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Ohio judge assigned case in police killing of black man after three others recuse themselves

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - The expected retrial of a white former University of Cincinnati police officer who killed a black motorist during a traffic stop last year hit a series of snags this week as three judges recused themselves before a fourth was assigned to the case.

Former University of Cincinnati police office Ray Tensing is seen in an undated booking photo from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in Ohio. Hamilton County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

The quest for a new judge came after a jury failed earlier this month to reach a verdict on whether former officer Ray Tensing was guilty of murder or manslaughter for shooting Samuel DuBose, 43, in the head after pulling him over for a missing front license plate on his vehicle.

DuBose’s killing fueled demonstrations against the use of lethal force by white officers against unarmed blacks and other minorities, an issue that has renewed a national debate over racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Courtroom staff for Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz said she was assigned to the case on Tuesday, after several colleagues turned down the job.

Court records showed a page-long list of entries as judges were tapped and then recused themselves. Ghiz was expected to meet with lawyers in the case this week.

Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan, who presided over the original trial, said in court on Monday she would not hear the retrial.

“It’s this court’s opinion that the retrial should be conducted with that blank slate on all matters surrounding evidence and procedure,” Shanahan said.

After Shanahan recused herself, the case was assigned to Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Tom Heekin. The judge, who represented one of DuBose’s children as a court-appointed representative in a civil lawsuit, recused himself on Tuesday morning, said bailiff Mitch Gillen.

The case was then assigned to Judge Beth Myers, who also recused herself, citing an upcoming new post at the Ohio First District Court of Appeals.

Tensing, 27, was fired from the University of Cincinnati Police Department after being indicted for murder and voluntary manslaughter in July 2015 in relation to the shooting. He pleaded not guilty and was released on $1 million bond.

After the jury failed to reach a verdict on Nov. 12, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said he would retry Tensing. He also requested a change of venue for the second trial.

During the July 2015 traffic stop, Tensing asked DuBose to remove his seat belt and tried to open the car door. DuBose did not comply and closed the door. The vehicle started rolling forward slowly as Tensing pulled his gun and fired once.

A date for the retrial has not been set.

Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Peter Cooney