews, said during closing arguments in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas in Cincinnati.
"He (Tensing) was scared to death," Mathews added.
The jury did not reach a verdict on Wednesday following closing arguments, and will resume deliberations on Thursday. Around a dozen protesters gathered outside the court calling for justice for DuBose.
Prosecutors tried to bring race into the trial, Mathews said, by focusing on a shirt Tensing was wearing under his uniform, which featured a picture of the Confederate flag. But Mathews said on Wednesday his client was not a racist. Tensing said the shirt was a gift and the flag has no meaning to him.
Tensing asked DuBose to take off his seatbelt and tried to open the car door, but DuBose did not comply and closed the door. The vehicle started rolling forward slowly as Tensing pulled his gun and fired once.
The trial was overly focused on Tensing and was not critical enough of the role DuBose played in the altercation, Mathews said.
DuBose was "hell-bent," on getting away from Tensing because he was carrying marijuana and cash, Mathews told the court.
The prosecution countered on Wednesday that Tensing's retelling of events was false and his life was never in danger, reiterating a position they held throughout the trial.
"Does the physical evidence support him being dragged? Absolutely not. Do the eyewitnesses? Absolutely not," said assistant prosecutor Mark Piepmeier.
Tensing said on Tuesday he feared being dragged under DuBose's car or being pinned against a nearby guard rail.
If convicted, Tensing, who pleaded not guilty to murder, could be sentenced to life imprisonment.
(Reporting by Ginny McCabe in Cincinnait, Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Diane Craft and Jonathan Oatis)