CHARLESTON, S.C. – A man riding with Walter Scott when they were pulled over by Michael Slager testified Thursday that he doesn't know why his friend tried to run away before the officer shot him in the back.
"That's a question I would like to ask him. Unfortunately I can't. He was murdered," said Pierre Fulton, who worked with Scott at a distribution warehouse.
Fulton was riding in the front passenger seat when the North Charleston police officer stopped Scott over a non-functioning tail light in the used Mercedes he had just picked up.
Fulton said Scott gave Slager his license and stepped out of the car, but was told to get back in again, and complied. Then, as the officer was checking the information, Scott bolted.
"The next thing you know he was out the door," Fulton said.
Fulton testified that he heard gunshots a short time later. Prosecutors said Slager fired eight times as Scott ran away after failing to subdue him with a stun gun, killing the motorist in an unjustified shooting.
A bystander pulled out a cellphone and recorded it, stunning the nation as the images spread on social media. Slager, who is white, faces 30 years to life if convicted of murdering Scott, who was black. He also faces separate federal charges including violations of Scott's civil rights.
The bystander's video showed Scott, 50, being felled from a distance after five of the eight shots hit him in the back and buttocks. It did not show the entirety of the encounter; nor did a dash cam video from Slager's cruiser, which recorded only the traffic stop itself.
Jurors watched that dash-cam video in court on Thursday, which shows Scott suddenly running from his car after Slager goes to his cruiser to check Scott's driver's license.
North Charleston Police Sgt. Scott Hille (HILL), called by the prosecution to introduce the video, was asked by the defense if it showed anything unprofessional in Slager's behavior in handling the stop.
Hille replied: "Not that I can think of sir."
Scott's family members and friends were the first to take the stand. His fiancee, Charlotte Jones, called him a "loving and kind person." Neighbor Arthur Heyward, who had just sold Scott the car, called him "a good friend and neighbor. We looked out for each other."
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told the jury of 11 whites and one black that even if Scott wrestled with Slager over the stun gun, that provocation did not justify shooting Scott.
"If Walter Scott had not resisted arrest, he wouldn't have been shot. He paid the extreme consequence for his conduct. He lost his life for his foolishness," she acknowledged. But she said Slager must be held accountable for "his decision to go too far -- his decision to let his sense of authority get the better of him."
Defense attorney Andy Savage countered that Slager "earned a reputation of excellence" in his five years with the North Charleston police, and he sought to pin responsibility on Scott.
"Why did he choose not to respect the request to stay where he was? That's something that I hope you consider," Savage told the jurors. "It wasn't Mr. Slager who was angry and full of animosity."
The family has said Scott may have tried to flee because he was worried about having to go back to jail for missing child support payments. Savage called that "pure speculation," and said there was no way Slager could have known Scott was unarmed.
"He never had a chance to pat him down. He never had a chance to frisk him," he said.