Sentencing hearing begins for ex-cop Michael Slager in fatal shooting of motorist

Sketch of Monday's sentencing hearing for Michael Slager case. (Source: Robert Maniscalco)
Sketch of Monday's sentencing hearing for Michael Slager case. (Source: Robert Maniscalco)
Michael Slager in state court last year. (Source: Pool)
Michael Slager in state court last year. (Source: Pool)
Walter Scott. (Source: Facebook)
Walter Scott. (Source: Facebook)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The sentencing hearing for Michael Slager, the former North Charleston police officer who pleaded guilty to a federal charge in the shooting of motorist Walter Scott, began on Monday.

The hearing began with Prosecutor Jared Fishman telling the judge that Slager acted with malice and committed second-degree murder when he killed Scott in 2015. Slager's attorney, Andy Savage, said there were no officers available to back up Slager on the day of the shooting.

Feiden Santana, the man who captured video of the shooting, took the stand and told the judge Scott was clearly trying to get away from Slager. Santana testified that the shooting was unnecessary.

Savage said Scott was partly responsible because he grabbed Slager's taser and tried to use it on the ex-cop.

In addition, SLED agent Charles Ghent testified in Monday's hearing. Savage said there were inconsistencies in what Ghent said on the stand compared to what was in the SLED documents about the interviews with Slager after the interviews.

Slager shot and killed Scott during a traffic stop on April 4, 2015, video shows. Slager says the two men were engaged in a struggle before a bystander's video began to roll. Slager said Scott allegedly reached for his stun gun, which then led to Slager shooting Scott.

The sentencing hearing continues Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Prosecutors want Slager to get life for second degree murder, while Slager's lawyers want 10 to 12 years for manslaughter.

Judge David Norton will decide the sentence for Slager who pleaded guilty in May to depriving Scott's civil rights under the color of the law after the judge declared a mistrial in his murder case last December at the state level.

He was indicted on three federal charges, the charge of depriving Scott of his civil rights under the color of law, a weapons charge and a charge of obstruction of justice in Scott's death. The indictment alleged Slager used excessive force when he shot and killed Scott and intentionally misled SLED investigators by claiming Scott was coming toward him with Slager's stun gun at the time that he fired his weapon, "when in truth, Scott was running away."

As part of a plea agreement, the guilty plea paved the way for additional federal and all state charges against him to be dropped Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence, but Slager's attorney's have suggested a prison sentence of 10 to 12 and half years.

The maximum penalties of the offense, the agreement states, would be a prison term of up to life, a fine of up to $250,000 and five years of supervised release. There is no mandatory minimum prison sentence or fine. The hearing is expected to last a few days, but there is no set timeline.

Updates from the first day of the hearing can be found below:

3:30 p.m. update:

Attorney Andy Savage said there were discrepancies in the notes made by SLED investigators compared with the part of the federal indictment that accused Slager of lying to the investigators.

SLED agent Charles Ghent testified that during their interview with Slager, the ex-cop said Walter Scott was coming at him when he opened fire.

However Savage said that SLED documents of the interview says that Scott was turning away when Slager shot at him.

Savage claims investigators misled Slager during the interviews.

12:45 p.m. update: 

The government then called Lt. Charles Ghent of the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to the stand. He investigated the she shooting and also interviewed Slager. Ghent testified that Slager's description of the traffic stop is consistent with the dash cam video and Slager deployed a taser that appeared to be ineffective. Ghent added that Slager then reloaded, struck Scott again with a taser and Scott fell face forward.

Ghent then testified that Slager never claimed to have assaulted Scott or get on top of him. According to Ghent, Slager estimated he fired six shots at Scott and didn't suggest he shot him after Scott began to run away. Savage then had the opportunity to cross-examine Ghent.

11:19 a.m. update: 

Prosecutor Jared Fishman began first Monday morning, telling the judge that Slager acted with malice and committed second-degree murder when he killed Scott. He added that Slager was deliberate and calculated while alleging Slager also committed obstruction of justice.

Defense attorney Andy Savage then spoke to Slager's background and alleged there were no officers available to back up Slager on the day of the shooting. Witness video from the cell phone was then shown in court and Savage added the shooting investigation was sloppy. He later promised to show consistent resistance and lack of obedience from Scott. He said its a case of manslaughter and Slager should get a lot less time.

Prosecutors then called Feiden Santana, the man who recorded the cell phone video of the shooting, to the stand. He testified that he first saw Scott running and Slager chasing Scott. He then said he saw Scott on the ground with Slager on top of him and stated that Slager was trying to control Scott while Scott was screaming. Santana said he never saw Scott on top of Slager and then witnessed Scott get off the ground to run away.

That's when Santana said he pulled out his cell phone to begin filming the incident. He said Slager then told him Scott was okay and he went into a nearby store to process what happened. He told the court that he gave copies of the video to his girlfriend before the court went into its morning break.

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