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Trial Begins in Tulsa Police Shooting Case

08-May-2017

Jury selection begins today in the manslaughter case of Tulsa police officer Betty Jo Shelby, accused of using unnecessary lethal force in the shooting death of Terrence Crutcher, and unarmed man.

Prosecutors say that Shelby overreacted in firing at Terrence Crutcher. Others say Crutcher's death was the result of actions taken by a racist police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man whose hands were in the air. Shelby's defense argues that Crutcher was noncompliant with demands, apparently under the influence of PCP, and appeared to be reaching into the vehicle for a weapon when the police officer, in fear for her own safety, fired.

Because of the national publicity surrounding the case, attorneys must choose 14 jurors and alternates from a pool of more than 70--much more than the typical jury pool, according to ThinkProgress. These prospective jurors must fill out two written questionnaires, one detailing their exposure to publicity before the trial, and the other exploring their experiences in dealing with police officers. The judge and attorneys will review the completed questionnaires before beginning face-to-face questioning of jurors in voire dire.

Although jury selection begins today, it is not expected that opening arguments, witness testimony, and cross-examination will take place for several more days--even weeks.

Last month, Shelby appeared on 60 Minutes to speak out about the case and why she felt it necessary to use lethal force against Terrence Crutcher. Tulsa County District Judge Doug Drummond reprimanded the defendant, saying, "It is obvious this case has drawn significant media. The court is, at a minimum, hopeful that all parties ... recognize that pretrial publicity potentially hampers prospects for a fair and impartial trial for both sides."

While Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler says that Shelby overreacted in shooting Crutcher, the Tulsa police union says that Kunzweiler himself is the one who overreacted, filing charges without probable cause in the face of media pressure. The group has filed a formal ethics complaint against Kunzweiler, saying a decision to charge Shelby within six days of the shooting and before an investigation was complete was simply an attempt to prevent civil unrest.

The filing states, "We believe D.A. Kunzweiler seems to have unfairly and unethically rushed to charge Officer Shelby before all of the critical evidence had been provided and reviewed, contrary to the way he normally handles all other cases, including police related shootings." They say the charge was based on "merely watching a video" that does not provide all of the evidence leading up to the shooting nor completely show Crutcher's actions when he was shot.

When the case comes to trial, jurors will be asked if they believe Shelby used appropriate force or whether she overreacted in shooting the unarmed man. If convicted of manslaughter, she faces four years to life in prison.



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