CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — For three days, attorneys representing the federal government and a former South Carolina officer charged in an unarmed black motorist’s shooting death have presented technical testimony to a judge to consider how much time Michael Slager should spend in federal prison.
That includes use of Slager’s stun gun, which the former officer says Walter Scott grabbed and turned on him, causing Slager, who is white, to fear for his life and shoot in self-defense, firing five times into his back as he ran away.
On Thursday, attorneys are expected to call friends and relatives of both men who will tell the judge the effect Scott’s death and the officer’s arrest have had on their lives. What’s known as victim impact testimony is intended to help the judge determining the defendant’s sentence weigh the personal implications a crime has had.
A preview of that testimony came Wednesday, when Scott’s youngest son spoke to the court so he could return to his high school classes. Clutching a photograph of his father, Miles Scott said he has had trouble sleeping ever since his father’s death. He said he misses watching football games with his dad and can’t fathom not being able to watch with him the game they both loved.
“I miss my father every day,” Miles Scott said through tears. “I would like you to sentence the defendant to the strongest sentence the laws allows because he murdered my one and only father.”
Slager, 36, pleaded guilty in May to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights. Federal officials have recommended 10 to nearly 13 years in prison, but his attorneys argue Slager should face far less time.
Slager pulled Scott over for a broken brake light in April 2015, and Scott, 50, 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.
Before he hands down Slager’s sentence, U.S. District Judge David Norton must decide whether the April 2015 shooting was second-degree murder or manslaughter. Slager faced murder charges in state court, but a jury in that case deadlocked last year and the state charges were dropped as part of his federal plea deal.
Slager has said the two men scuffled and he fired in self-defense after Scott grabbed his stun gun. In his closing argument, defense attorney Andy Savage acknowledged the shooting was criminal but reiterated the stance that his client was protecting himself and feared for his own safety.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Jared Fishman disputed that story.
“Walter Scott never assaulted the defendant. Walter Scott never took the defendant’s Taser,” Fishman said.
The attorney portrayed Slager as a calm, calculated officer who hadn’t killed Scott in a moment of passion but did so intentionally — a hallmark of murder, not manslaughter.
“He was not in a frenzy,” Fishman said. “He was not in the throes of passion.”
Fishman also said Slager had changed his story several times as to what he remembered about the shooting, including flawed state trial testimony about Scott charging him with his own stun gun. Fishman said those statements aren’t backed up by evidence.
“This is not memory loss,” Fishman said. “This is a concerted, deliberate effort to obstruct justice and to cover up for his unjustified shooting.”
In an unusual move, attorneys for Slager called the state prosecutor to the stand to question her about their assertions that she and federal prosecutors unfairly teamed up on Slager.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she had interacted with federal prosecutors but couldn’t recall specific contacts and hadn’t planned prosecutorial decisions with them.
Also Wednesday, Scott’s mother, Judy Scott, said she was on the phone with her son when he was pulled over and told him to comply with the officer’s demands “so there wouldn’t be any trouble.”
By MEG KINNARD
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