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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Death Penalty Off Table in Police Shooting Case

(CN) - Former North Charleston, S.C. Police Officer Michael Slager will not face the death penalty in the shooting death of Walter Scott, said the official whose office will prosecute the case.

In a statement, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she has reviewed South Carolina's death penalty statute and concluded that the case - borne of Slager's shooting Scott five times in the back as the unarmed man fled from a traffic stop - does not include any of the aggravating circumstances that would make it a death penalty case.

"There are aggravating circumstances which can take a murder case from being a maximum of life to death being the maximum sentence," Wilson said. "None of those factors are present in this case."

Under South Carolina law, the death penalty is only appropriate when a murder occurs during criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, trafficking in person, burglary, robbery while armed with a deadly weapon, larceny, poisoning, drug trafficking, torture, dismemberment, or arson.

Other instances when it is warranted is when the murderer has previously been convicted of killings, when the murder was committed for hire, and when the victim is a current or former judicial officer or current or former solicitor.

Slager initially claimed that he felt his life was in danger during a confrontation with Scott during what had started as a routine traffic stop for a busted taillight. But a cellphone video of the moments after Scott ran from his car into a nearby park revealed the slain man was several yards from Slager when the officer opened fire with his service revolver.

Slager was charged with murder two days after the shooting, and was fired by the North Charleston Police Department. As things stand, if convicted, he faces of possibility of 30 years to life in prison.

Wilson's statement came as new audio from the minutes after the shooiting surfaced Monday. The audio, from the radio Slager was wearing at the time, captures him being instructed by a fellow officer on what would happen next during investigation of the shooting. During the conversation Slager laughs nervously, and mentions the aderenaline rush he experienced after the shooting.

The process is likely to be a lengthy one. Unlike other states, South Carolina does not have an investigative grand jury system for its counties. Wilson said Charleston's grand jury is not scheduled to meet again until May.

Wilson also noted that Slager has made an appearance in bond court. "Because of the nature of the charge, South Carolina law requires that bond be set by a Circuit Court judge," she said. "At this time, we have not received a defense request for bond. When/if we do, the public will notified as to the time and place of the hearing."

Monday was another day of protest outside North Charleston's City Hall, although the crowd was decidedly smaller than in recent days.

Speaking to a crowd of about 40, Malik Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice warned of the need to be vigilant -- especially after the nation's news organizations move on to other stories.

"We can't trust nothing until it's all the way done," Shabazz said.

He added: "We want to know that this prosecution is going to be vigorous, fair, just and right now, we have a lot of doubts."

In the meantime, the man who was a passenger in Scott's car when it was pulled over by Slager has hired an attorney, Charleston lawyer Mark Peper.

On Monday, Peper released a short statement from Pierre Fulton who said in part, "I'll never know why [Walter] ran, but I know he didn't deserve to die."

Fulton said he'd been friends with Scott for about five years, during which time his slain friend "helped me to become a better man and showed me the value of hard work."

"Please keep Walter and his family in your prayers and respect my privacy moving forward," he said.

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