Michael Slager, the former South Carolina police officer who killed unarmed black man Walter Scott, was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in federal prison.
US District Court Judge David Norton made his decision after hearing victim impact statements from Scott’s relatives. Norton earlier Thursday had said the “appropriate underlying offense” for Slager, who is white, was second-degree murder and suggested a sentence of 19 to 24 years in prison.
Slager pleaded guilty in May to violation of civil rights by acting under the color of law in Scott’s 2015 killing. Slager’s 2016 state murder trial ended in a mistrial.
Federal prosecutors sought a life sentence for Slager, arguing he had committed second-degree murder and also should be punished for obstructing justice by providing the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division with false statements.
Slager shot Scott five times in the back “for running away, simply for having a broken taillight,” federal prosecutor Jared Fishman told the court in his closing statement this week.
It’s “time to call it what it was — a murder,” Fishman said, specifying second-degree murder.
But defense attorney Andy Savage argued that while Slager’s actions were criminal, they did not amount to murder. The appropriate offense was voluntary manslaughter, Slager’s attorneys said.
A probation officer had recommended Slager be sentenced to 10 to 13 years in prison.
Norton recognized Thursday that neither the Scott family nor the Slager family likely would be pleased with the sentence he handed down, adding that sentencing is the hardest facet of his more than 27 years on the bench.