The Walter Scott shooting: How Michael Slager’s trial has unfolded
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) – As the murder trial for Michael Slager enters its fifth week, new details have emerged from both the defense and prosecution about the day the officer killed Walter Scott.
But those details have painted different narratives of what happened when Slager shot Scott in the back as Scott was running away.
Slager, then a North Charleston police officer, stopped Scott for a taillight violation on April 4, 2015. When Slager returned to his patrol car to run Scott’s license, Scott bolted from his car.
A foot chase ensued. Eventually, a cell phone video captured Slager shooting the unarmed man in the back.
Here’s how each side has argued the case in court:
What the prosecution says
Scott’s decision was foolish, but he didn’t deserve death.
In her opening statement for the prosecution, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Scott decided to run because he knew that once Slager ran his license, he would go to “debtors’ jail.” That’s because a warrant had been issued for Scott over unpaid child support.
Wilson described Scott’s decision to run as foolish. But while he deserved to be prosecuted, he did not deserve to die, she said.
“We’re here to bring accountability to Michael Slager for his choices, for his decision to go too far. For his decision to let his sense of authority get the better of him. For his decision to shoot an unarmed man in the back five times. To try to shoot him eight times,” Wilson said.
Investigators: Video counters officer’s claims.
Agents from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division testified that they were concerned by discrepancies between what they saw in the video and what Slager said happened the day of the shooting.
A video presented to the jury did show a struggle, and the men were tangled on the ground with Taser wires.
The defense has argued that Scott was able to take the Taser away from Slager and was coming at the officer with the Taser.
But Agent Angela Petersen said the video did not show the “Taser being taken away, the shell casings in relation to where the body was, and the fact that Mr. Scott (was) running away.”
When Deputy Solicitor Bruce DuRant asked Petersen if the video matched what she had been told happened at the scene, she said it did not.
Scott was far away from the officer when he was shot.
Cell phone video showing Scott running away from Slager when he was shot prompted widespread criticism from the public. The autopsy performed on Scott’s body showed entry wounds on his back and side.
The prosecution has argued that the distance between Slager and Scott proved that the officer’s actions were premeditated. They were not in “close contact,” as the officer has said.
Wilson, the solicitor, showed that distance for the jury in court using a measuring tape. She said it was 17 feet when the first bullet was fired from Slager’s firearm and more than twice that distance when the last bullet was fired.
Witness: Slager was always on top during the struggle.
Feidin Santana said he saw Slager in a foot chase with Scott. Santana followed the two men into a lot where he saw part of the incident before he began filming. Only the tail end of the altercation was caught on camera.
Santana described a struggle in which the officer was always on top, and Scott was trying to get away. He said they got up quickly.
What followed, Santana said, was “something I’ll never forget, he (shot) the man running.”
What the defense says
Slager was an exceptional, hard-working officer.
Slager’s defense team, led by attorney Andy Savage, said Slager was an officer with an exceptional record. He said Slager worked for $43,000 a year in the most crime-ridden, under-patrolled area in North Charleston while supporting a pregnant wife and his two young stepchildren.
Scott had refused to comply.
The defense played audio from Slager’s conversations with dispatch to the jury. In the audio, Slager gives Scott multiple warnings to “stop” and multiple warnings that he was going to fire his Taser.
Savage argued it was Scott’s failure to comply with the officer’s demands that led to the escalation in use of force.
Slager feared for his life.
During an interview with South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agents in April 2015, Slager said he feared for his life because Scott was calling out his location to someone on his phone during the encounter.
Slager said he was worried about not seeing his family again because he did not know who else might be coming.
The person on the other side of the phone turned out to be Scott’s mother, who testified in court that she heard her son say, “They Tasing me.”
If Slager is to be found guilty of murder, the state must demonstrate “malice and aforethought” in the officer’s actions — even if it was for just a second before the shooting.
There are no degrees to the murder charge in South Carolina. If convicted, Slager faces 30 years to life in prison.
The defense team will continue to call experts and witnesses this week.