Ray Tensing's second trial starts later this month. The white former University of Cincinnati police officer is accused of killing unarmed black motorist Sam DuBose during a 2015 traffic stop. The first trial ended with a hung jury.
Ahead of the retrial, the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati is holding a series of forums to educate people about the criminal justice system.
Judge Fanon Rucker is not involved in the Tensing case and would not speak about it directly. At the first forum Wednesday night, he responded to audience members who questioned why there isn't greater African-American representation in courts. "Currently in Hamilton County the only way that one person can sit in judgment of another person in a jury is if they're registered to vote," Rucker said.
Ohio law does allow for jurors to be pulled from people with driver's licenses and state IDs. Black Lawyers Association President Donyetta Bailey said she wonders if that would increase diversity in jury pools.
"I'm going to send a public records request to the BMV… and if that would truly diversify the jury then I'm going to walk down the hall to the presiding judge and say 'hey, why can't we make this change?,'" Bailey said.
Bailey also responded to audience complaints that the criminal justice system isn't listening to African-Americans.
"BLAC's position is that fairness is not just the verdict. It's the beginning of the trial through the end. From what charges are brought to the grand jury to decide, to the jury selection process, to who the judge is, to… the racial makeup of the jury."
Bailey pointed out judges and the prosecutor are elected positions and answer to voters.
"But what I also want people to do is take responsibility for the fact that we had two African-American males who did get called and didn't rise to the occasion," she said.
Rodney Harris is director of the felony division of the Hamilton County Public Defender's Office, but is not directly involved in the Tensing case. He says diversity in a courtroom can help insure fairness. He pointed to a 2012 Duke University study that showed one African-American on a jury meant conviction rates for white and black defendants was nearly equal.
"When you have minorities on the jury it's more likely that when they get in the jury room they will talk about race. If you don't have any minorities in the jury it's less likely that will be talked about or even discussed," Harris said.
The first Tensing jury consisted of four white women, two African-American women, and six white men. They could not reach a verdict.
Prospective jurors report May 25 for the second trial.
There's another forum next Wednesday at the Allen Temple AME Church in Bond Hill, and a third one on May 16 at the First Unitarian Church in Avondale.