CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — After hearing from 55 witnesses during a monthlong trial, a South Carolina jury is set to hear closing arguments in the Michael Slager murder trial.
Slager is the white former North Charleston patrolman charged in the shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott as the black motorist ran from a traffic stop in April of last year. The shooting was captured on cellphone video.
The 35-year-old Slager could be sentenced to 30 years to life if convicted by the jury of 11 whites and one black. Closing arguments are set for Wednesday at 1:00 p.m.
Wednesday morning Circuit Judge Clifton Newman ruled the jury will be allowed to visit the scene of the shooting before closing arguments. One representative from the defense and one from the prosecution will accompany them but the visit will be closed to the media. Jurors will not be allowed to take notes, ask questions, or discuss the case at the site.
The defense rested its case Tuesday, during which Slager testified he felt “total fear” when Scott got control of his Taser and pointed it at him.
“I knew I was in trouble,” Slager said, adding that Scott grabbed the Taser and “was extending his right arm, leaning forward and coming at me.”
The judge will allow the jury to consider either murder or manslaughter. The murder charge carries a conviction of 30 years to life in prison. Manslaughter carries a minimum sentence of two years to 30 years in jail.
Slager testified that he had pulled Scott over for a broken taillight and was planning to give him just a warning ticket. But then Scott bolted from the 1990 Mercedes he was buying from a friend.
“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.”
The prosecution has said Scott may have run because he was afraid of having to go to jail for being behind on child support.
Slager described yelling “stop” and “Taser! Taser! Taser!” as he caught up to Scott and said he fired his stun gun three times. He said Scott fell to the ground and still resisted attempts to subdue him.
“I was scared” and in “total fear that Mr. Scott didn’t stop” resisting arrest, Slager said.
The video begins about that point, showing Scott breaking away from what Slager said was their confrontation over the Taser.
“At that point, I pulled my firearm and pulled the trigger,” he said. “I fired until the threat was stopped, as I was trained to do.”
The video shows Slager walking back to the spot where they struggled, picking up the Taser and dropping it near Scott’s body.
“I must have dropped it by Mr. Scott’s body. I don’t remember doing that,” he said. And when asked if he was trying to plant evidence, Slager said no.
“A lot of this is fuzzy in my mind,” Slager testified.
During cross-examination, prosecutor Bruce DuRant again showed the video and asked Slager if the Taser wasn’t on the ground just before the shots were fired.
“At the time on April 4, I would say no. But after watching the video, I would say yes,” Slager testified. “At the time of the shooting, I didn’t know the Taser was behind me.”
Several of Slager’s former colleagues at the North Charleston Police Department testified that Slager was an honest man and a good officer.
Joe Stephens, who retired after 24 years called Slager “even-keeled, mild-mannered” while Officer Charles Benton said Slager was known to be truthful.