South Carolina jury weighs case against ex-cop who killed motorist

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 01, 2016 11:12 AM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Jurors deliberated for a second day on Thursday on a murder charge against a white former South Carolina police officer accused of fatally shooting a fleeing black motorist last year, and activists vowed to protest if they disagreed with the verdict.

Ex-North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager, 35, faces up to life in prison if found guilty of murder in the death of 50-year-old Walter Scott in April 2015.

A guilty verdict for a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter would carry between two and 30 years behind bars.

Organizers for civil rights groups told Reuters that an acquittal would prompt demonstrations.

"We won't sit idly by," said James Johnson, state director for the National Action Network in South Carolina.

The jury of 11 white people and 1 black person will decide Slager's fate in a case that gained widespread attention after a bystander's cellphone video footage of the officer shooting at Scott's back was made public.

The video added fuel to a national debate over the use of force by U.S. law enforcement against minorities in the wake of police killings of black men in cities including New York, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

Jurors, who viewed the video multiple times and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses during the trial in state court in Charleston over the past month, began deliberating Wednesday evening.

On Thursday afternoon, they requested transcripts of the testimony given by Slager and the chief investigator on the case.

Slager told jurors earlier this week that Scott ran after being pulled over for a broken brake light and resisted the patrolman's orders to stop.

Prosecutors said Scott likely fled because he was behind on child support payments and feared arrest.

Scott was not armed, but Slager's lawyers said the officer did not know that at the time of the confrontation.

Slager said Scott grabbed his stun gun as the two men scuffled. Feeling "total fear," Slager said he pulled out his gun and opened fire until he had stopped the threat.

Prosecutors argued that the video proved Slager was not in danger when he fired eight shots at the fleeing Scott, hitting him with five bullets.

Outside the Charleston County Judicial Center on Thursday, where television crews, police, chaplains and bystanders waited for a verdict, Anthony Scott, brother of Walter Scott, offered his view on the trial.

"It's gonna be okay," he said. "If it's not okay, we're not done."

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Leslie Adler)