By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Attorneys for a white former police officer charged with killing an unarmed black man who ran from a traffic stop in South Carolina argued in court on Thursday that he is not dangerous and should be freed on bail.
At the end of the 90-minute hearing, Judge Clifton Newman said he would rule at a later date on the fate of Michael Slager, 33, who has been jailed since his April arrest on a murder charge in the death of Walter Scott, 50, in North Charleston.
The shooting, caught on video by a bystander using his cellphone, showed Slager firing his gun eight times at Scott's back as he fled from the officer. The footage added new grist to the public outcry over the treatment of minorities by police following killings in several U.S. cities.
In opposing bail, prosecutors said Scott should not have run. "But that doesn't mean that Slager should have been the firing squad who executed Mr Scott," said prosecutor Scarlett Wilson.
The hearing on Thursday was Slager's first court appearance since his arraignment. No trial date has been set.
Defense lawyer Andy Savage accused the state Law Enforcement Division of destroying some evidence and raised questions about the prosecution's version of events.
Prosecutors had not fully disclosed what tests investigators performed on the officer's stun gun, Savage said, arguing that it had been fired at Slager during a struggle.
The two men engaged in "a violent, visceral confrontation" when Scott tried to flee after Slager pulled him over for a broken brake light, Savage said.
Scott sat on top of Slager and pummeled him on the ground before he wrested control of the officer's stun gun and pointed it at him, he said.
Prosecutors said there was no justification for the shots that followed. "Walter Scott was trying to get away. He was not trying to attack Mr Slager," said Wilson.
The defense presented letters of recommendations written about Slager by employers during his career in the Coast Guard and the police.
Savage denied Slager was a flight risk, noting he was the father a baby boy born after his arrest, and had no prior criminal record.
The sometimes emotional hearing was attended by relatives of both Slager and Scott. "My heart is truly broken today," said Judy Scott, the dead man's mother.
She said she prayed for Slager. "Because of the love of Christ, I cannot hate," she said.
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins and David Adams; Editing by Susan Heavey and Sandra Maler)