By Ginny McCabe
CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Opening arguments in the trial of a former University of Cincinnati police officer charged with murdering a black Ohio man during a traffic stop focused Tuesday on whether the victim tried to flee from police, putting the officer's life in danger.
Body camera video of the stop in July 2015 showed officer Ray Tensing, 26, shot Samuel DuBose, 43, in the head after pulling him over for a missing front license plate on his vehicle.
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DuBose attempted to prevent the officer from opening the door before the car started slowly rolling forward. Tensing, who is white, pulled his gun and fired once.
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.
Tensing said he was being dragged by DuBose's car and believed he would be pulled under the vehicle. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said multiple times on Tuesday that the officer's version of events was false.
Deters said the car had moved little more than a foot before Tensing shot DuBose.
"His (Tensing's) version is unsupported by any other witness or any other evidence," Deters said.
"The evidence is going to show you that this tragic case, this murder, was totally unwarranted, was completely intentional and was truly unjustified," he added.
Tensing's defense attorney, Stew Mathews, countered that DuBose attempted to use his vehicle to harm Tensing and the officer shot DuBose to protect his own life.
"I will concede that Sam DuBose did not have a gun, he did not ever indicate he had a gun. But I will not concede that he did not have a weapon. He had a 3,000-pound car that he turned into a weapon," Mathews said.
Outside the courthouse, Deters reiterated his claims, telling reporters that Tensing "lied about what happened."
The 12-member jury in Tensing's trial at Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas visited the scene of the crime on Tuesday, before opening arguments started.
Judge Megan Shanahan previously ruled in a pretrial hearing that DuBose's medical and criminal records as well as toxicology reports showing marijuana in his system could not be used as evidence in the case, but the presence of marijuana in DuBose's car and on his person could be.
Tensing pleaded not guilty to murder and was released on $1 million bond. If convicted, he could face a life sentence.
(Reporting by Ginny McCabe Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Writing by Ben Klayman and Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)