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CHARLESTON, S.C. – Jurors — 11 white and one black — are deliberating in trial of a white former South Carolina patrolman charged with murder after fatally shooting an unarmed black motorist. The shooting of 50-year-old Walter Scott five times in the back was captured on cellphone video. A look at the trial of former North Charleston police Officer Michael Slager:
Scott was shot fleeing a traffic stop in North Charleston on April 4, 2015. Slager had pulled Scott over for a broken third taillight on a 1990 Mercedes Scott was driving. Dashcam video from Slager's cruiser shows the officer going to Scott's car and asking for his license. Later Scott is seen bolting from his car. Scott ran down a road and into a vacant lot where the shooting occurred. A yellow-painted asphalt road in the lot was referred to as the yellow brick road during the case. Jurors visited the scene Wednesday before closing arguments.
The cellphone video taken by Feidin Santana, a barber walking to work past the lot, shows Slager shooting eight times from a number of yards away as Scott ran. Evidence showed Scott was struck five times. The video was shown widely by the media and across the internet. Of 190 potential jurors in the jury pool, only nine had not seen it. When the video surfaced after the shooting, Slager was fired and charged with murder.
The jurors saw the video a number of times, sometimes frame-by-frame. Both the prosecution and defense prepared animations that melded dashcam video, the Santana video, audio from a cellphone Scott was carrying and police radio chatter to create a timeline.
The defense focused its case on what happened in the seconds before the fatal shots were fired — seconds not on the cellphone video. The 35-year-old Slager took the stand in his own defense testifying that he chased after Scott, told him to stop and stunned him three times with his Taser. Slager testified that even after Scott was on the ground, the motorist grabbed his stun gun and pointed it at him. The former officer testified he was in "total fear" when he shot. Scott was unarmed, but Slager didn't know that at the time.
If convicted of murder, Slager could be sentenced to 30 years to life. A murder conviction requires the state to show that Slager acted with malice, and prosecutors contend shooting a man in the back does so. Jurors are also being allowed to consider the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. That's a killing in the heat of passion and carries a penalty of two to 30 years in prison.
THE NATIONAL BACKDROP
The Slager case and similar cases of blacks being killed by police have focused attention on the issue of race and police treatment. Similar incidents in places like Baltimore; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago; and Ferguson, Missouri, have sparked violent protests.
There was no violence after Scott's death, in part because his family called for calm. Local leaders again called for calm as the Slager trial got underway. It's one of two high-profile cases being played out on opposite sides of the street in downtown Charleston. In federal court, jury selection is underway in the trial of 22-year-old Dylann Roof, a white man charged in the June 2015 slayings of nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church.