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Judge vows to shield jurors in officer’s murder retrial

FILE- In this July 19, 2015, file photo, Ray Tensing arrives at court on the fourth day of jury deliberations in his murder trial, in Cincinnati. Prosecutors in Ohio say a T-shirt with a Confederate flag emblem worn by Tensing, a white police officer, under his uniform is relevant evidence for countering his claim that he feared for his life when he shot Sam DuBose, an unarmed black motorist. The defense says the T-shirt isn't relevant, but could prejudice the jury. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

CINCINNATI (AP) — A county judge in Ohio vowed Thursday to shield jurors’ identities and prevent distractions during the murder retrial of a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black motorist.

Judge Leslie Ghiz also reiterated she is determined to seat a jury in Hamilton County, where she is based and Cincinnati is located, saying she doesn’t think moving the trial is in anyone’s best interests.

County Prosecutor Joe Deters voiced support in November for moving the retrial after suggesting intense local attention helped lead to a hung jury in the case of former University of Cincinnati Officer Ray Tensing, charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter.

Ghiz earlier imposed a gag order in the case. Jury selection is scheduled to begin next Thursday.

Ghiz warned journalists against photographing or recording jurors and said she won’t release their answers on lengthy questionnaires until after trial. She vowed to “protect the integrity” of the proceedings.

“I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens,” Ghiz said.

Attorneys for news organizations, including The Associated Press, raised objections during the hearing. The judge in the first trial also restricted media coverage of jurors.

Tensing testified he feared for his life when Samuel DuBose tried to drive away during a 2015 traffic stop near the university. It’s among cases across the country in recent years that focused attention on how police respond to blacks, and also highlighted the difficulty prosecutors face in gaining convictions against officers for on-duty shootings.

An Oklahoma jury on Wednesday found white Tulsa officer Betty Shelby not guilty of manslaughter. She said she shot out of fear when she killed Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man.

A court official said about 235 prospective jurors are expected to report next week to fill out questionnaires, which haven’t been finalized. Questionnaires from the first trial included questions about racial attitudes. In-court questioning of prospective jurors will begin after Memorial Day.

Ghiz also plans a May 26 hearing on evidence issues, including whether the jury should see a T-shirt Tensing wore under his uniform that depicts a Confederate battle flag. Prosecutors say Tensing’s undamaged clothing counters defense claims he was being dragged, and the defense says the undershirt has no relevance as evidence but could prejudice the jury.

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