Late Friday, a single juror wrote Judge Clifton Newman that they could not vote to convict North Charleston, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager of either murder or manslaughter for his April execution-style fatal shooting of unarmed Walter Scott, raising the specter of a mistrial.
Earlier Friday, the jury indicated that after two days of deliberation they were deadlocked, meaning they could not achieve the required unanimous agreement on a verdict. The judge sent the jury back to try again, and hours later he received a letter from one anonymous juror saying they could not vote for any form of conviction. That letter was accompanied by another from the jury foreman saying that there was only one juror who “had issues” with finding Slager guilty.
Slager, who is white, was caught on film shooting Walter Scott, who is Black, in the back as he ran away during a routine traffic stop on April 4. After firing several shots at a distance, the video shows Slager walking up and placing something beside Scott’s body. Slager made no efforts to provide any assistance to Scott who lay dying on the ground.
During the trial Slager testified that he was in “total fear” of Scott, who he claimed had earlier tried to grab Slager’s taser. While the video shows Scott clearly running away and almost 30 feet from Slager when he shoots, Slager said “I fired until the threat was stopped as I was trained to do.”
As news of the potential hung jury filtered out on Friday, many made note of the racial composition of the jury, made of up six white men, five white women, and one Black man.
The bystander video of Scott’s killing has become a hallmark of the racist violence inflicted on African-Americans in the U.S. by law enforcement. Months of protests followed the release of the video, ultimately forcing North Charleston police to agree to settle an historic US$6.5 million lawsuit brought by Scott’s family.
Many think a mistrial would be welcome news for Slager, raising the possibility that prosecutors may attempt to try him on lesser charges, or offer some form of plea bargain which would mean far less jail time than the 30 years to life in prison he currently faces.
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