Murder trial for former police officer Michael Slager had appeared headed for a mistrial on Friday when jurors told the judge they were deadlocked.
The outcome of the murder trial for the white police officer who shot dead Walter Scott, an unarmed African American, was plunged into further uncertainty on Monday morning after the jury indicated a majority were still undecided on a verdict.
Michael Slager, 35, a former North Charleston officer, has been charged with murder and manslaughter for shooting 50-year-old Scott five times from behind. The jury is now in its fourth day of deliberations after a monthlong trial over a case that rose to national prominence after eyewitness video captured the moment Scott was killed. The jury must rule unanimously to record a conviction.
On Friday, it appeared the result of the trial hung on the opinion of a single juror who indicated in a note to judge Clifton Newman, that they could not “with good conscience consider a guilty verdict”.
Rejecting the defense’s motion for a mistrial on Friday, which would leave prosecutors to decide whether to retry Slager, Newman invited the deadlocked jurors to submit questions to the court to help with deliberations.
On Monday the jury submitted these questions, which ranged from why the court had allowed a last-minute inclusion of a manslaughter charge, a definition of the “forethought” required to prove murder and clarification over whether a self-defense claim could be equally applied to a “police officer versus an ordinary person”.
The broad range of questions indicates there continues to be the potential for four possible outcomes – a murder conviction, a manslaughter conviction, a full acquittal or a deadlock leading to mistrial in the case.
Slager, who sat next to his defense counsel, turned back to members of his family and smiled a number of times after the jury’s note was handed to his lawyers.
Scott’s parents, who sat in the second row of the public gallery, looked straight ahead. Scott’s mother, Judy, at one point rested her head on the bench in front of her. One member of the public who sat among Scott’s family and friends in the third row, could be seen praying before proceedings began.
Slager’s lead defense lawyer, Andrew Savage, requested again on Monday for a mistrial, arguing that the new note indicated the jurors were hopelessly deadlocked, and suggesting that the court had not addressed the concerns of the single juror who indicated they could not convict Slager.
Newman again rejected the mistrial application, stating the jurors were clearly still deliberating. “It would be in inappropriate to speak to jurors individually,” the judge said.
Judge Newman later provided the jury with a list of expansive answers to each of the six questions, relying on case law and, in one instance, the use of a legal dictionary to define “imminent danger”. He then sent the jury of 11 white people and one black person back to continue deliberations.