By DAN MCCUE
(CN) – The jury deliberating the fate of a former South Carolina police officer who shot and killed a black motorist during an April 2015 traffic stop asked the judge presiding over the case to tell them how the “heat of passion” differs from fear.
The charge the jury was given on Wednesday said that “sudden heat of passion may, for a time, affect a person’s self-control and temporarily disturb a person’s reason.”
Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager testified earlier this week that he feared for his life when he shot Walter Scott after the motorist ran from the traffic stop and the two men got into a confrontation in a nearby park.
On Thursday evening, the jury asked for further instructions on how the “heat of passion” and fear differ, but Judge Newman on Friday said that’s up for them to decide, based on their common sense and the understanding of those words.
Slager, who is white, pulled the 50-year-old Scott over on April 4, 2015, for having a broken taillight on his vehicle.
Scott, who owed child support, bolted from the scene, only to have Slager catch up to him in a nearby neighborhood park. A cell phone video shot by a passerby shows the officers shooting Scott five times in the back.
However, Slager and his attorneys argue a critical piece of what happened that day is missing from the video — the confrontation that occurred immediately before the fatal shots were fired. Slager says Scott grabbed his Taser during a hand-to-hand confrontation, and the fear he felt at that moment compelled him to shoot.
Earlier this week, Judge Newman told the jury they can consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, which by definition in South Carolina is killing someone in the heat of passion. For the jury to convict Slager of murder they have to conclude the officer felt actual malice toward Scott when he pulled the trigger.
If convicted of murder, Slager faces 30 years to life in prison; if convicted of manslaughter, he faces two to 30 years.
As of Friday morning, the 12-member jury had deliberated more than 12 hours over three days.