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CHARLESTON, S.C. – A former South Carolina police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist was released from jail Monday evening and will remain under house arrest until his trial is set to begin next Halloween.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman agreed with a defense request earlier Monday that Michael Slager be released on a $500,000 surety bond.
Slager was released from jail custody about 7 p.m., said Maj. Eric Watson, a spokesman for the Charleston County Sheriff's Department.
Slager will have to remain at an undisclosed location in South Carolina and must have no contact with the victim's family. He has been held in solitary confinement at the Charleston County Detention Center since his arrest last April.
Slager, a former North Charleston police officer, is shown on cellphone video firing eight times as Walter Scott ran from a traffic stop. Attention over the case and the bystander's cellphone video enflamed a national debate about how blacks are treated by white police officers.
Slager, 35, faces 30 years to life without parole if convicted of murder.
Slager's attorney, Andy Savage, said his client wanted a speedy trial and he was ready to go to court this spring.
However, prosecutor Scarlett Wilson is also prosecuting Dylann Roof, the white suspect in the killings of nine black parishioners at a Charleston church, in a July trial. She said a state Supreme Court order prevents her from trying other cases before that one.
Newman set the trial date and then considered Savage's second request to release his client on bond. Last September, Newman refused to set bond, saying that Slager posed a threat to the community.
Savage said Slager has health problems and faced another 11 months in jail.
Wilson said there's been no change in circumstances to warrant the renewed request for bond. "We believe the defendant remains, as the court found, a danger to the community and a flight risk," she said.
Walter Scott, the father of the slain man, also addressed the judge, saying he often goes to the cemetery to visit his son's flower-bedecked grave.
"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 said "these are excruciating issues for the court to deal with."
But Newman said he was troubled that the trial is being delayed because of the order in the Roof case.
An attorney for the Scott family 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," attorney Justin Bamberg 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 that 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."
In October, the city of North Charleston approved a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott's family.