A jury of 11 whites and one black man began deliberations Wednesday in the murder trial of Michael Slager, a fired white police officer who was videotaped killing a black motorist after a traffic stop.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman instructed the jurors on the law and told them they could acquit Slager, convict him of murder or convict him of voluntary manslaughter.
The case then went to the jury early Wednesday evening after a monthlong trial in which 55 witnesses testified. They deliberated for about an hour before going home for the night.
Slager was charged with murder, but the judge said Wednesday that the jury could also consider manslaughter in the death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, who died after five of the eight bullets Slager fired hit him in the back as he tried to run away.
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Slager was fired from the North Charleston Police Department and charged with murder shortly after the Scott family’s lawyer made the bystander’s video public. The jurors repeatedly watched the images during the trial, even stopping to analyze them frame by frame.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson showed it one last time after her closing arguments on Wednesday, then approached the jurors and spoke in a quiet voice as the screens went black.
“Our community, our courtroom can only have one fountain for justice. It’s time for Michael Slager to take his drink,” Wilson said.
The jury must find Slager acted with malice toward Scott to convict him of murder. Manslaughter requires proof the killing was done in the heat of passion, after being provoked.
Wilson said that even if Slager felt provoked by Scott’s resistance despite being repeatedly stunned by a Taser, that didn’t justify killing him.
Slager could face 30 years to life if convicted of murder. Manslaughter is punishable by two to 30 years in prison.
Scott ran from his car into a vacant lot after Slager pulled him over for a broken taillight. Slager testified he chased him down, but Scott refused to be subdued and tried to run away again.
Defense attorney Andy Savage argued that the video doesn’t tell the whole story.
It doesn’t show Slager ordering Scott to stop before shooting him with his Taser. It shows only the very end of their struggle over the stun gun. And Slager had no way to know Scott wasn’t armed, Savage said.
“This is about the felonious conduct Mr. Scott engaged in,” Savage argued. “Who attacks a policeman for a brake light? Who does that?”
The witnesses included a toxicologist who said cocaine was found in Scott’s body.
“Whether he was on cocaine, alcohol or whatever it was, he chose to attack a police officer,” Savage told the jurors. Slager, he said, didn’t shoot Scott “because of a brake light. He shot him in fear for his life.”
Wilson urged jurors to ignore defense attempts to distract them from what they can see with their own eyes on the video. She also pulled up evidence photos showing Slager with his radio and earpiece still in place after the shooting.
“That is not the sign of a violent, throw-down, life-threatening fight,” she said.
She accused Slager of inventing a story about fighting for his life, and said his fellow officers at the scene “bought everything he said that day hook, line and sinker.”
“Our whole criminal justice system rides on the back of law enforcement. Because of that, they have to be held responsible when they mess up,” she concluded.