Jury deliberations in Michael Slager murder case continue Thursday

Walter Scott. (Source: Facebook)
Walter Scott. (Source: Facebook)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Jury deliberations will continue Thursday morning in the trial of a former police officer charged with the murder of a motorist.

Judge Clifton Newman gave final instructions to jurors Wednesday evening in the trial of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager who is charged in the April 4, 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott.

Newman detailed the charges the jury may consider and of their responsibilities.

The jury has three options they can consider: murder which carries a sentence of 30 years to life, voluntary manslaughter where the sentencing can range from two to 30 years, and not guilty by self defense.

Jurors deliberated the case for about two hours Wednesday evening following closing arguments, then gave the judge a note asking to go home and return to court on Thursday.

Jurors will return to the jury room at 9:30 a.m.

Following closing arguments, Walter Scott's brothers held a press conference outside the Charleston County Courthouse and said they believe the jurors will deliver a guilty verdict for murder. 

Defense and prosecution give closing arguments

Wednesday was the last chance for both the defense and prosecution to leave a lasting impression on the jury.

Both sides spoke for more than an hour to try to make their cases with the prosecution going last.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Slager clearly had an issue with Scott.

According to Wilson, the April 2015 incident was not a fight between the two, but a struggle with Scott who was attempting to get away from Slager.

"If you have any doubt who had the better end of that struggle you'll see it on those autopsy pictures," said Wilson who described Scott as "wiggling" under Slager and not "thrashing."

Scott fled a traffic stop and wound up in a confrontation with Slager.

Slager said he shot Scott in self-defense after Scott got hold of Slager's Taser.

"Our whole criminal justice system rides on the back of law enforcement," Wilson said."It's not just the weight of the duty belt, it's not just the vest. They have the weight of our nation on their backs. There is nobody more grateful for that than I am. But because of that they have to be held responsible when they mess up."

Wilson also brought up video captured by Feidin Santana appearing to show Slager moving the taser next to Scott following the shooting.

"[Slager's] instincts told him to take that taser and drop it by Walter Scott," Wilson said."There is no excuse for that."

At the end of Wilson's closing argument, she hugged Santana and said,"Thank you."

Attorney Andy Savage gave his closing argument earlier and asked jurors to find Slager not guilty in Scott's murder.

Savage rejected the prosecution's suggestion that Scott fled the traffic stop Slager initiated out of fear of going to jail because he owed back child support.

"Nobody goes to prison for back child support," Savage said.

Savage told jurors that there was a fight between Slager and Scott, and cited DNA on Slager's taser and the fact that Slager was injured.

"If there was no fight how was Slager injured?" Savage asked the jury.

"This is not about a great fight," Savage said."No, uh-oh. It's about the felonious conduct exercised by Mr. Scott. Not Mr. Slager's decision. It's the felonious conduct that Mr. Scott engaged in."

Savage also accused the media of misleading the public.

"You hear the media say 'unarmed man shot in the back.' Did Slager have a chance to pat [Scott] down to see if he had a weapon?" Savage asked.

He also brought up the shooting video and criticized Santana for not immediately handing the video over to law enforcement officials.

Earlier today, Judge Clifton Newman ruled the jury could consider a charge of voluntary manslaughter as an alternative to the charge of murder.

If convicted of murder, Slager would face 30 years to life in prison, but if convicted of voluntary manslaughter in Scott's death, Slager would face between two and 30 years.

Jury visits shooting scene, defense wraps case

The jury also visited the scene of the alleged crime on Wednesday.

Newman had instructed jurors not to discuss the case with anyone, including each other, explaining that the purpose of the trip was only to observe the scene. Newman said one representative of both the defense and the prosecution would accompany jurors but members of the media would not.

The defense wrapped its case Tuesday after Slager himself took the stand followed by additional defense witnesses.  Slager teared-up twice on the stand: once, telling the jury he missed the birth of his child from being in jail; the other, while saying how scared he was of Scott.

Slager testified he has not been the same since the shooting and said his mind was like spaghetti from running and chasing after Scott.

"I was happy April 4th because Easter was the next day and I had off for a few days," Slager said. "Spent time with my family, and... after April 4 it's been a roller coaster can't sleep nightmares. My family has been destroyed by this,  the Scott family has been destroyed by this, it's horrible."

Slager told authorities he shot at Scott after the man ran from his vehicle and then took hold of the officer's Taser in a struggle on a yellow-paved lot in Charleston Farms, repeatedly called a high-crime area of North Charleston.

Slager testified that he was going to give Scott a warning ticket for a broken taillight when Scott ran from his car. Slager testified that after Scott ran, Slager fired his Taser several times. He said at some point, both of them wound up on the ground and Scott grabbed Slager's Taser.

"And he takes the Tazer out of my hand with such force, it comes out of my hand, and then I see him with the Tazer in his hand and I see him spin it around," Slager said. "That's the only thing I see is that Tazer coming at me, I see that barrel, it's like this big, coming at me and I knew I was in trouble, I knew I had to call backup, I needed back up, I knew I was being overpowered."

Slager said during the struggle he realized Scott was much stronger than he was. Slager, choking back tears, says he felt "total fear" when Scott pointed the weapon at him.

Slager said he tried to get Scott to listen to his commands several times before the struggle and the shooting. Slager said he handcuffed Scott after the shooting because Slager didn't know if he hit Scott or if Scott tripped.

Prosecutors accused Slager of changing his story about the chase. During cross-examination, prosecutors again showed the cellphone video and asked Slager if it didn't show the Taser on the ground just before the shooting. Slager replied that at the time of the shooting he would have said the weapon was not on the ground, but that looking at the video can see that it was.

When asked about the video, Slager says he doesn't remember certain things, because it all happened so quickly.

Copyright 2016 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.