CHARLESTON, S.C. – A former South Carolina policeman charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist will remain under house arrest until his trial begins in the fall.
The release of Michael Slager on bond Monday was a disappointment to the family of the victim, Walter Scott, said Justin Bamberg, the attorney for the family.
"The family is not happy about Mr. Slager getting bond," Bamberg said shortly after Circuit Judge Clifton Newman said Slager could be released on $500,000 surety bond.
Until he was released Monday evening, Slager had been in solitary confinement at the Charleston County Detention Center since the incident last April.
"This is just another step in the criminal justice process, and the family believes at the end of the day that justice will prevail," Bamberg said.
Slager will have to remain at an undisclosed location in South Carolina and must have no contact with the victim's family.
Slager, a former North Charleston police officer, is shown on cellphone video firing eight times as Walter Scott ran from a traffic stop. The case enflamed a national debate about how blacks are treated by white police officers.
Slager, 34, faces 30 years to life without parole if convicted of murder.
During an hourlong hearing Monday, Newman heard Slager's attorney, Andy Savage, argue that his client should be granted a speedy trial.
Savage said he was prepared to go to court this spring. But prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said the state would not be ready until November.
She is also prosecuting Dylann Roof, the white man charged with murder in the killings of nine black parishioners at a Charleston church. That trial is set to begin in July and the state Supreme Court has issued an order protecting Wilson from trying other cases before that one.
Savage renewed his request for bond after Newman rejected an initial bond request last September. The judge said at the time that Slager posed a threat to the community.
Savage said Monday that Slager has health problems and faced another 11 months in jail before even going to trial.
Scott's father, also named Walter, told the judge he often goes to the cemetery to visit his son's grave, which is adorned with flowers.
"If we let him out, he's going to go home to see his wife and children. All I can look at is a pot of flowers," Scott said.
"I hope you allow me reasonable bond to work on my case," Slager told the judge who conceded "these are excruciating issues for the court to deal with."
But Judge Newman said he was troubled that the trial is being delayed because of the order in the Roof case.
Bamberg urged the Charleston community to remain calm after Slager's bond was set.
"Doing anything to damage someone's property or to hurt another innocent individual is not doing anything that will help the Scott family," he said. "It's not doing anything that is going to have an effect on the criminal trial process. The only thing that can do is land you where Officer Slager is right now, which is a defendant on a criminal charge."
Joe Savitz, a criminal defense attorney in Columbia, said he wasn't surprised Slager was granted the opportunity to get out of jail, given the major events — like the shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers in Charleston and the ensuing debate over the Confederate flag — that have happened in the months since his arrest.
"The Roof case is going to be tried fairly soon," Savitz said. "Everybody is kind of focusing on that."