State Supreme Court assigns judge to hear South Carolina officer's murder case

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 15, 2015 4:31 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - South Carolina's chief justice has assigned a judge from outside North Charleston to preside over the murder case of a white former police officer accused of shooting a black man in the back in that city.

The order on Tuesday said Judge Clifton Newman would be in charge of deciding all legal matters in the case and would retain jurisdiction "regardless of where he may be assigned to hold court."

Newman, who is based in Kingstree, a town about 75 miles from Charleston, is a former prosecutor who became a judge in 2000, according to the state's judicial department website.

Lawyer Andy Savage, who is representing former police officer Michael Slager in the April 4 deadly shooting of 50-year-old Walter Scott, said the judge had an excellent reputation.

"A more competent member of the judiciary could not be found," Savage said in a statement on Wednesday.

Savage has not sought a change of venue or filed any motions in the case. Slager, 33, was dismissed from his patrolman job after his arrest on a murder charge in the shooting caught on video by a bystander.

Scott's death has drawn international attention and reignited a public debate over U.S. police treatment of minorities that flared last year after the killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, and elsewhere.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is scheduled to attend events in South Carolina on Thursday and Friday prompted by the shooting, said Democratic state Representative Wendell Gilliard, who invited the civil rights activist.

Gilliard has been pushing a measure for more than a year that would require all law enforcement officers in the state to wear body cameras.

On Wednesday, Republican House Speaker Jay Lucas became a sponsor of the bill, and Gilliard said he expected it to be fast-tracked through the legislative process.

"We need this kind of technology," he said. "Is it a solve-all? No. But it's a step in the right direction."

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)