Jurors in Walter Scott Cop Trial Deadlocked
Updated Dec. 2, 6:18 p.m.
The South Carolina jury deciding the fate of Michael Slager, a White former police officer accused in the 2015 death of Black motorist Walter Scott, says it is deadlocked, but the presiding judge pressed them to keep deliberating until finally they had given up for the day. Reportedly the vote to convict is 11-1 and the standout juror has not been convinced that Slager is guilty of murder.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman was sent a note on Friday by jurors telling him they had reached an impasse after 17 hours, putting the proceedings at risk of being declared a mistrial. He said that he wanted them to reconsider their positions on Slager’s guilt or innocence but also warned what would happen if deliberations resulted in a hung jury.
“We will go through this whole process again,” he told them. If that happens, it would be up to prosecutors to decide whether or not there should be a new trial.
Jurors were given the choice of having dinner brought in while they continued deliberations or leaving for the weekend, which they chose the latter. They will resume Monday morning at 9 a.m.
Though Slager, who was fired from the North Charleston Police Department after the shooting, is charged with murder, the jury is being allowed to consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, which is shooting someone in the heat of passion. A murder conviction, which requires the jury to agree that Slager had malice toward Scott, carries a sentence of 30 years to life.
In testimony this week, Slager, 35, took the stand, saying that he was in fear for his life on April 4, 2015, when he encountered Scott, 50 at a traffic stop. When Scott fled, he said the two men wrestled and that he grabbed the officer’s Taser and pointed at him. A video of the next few minutes taken by a bystander shows Slager shooting Scott in the back as he ran.
“In my mind at that time was, people don’t run for a broken taillight. There’s always another reason,” he testified. “I don’t know why he ran. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Newman told the jurors Friday morning that the court could not instruct them on how the heat of passion may differ from fear. The jury asked for definitions of both late Thursday, but the judge said it’s an issue jurors must decide.
The judge told the jurors they needed to apply their common sense and understanding of common words and phrases. He said the jurors should consult his jury charge, of which they have a copy.
The charge to the jury said that “sudden heat of passion may, for a time, affect a person’s self-control and temporarily disturb a person’s reason.”
With Associated Press
Image: Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, left, is escorted from the courthouse during his murder trial at the Charleston County court in Charleston, S.C. AP/ Chuck Burton