(CN) – A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a white former North Charleston, S.C. police officer to 20 years in prison for killing an unarmed black motorist during a 2015 traffic stop.
U.S. District Judge David Norton had earlier in the day ruled the former officer, Michael Slager, committed 2nd degree murder when he shot Walter Scott during the April 4, 2015 incident, and obstructed justice afterwards.
“This is the most serious offense that we have,” Norton said. “Judging by the history and characteristics of the defendant, he has lived a spotless life. Regardless, this is a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened.”
Before handing down his sentence, Norton told those assembled in the courtroom,”no matter what sentence I give, neither the Scott family nor the Slager family is going to like it or think it’s right.”
He then proceeded to say that Slager had acted “out of malice and forethought, shooting dead an unarmed and fleeing Walter Scott.”
“Slager’s actions were disproportionate to Scott’s misconduct,” the judge said.
Norton also addressed his finding that an obstruction of justice had occurred.
“The defendant gave false testimony willfully; it was not due to confusion or a mentally ill state or a faulty memory. He was aware of the investigation made false statements SLED, which reputed by the video,” the judge said.
In brief statement to the court, Slager said he looks forward to re-entering society after serving his sentence and to being a loving husband and father.
“I am taking responsibility for my actions,” he said.
Attorneys for the former officer, Michael Slager, had argued for a measure of leniency during a three sentencing hearing this week, noting their client’s guilty plea to civil rights charges and the time he has served in solitary confinement since entering that plea in May.
Slager has always maintained that he shot Scott after the two men had fought over the officer’s Taser after the motorist ran from traffic stop and the patrolman caught up with him in a nearby park.
Slager’s account unraveled days after Scott’s death when a cellphone video shot by a passerby surfaced. The video shows Slager firing eight shots at Scott as the motorist ran away from him.
Shortly after Judge Norton’s initial ruling on Thursday, Scott’s mother, Judy Scott, turned to the former officer and said, “I forgive Michael Slager.”
“I forgive you. Forgiveness is in my heart. I pray for you, that you would repent and let Jesus come in your life,” she continued.
Slager, who mostly looked down at his hands during the hearing and occasionally wiped tears from his eyes, did not appear to respond.
Scott’s older brother, Anthony Scott, also said he forgave the officer, but admitted it had taken him some time to do so.
“God gave forgiveness in my heart for Officer Slager. While forgiveness came easy for [other family members], it came very hard for me.”
He sound he found solace only after concluding that “at the end of the day, there’s another judge [Slager] has to face.”
It was not clear Thursday whether Slager’s defense team planned to appeal the officer’s sentence, but attorney Andy Savage certainly appeared to be laying the groundwork for such a move. Specifically, he took issue with a comment Norton made about having discussed the sentencing with his wife who is a forensic medical expert. He said the court is violating Slager’s constitutional right to a fair trial.
“The defense objects, not to the sentence, but to this court’s ability to be fair,” Savage said. “If he was on trial with a jury of his peers and a juror did this the jury would be in contempt of court. You are making a decision based on facts from inside and outside the court, this is unconstitutional.”