Michael Slager sentenced to 20 years in fatal shooting of motorist Walter Scott
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Michael Slager, the former North Charleston police officer who fatally shot and killed Walter Scott in 2015, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Slager pleaded guilty in May to a charge of violating Scott's civil rights under the color of the law. Prosecutors sought life in prison for second degree murder while the defense hoped for anywhere from 10 to 12 years for manslaughter for the Apirl 2015 shooting that was captured on video by a bystander.
"We got justice today and the truth was told," said Anthony Scott, Walter Scott's brother, following the sentencing.
Before Slager was sentenced he told Judge David Norton that he accepted responsibility for his actions and that he was grateful that Walter Scott's family has forgiven him.
"With my actions that day, Water Scott is no longer with his family and I am responsible for that," Slager said. "I wish this never would have happened."
Norton opened proceedings on Thursday saying he believed the shooting was second degree murder and that Slager committed obstruction of justice.
He added that he didn't believe the shooting was justified and found guidelines for the sentence to be in the range of 19 to 25 years.
Walter Scott's mother Judy, his brother Anthony and his nephew all provided emotional testimony Thursday morning during the victim statements.
At one point, Slager began to cry when Walter Scott's mother, turned to Slager and said,"I forgive you."
Anthony Scott said Walter never would have grabbed the taser and it wasn't in his character. He also recognized Feidin Santana for shooting the cell phone video and not backing down.
"I want the world to know that the Scott family is pleased," Walter Scott's brother, Rodney, said. "We got justice."
Slager's sentencing hearing lasted four days with the sentence coming down just after 12 p.m.
"This is the day that the lord has made and I am rejoining in it," Scott's mother said while holding a photo of her son.
Ninth circuit solicitor Scarlett A. Wilson, who prosecuted Slager's mistrial in 2016, also released a statement.
"This is an important day for our community," she said. "While it was sad and shocking to see a police officer wrongly kill another person, it is meaningful that Michael Slager has admitted that what he did was wrong and admitting that he knew it was wrong. Michael Slager has admitted that killing Walter Scott was not justified. There should be no further debate of Slager's guilt."
Closing arguments from defense attorney Andy Savage and prosecutor Jared Fishman came after nightfall Wednesday evening.
Savage saidSlager has accepted responsibility for his actions, and there is no question what Slager did was a criminal violation and excessive force was used in the incident. However, Savage said his client believed that Scott could have been armed based on the fact that he fled from the traffic stop which was initiated by a broken brake light on Scott's car.
He added that an incomplete statement is not a lie when it came to Slager's account of what happened on the day of the shooting.
According to Savage, SLED agents could have made more inquiries to his client about what exactly happened.
Fishman for the prosecution said Slager did not mention a violent fight with Scott when he initially reported what happened.
In addition, Fishman said Slager made no claims that Scott punched him, was on top of him or was stunned with the officer's taser by Scott.
Fishman said Scott's killing was a murder, and said there was no good reason as to why Slager moved the taser next to Scott's body following the shooting.
Before closing arguments began Judy Scott, Walter Scott's mother, was called to the stand by prosecutors as a rebuttal witness.
Scott said her son called her the morning of the shooting and heard him saying that he was being tased.
Scott said she heard her son groaning and in pain.
The sentencing hearing now extended into its third day on Wednesday had defense attorneys also calling Solicitor Scarlett Wilson to the stand.
Wilson, who prosecuted Slager in his state trial which ended in a hung jury, got into a heated exchange with Savage. It all started when Savage called Wilson as a witness without notifying prosecutors in advance.
Savage has claimed that state and federal prosecutors teamed up to go after Slager together.
At one point, Judge Norton told Savage that they were not going to rehash the entire Slager investigation, and that if Savage had a point to make to go ahead and do it.
Wednesday's hearing began with the prosecution cross examining forensic psychiatrist Charles Morgan III.
He interviewed Slager in May of 2015. Slager told Morgan that he didn't remember Walter Scott being on top of him, but believed he was tased by Scott.
Morgan said he doesn't have any evidence of Slager lying but does have evidence of a memory change.
Scott's youngest son, Miles Scott, took the stand next holding a picture of his father, telling the court he misses his father everyday and can't believe his father is gone.
He said his father was there for him, he supported him, and that he will never be able to see him graduate or play football.
He asked the judge to sentence Slager to the longest that the laws allow.
Scott added that he still has trouble sleeping at night.
Former North Charleston police officer Wade Humphries was also called to the stand.
Humpries said the "goal" of the department under former leadership was to stop eight drivers per day. He testified to the working conditions of the department including Slager's role and reputation. Humpries opined that Slager followed proper use of force procedures and used verbal commands to tell Scott to stop before the shooting.
Slager pleaded guilty in May to violating Scott's rights under the color of the law after a judge declared a mistrial for his murder charge on the state level.
Slager's taser and the cell phone video of the incident were at the center of debate Tuesday afternoon with the judge even chiming in.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have had their own experts give their opinions on who had Slager's taser before the shooting.
Prosecutors say Slager had the taser the whole time and dropped it from his right side before he shot a fleeing Walter Scott.
The defense says Scott had the taser and threw it down to Slager's left side. That's when federal Judge David Norton said it looked like the taser was coming from Slager's right side.
The defense had their video and audio experts take the stand and speak about the traffic stop on Scott and the cell phone video of the shooting.
FBI agent Anthony Imel returned to the stand and the defense used a tape measure to show how far away the cell phone video was shot from the scene, trying to prove it was too far to hear proper audio of the incident. The defense also called Morgan as an expert to show how stress can effect cognitive abilities.
David Hallimore, an audio expert who analyzed the audio from the traffic stop and cell phone video, testified that when Slager chased Scott after the traffic stop he could hear the exhaustion in Slager's voice.
Hallimore says he perceived Slager was in real trouble.
The expert testified he was able to hear Scott say "**** the police" before the two got into a fight. According to Hallimore, after filtering out noise, he could hear Slager telling Scott to let go of his taser.
Grant Fredericks, a forensic video analyst, was also called to the stand. He analyzed the cell phone video of the shooting for the defense and showed blurred still images of the video in court. He concluded that Scott and Slager fought on the ground and engaged in a physical altercation prior to the shooting.
Fredericks also said his analysis showed taser wire was wrapped around Slager's leg and was connected to Scott right before the shooting.
The expert said he also heard Scott say "f" the police on video when Slager told him to get on the ground, and that Slager is heard saying 'let go of my taser or I will shoot you.'
Monday was marked by the testimony of various government witnesses. 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.
Slager's attorney Andy 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. 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.
Imel, an FBI video expert, also took the stand, showcasing how far away Scott was when Slager fired each shot on the cell phone video. Meanwhile prosecutor Jared Fishman called Slager's act calculated and deliberate.
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