State murder trial for S. Carolina officer delayed to August

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Posted: Jan 24, 2017 5:08 PM
State murder trial for S. Carolina officer delayed to August

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina judge delayed a fired police officer's murder retrial until August, but said Tuesday it can be moved up again if federal prosecutors drop their civil rights case against him in the shooting of an unarmed black motorist.

Circuit Judge Clifton Newman ruled Tuesday that Michael Slager's second state trial will now begin Aug. 28, not March 1, media outlets reported. Slager's lawyers asked for the delay because several of their experts were busy in March.

That means Slager likely will next face a federal jury in May for allegedly violating Walter Scott's civil rights by shooting him repeatedly in the back as he tried to flee a traffic stop in North Charleston in April 2015. The maximum punishment in the federal case is life in prison, just like in the state's murder trial.

Newman agreed to reconsider his trial date if under President Donald Trump the Justice Department drops its case against Slager.

Vice President Michael Pence said on MSNBC in December that he had seen the widely viewed bystander video of Slager shooting Scott and was heartbroken like much of the country, but that the Slager case would be one of many reviewed by the new attorney general.

"That was an off the cuff remark that surprised me and surprised many people," Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday. "I don't know if that is a realistic possibility, but it has been laid out there."

A jury deliberated for four days without a verdict before a mistrial was declared in December after nearly a month of testimony in Slager's case.

Wilson said the retrial would likely be shorter in part because she found places her witnesses repeated themselves, and in part from feedback from jurors in the first trial.

She said about six of the jurors approached her office to talk. She wouldn't describe what they said.

"I've learned a lot about the jury and it has been fascinating," Wilson said. "But I've assured them we will keep those conversations private."

Wilson also thanked Scott's family for their grace despite all the legal maneuvering.

"They've been in the system a while now," Wilson said. "They are patient people."