Jury seeks guidance in ex-South Carolina police officer's murder trial

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 05, 2016 11:53 AM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Twelve jurors weighing whether a white former South Carolina police officer is guilty of murder for a black motorist's shooting death last year told a judge on Monday they were grappling with legal terms and remained undecided on a verdict.

The jury in the state trial for ex-North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager no longer said it was deadlocked, however, a shift from its stance during deliberations on Friday.

"The note says that the majority of jurors are still undecided. It doesn’t say they are deadlocked," Judge Clifton Newman told lawyers in a Charleston courtroom.

"And that’s what deliberations are all about, getting an undecided jury to decide," he added.

Slager, 35, was arrested and charged with murder after investigators watched a bystander's cell phone video that showed him firing eight times at 50-year-old Walter Scott's back as he fled an April 2015 traffic stop.

The shooting helped rekindle debate in the United States over use of force against black men amid a wave of police killings in cities including New York, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

On Friday, jurors who had heard four weeks of testimony in Slager's case told Newman they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

They indicated that one member was holding out against a conviction, though they did not say whether the rest of the panel was settled on finding Slager guilty of murder or a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

The panel said more explanation of the law could help them reach a consensus and asked for a weekend break to rest.

On Monday, the fourth day of deliberations, jurors sent notes to the judge seeking clarification about the two charges and further explanation of terms including malice and self-defense.

Prosecutors have argued that shooting someone in the back proves malice, which is an element of the murder charge.

Jurors asked how long malice had to exist in Slager's mind to warrant a murder conviction, Newman said.

The judge said he was obligated to answer the jury's questions and gave lawyers in the case time to draft proposals for how he should respond.

(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Tom Brown)