Jury seated in trial of Oklahoma officer charged with manslaughter

Reuters News
Posted: May 10, 2017 12:38 PM

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) - A jury was selected and opening statements are set on Wednesday in the trial of a white Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting an unarmed black man in a case that fanned concerns of possible racial bias in U.S. policing.

The jury of 12 that includes two black women will hear statements to start the trial, expected to take about a week, for officer Betty Shelby, 43, who could face between four years and life in prison if convicted of the September 2016 killing of Terence Crutcher, who was 40.

Police videos of the incident were seen globally, with some civil rights advocates arguing race was a factor in the fatal shooting, something Shelby has denied.

In the videos, Crutcher can be seen with his hands in the air shortly before he was shot. Tulsa police have said Crutcher was unarmed and there was no weapon in his vehicle, which was blocking a road.

Prosecutors have said there was no reason for Shelby to fire on a man who was walking away from her with his hands in the air. They blame her for turning a routine traffic matter into a deadly confrontation.

Officer Shelby acted "unreasonably by escalating the situation," an arrest affidavit said, adding that "she became emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted."

A lawyer for Shelby has said she acted because she feared for her life, believing Crutcher was reaching into his vehicle for a weapon.

Shelby told CBS News' "60 Minutes" last month that race was not a factor and her actions were driven entirely by the behavior of the man she shot, who she suspected was under the influence of the hallucinogenic stimulant PCP, or phencyclidine.

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The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office said in a report in October that Crutcher had 96 nanograms per milliliter of PCP in his bloodstream at the time of his death on Sept. 16.

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray has said in court that Crutcher’s drug use the day of the shooting was not reason enough for Shelby, or any other officer, to resort to deadly force, the Tulsa World newspaper reported.

(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton; Writing and additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by James Dalgleish)