Tensing Testifies In Murder Trial

Nov 8, 2016

Ray Tensing took the stand in his own defense Tuesday. He's charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Sam DuBose during a 2015 traffic stop.

Through tears, Tensing described how DuBose seemed "squirrely" and "nervous," making Tensing feel like "something wasn't right." He said the incident happened in a "split second."

"I was falling backwards as he's just got his foot mashed on the accelerator and I could feel his car turning left into me. So, I'm falling backwards and I can feel myself falling lower and lower against his driver's door. I remember thinking, 'Oh my God… that he's going to run me over and he's going to kill me. He's actively dragging me with his car right now and my arm is stuck in there and I cannot get it out.'"

Tensing repeatedly described how he perceived DuBose's car was "rocketing" into him and he felt like he was going to be run over.

On cross examination, Prosecutor Joe Deters challenged Tensing's description of the events.

"I want to clear something up right now," Deters said. "You intentionally shot (DuBose) in the head, correct?"

Tensing replied, "Sir, I fired at him because I thought he was going to kill me."

Deters led Tensing through various parts of the traffic stop, comparing the video to Tensing's descriptions of what happened. Tensing continually said he thought the car was moving quickly into him, causing him to fall backward.

Throughout cross examination, Deters used the body camera video and other witness testimony to suggest Tensing's description of the incident was false – that he wasn't dragged before shooting DuBose. Tensing consistently used the word "perception" to describe how he interpreted the events.

"You realize none of the physical evidence supports this story too. Correct?," Deters challenged Tensing.

"I believe it does," Tensing replied.

Prior to cross examination, defense attorney Stew Mathews asked his client about the black t-shirt he wore under his uniform on the day of the incident. UC police are required to wear a black t-shirt under their summer uniforms. The shirt had on it the words "Great Smoky Mountains" and a picture of a confederate flag.

Tensing testified the shirt had been a gift from a relative who'd visited Gatlinburg. "It was just in my laundry basket," he said. "I just grabbed it and threw it on. I never looked twice at it, never thought anything about it. It was just a black t-shirt."

The flag held no meaning for him, Tensing said.

Deters wasn't impressed, suggesting that considering his high grades, one would think Tensing would know "how offensive that t-shirt you wore that day is to the African-American community."

Deters made these final comments after stating that UC's Exiger Report shows Tensing led UC police in the number of stops, citations and arrests. He said the report found 83.5 percent of people Tensing wrote tickets to were African-American.

Tensing replied, "A lot of these traffic stops, you cannot see who is driving. They have tinted windows. Half of my shift is at night time; I can't see who's driving the car."

Jurors also watched lengthy body camera videos of other traffic stops Tensing made on the day of the shooting. In each, Tensing is shown acting professionally and in accordance with police procedures. He issued citations but made no arrests.

A police use-of-force expert testified Tuesday as well. James Scanlon, a police trainer, said he reached out to the defense after hearing about the July 2015 shooting. He testified he did so because he feels strongly that Tensing is innocent and the shooting was justified. Scanlon added he believes Tensing feared for his life and his actions were in line with police training and tactics. 

Scanlon made his report based on watching body camera video of the incident. On cross examination, Assistant Prosecutor Rick Gibson repeatedly pointed out Scanlon is not a forensic video expert but rather a lay person, just like the jurors.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday morning. Judge Megan Shanahan instructed jurors to bring an overnight bag just in case deliberations continue so long they need to be sequestered overnight.

[View the story "Fifth Day Of Testimony In Ray Tensing Trial" on Storify]