By Ginny McCabe
CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Ohio prosecutors said on Tuesday they would not pursue a third trial against a white former university police officer whose two previous trials for fatally shooting a black motorist during a traffic stop ended with hung juries.
But following the announcement, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio said it was looking into whether it would pick up the case on behalf of the family of Samuel DuBose, 43, who was shot in July 2015.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters told reporters that while he still believed the police officer was guilty of murder, it became apparent another trial would not result in a conviction.
"If we believe that we cannot be successful at trial, we have that duty not to proceed," Deters said. "In this case, we have jurors who will not vote to convict a police officer."
The shooting set off protests and fueled national debate about the use of excessive force by police against minorities.
The U.S. attorney's office said it was assessing if there were, "possible federal civil rights offenses warranting investigation and potential prosecution," a spokeswoman said in a statement.
"My reaction is I'm somewhat relieved, but it ain't over, apparently," Stew Mathews, the police officer's attorney, said by telephone on Tuesday.
The shooting occurred when former University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing stopped DuBose for missing a front license plate on his car. Tensing shot once, hitting DuBose in the head, a body camera worn by Tensing showed.
The university police fired Tensing after he was charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter for shooting DuBose.
Tensing, 27, maintained in both trials that he feared for his life during the traffic stop. Prosecutors argued he ignored his training when he reached into DuBose's car and he was never in danger.
A mistrial was declared in the first trial in November 2016 when the jury was hopelessly deadlocked. A retrial ended in another mistrial last month.
Deters, who met with DuBose's family on Tuesday, described the decision against a third trial as the most difficult of his career.
"It was horrible," he said of his meeting. "It rips my heart out."
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said that with the U.S. Attorney's announcement the case remained open.
"I offer my prayers to the DuBose family during this difficult time," he said in a statement.
"It is important to remember that with the U.S. Attorney reviewing this case, it is not over."
(Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago. Additional reporting by Steve Bittenbender in Louisville, Kentucky; Editing by Andrew Hay)