Charleston Jury Gets Case of Police Officer Who Killed Walter Scott

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They sat on the same courtroom bench, but worlds apart — the parents of Walter L. Scott, a black man shot to death in 2015, and Michael T. Slager, the white police officer who killed him as he fled after a traffic stop.

And the arguments they heard from lawyers were just as disparate as they pleaded with jurors to settle a bitterly divisive case in their favor: for the government, a rare conviction of a police officer, and for the defense, an acquittal of an officer seen on tape shooting a fleeing man.

“Our whole criminal justice system rides on the back of law enforcement,” Scarlett A. Wilson, the chief prosecutor for Charleston County, told the jury of 11 white people and a black man. “They have to be held accountable when they mess up. It is very, very rare, but it does happen.”

But Mr. Slager’s lawyer, Andrew J. Savage III, pressed jurors to resist “a false narrative” — that the officer malevolently opened fire toward Mr. Scott’s back on April 4, 2015, when he fled a traffic stop for a broken taillight — and to find that Mr. Slager had acted in self-defense.

“This shooting didn’t happen in a vacuum,” Mr. Savage said. “Mr. Scott did not get shot because he had a broken taillight. Mr. Scott was shot because of what he did on April 4.”

Jurors, who began their deliberations on Wednesday evening, must reach a unanimous decision, and they have three options if they are to avoid a mistrial: a conviction for murder, a conviction for voluntary manslaughter or an acquittal.

The difference between murder and manslaughter — charges with vastly different potential penalties in this state — revolves around whether someone had “malice” toward the person who was killed. Under South Carolina law, a conviction for murder carries a prison term of 30 years to life; the penalty for manslaughter is between two and 30 years in prison.

Mr. Slager has also been charged in Federal District Court with violating Mr. Scott’s civil rights.

Like the federal case, the state’s case, tried over four grueling weeks in a fourth-floor courtroom here, turns on a matter of minutes on the Saturday before Easter last year, when Mr. Slager stopped Mr. Scott for an equipment violation. It was a stop, virtually everyone agrees, that began normally.

But Mr. Scott soon decided to flee on foot — his family and prosecutors believe he did so because of outstanding child support obligations — and Mr. Slager chased him.

The men became involved in a fight, and, according to Mr. Slager, who testified on Tuesday, Mr. Scott took control of the officer’s Taser, leaving him in “total fear.” Near the end of their physical struggle, a passer-by switched on his cellphone’s camera and began to record a video of the moments that soon rocketed into the national consciousness: when Mr. Slager fired eight shots and Mr. Scott, wounded, collapsed to the ground. Mr. Scott was at least 17 feet from Mr. Slager, and running away, when the officer began to shoot.

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Source: The NY Times | ALAN BLINDER