Testimony winds down at sentencing of former cop in fatal SC OIS
Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager has been in jail since pleading guilty in May to violating Walter Scott's civil rights
By Meg Kinnard
CHARLESTON, S.C. — A white former South Carolina police officer who fatally shot a black motorist in 2015 could learn his fate as soon as Wednesday afternoon as his federal sentencing hearing winds down on its third day.
Thus far, prosecutors and defense attorneys have put up more than half a dozen witnesses, several of whom have analyzed video and audio recordings of the shooting death of Walter Scott.
Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager has been in jail since pleading guilty in May to violating Scott's civil rights. He faced murder charges in state court, but a jury in that case deadlocked last year, and the charges were dropped as part of his federal plea deal.
Slager faces a possible life sentence, although federal officials have recommended 10 to nearly 13 years in prison. His attorneys argue the 36-year-old Slager should face far less time.
On Wednesday, prosecutors cross-examined Dr. Charles Morgan, a forensic psychiatrist who examined Slager in May 2016 and diagnosed him with normal psychological function. Morgan said he felt that Slager had an above-average tolerance for stress and didn't diagnose him with any disorder related to memory loss.
During his examination, Slager told the doctor he remembered having a "scuffle" with Scott but otherwise didn't recall specific details from any fight the men had. Slager testified during his state trial that he shot Scott in self-defense because he felt threatened when the man grabbed his stun gun.
Slager had pulled Scott over for a broken brake light, and the 50-year-old Scott ran during the stop. After deploying his stun gun, Slager fired eight bullets at Scott as he ran away, hitting him five times in the back.
Unlike his state trial, these federal proceedings are taking place before a judge, with no jury.
On Tuesday, more differences between the two state and federal cases became clear. The judge allowed expert witnesses to testify about disputed audio and video recordings of the shooting. Grant Fredericks, a forensic video expert, testified that his analysis showed Slager fought with Scott before their fatal encounter and the ex-officer said: "Let go of my Taser before I shoot you."
The defense team believes that evidence bolsters Slager's contention that Scott was aggressive and that the officer shot him in self-defense. A microphone on Slager's uniform also picked up Scott saying, "F--k the police" after Slager asked him to get on the ground, Fredericks testified.
Prosecutors counter that there is no way to definitively tell what is being said on the recordings, and they have used their own experts to show how Slager fired at Scott as he was running away, nowhere near the officer's stun gun.
U.S. District Judge David Norton has had the entire state case file for months, nullifying any need for attorneys to re-present much evidence and testimony. Defense attorneys and prosecutors gave opening statements, but didn't labor over explaining nuances in the law that would be necessary in a jury trial. At the end of testimony, they're expected to give equally succinct closing arguments.