CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) —Sentencing began Monday morning. Michael Slager entered the federal courtroom in his jailhouse garb. His hair was disheveled and he was wearing shackles.
The issue predominately being considered is the “Cross reference” or the underlying offense to the charge to which Slager already pleaded guilty. The judge will determine if that underlying offense is murder in the second degree or manslaughter.
The shooting was “deliberate and calculated actions” according to prosecutors. Their opening statements were short.
Defense said “the court hasn’t heard the full story”.
The federal courtroom was nearly full with both family members, attorneys, SLED and FBI agents, and community activists.
Feidin Santana was first to the stand. He is the 26-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic who recorded the now world-famous video of the shooting. He said he was walking to work at a nearby barber shop when he saw Walter Scott running. Santana described hearing the sound of the taser and heard Scott moaning.
As the cell video was playing in court, Santana sighed heavily and described himself as being in shock at the time he witnessed the shooting.
In cross examination, Santana admitted he lost eye contact with the men at some part of the interaction. Defense attorney Andy Savage also pointed out Santana had never paid his income taxes. The questioning at times became very tense, eventually leading Santana to say he is in court to do the right thing and he isn’t the person who shot the gun.
SLED investigator Lt. Charles Ghent took the stand next to recount the statements Slager gave SLED following the shooting. His key testimony is that Slager never mentioned the fight with Scott during the initial interviews that last more than two hours. Slager also never initially claimed to being tased, though on dispatch recording he said Scott tried to take his taser. Finally Lt. Ghent testified Slager never said Scott was running away at the time of the shooting.
Lt. Ghent testified Slager seemed to recount the details easily on the day he was questioned about the shooting.
In cross examination, Defense attorney Andy Savage hammered problems with the SLED investigation including how evidence was handled. He also pointed out investigations neither recorded Slager’s statements or had him write a formal state, a standard policy for the department.
In defense against the obstruction of justice charge, Savage pointed to SLED reports where Slager admitted to shooting Scott as he turned and took “10 to 12 steps”. Slager also admitted to moving the Taser in initial interviews with SLED, telling them he picked up the weapon around where the two men had been fighting. He claimed he moved the weapon as a safety precaution. Slager is facing that obstruction of justice charge for both moving the Taser and lying to investigations. In reports by SLED, Slager had a hard time recalling all the facts, including the color of Walter Scott’s shirt, though he called the color out to dispatch during the chase.
Twice on the state the SLED agent said the official SLED reports were inaccurate or contained errors.
Following Lt. Ghent’s testimony, the prosecutors called an FBI agent, Anthony Russel Imel. He specializes in video enhancement and determining its authenticity. He says he was able to confrim Santana’s footage is legitimate because of a “fingerprint” of sorts left behind on each camera. He says he was able to match it to Santana’s cell phone.
The prosecution asked Imel many questions about the timing and distance at which each shot was fired. He says Michael Slager fired eight shots in the span of 4.26 seconds and by the time he reached shot seven, Scott was more than 37 feet away. One of the prosecuting attorneys demonstrated that distance for the judge by setting out orange traffic cones in the courtroom, symbolizing the distance between Slager and Scott when each shot was fired. To place the final cone, the attorney had to walk through the door at the back of the courtroom.
Imel also says he can confirm that the object that appears to be Slager’s taser can be seen falling behind him in the footage before the first shot is fired. The defense repeatedly asked him if he can tell where the taser came from, asking if it could have been a factor in an altercation on the ground. Imel says the pixel count of the footage is too low to know for sure.
Court resumes on Tuesday at 10 AM.