By DAN MCCUE
(CN) – Jurors considering the fate of a former South Carolina police officer charged with murdering a fleeing black motorist in 2015 told the judge presiding over the trial that they are unable to reach a verdict.
In a note given to Judge Clifton Newman Friday afternoon, they said: “It is clear that jurors will not be able to come to a consensus” on the fate of former North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager.
Slager shot and killed 50-year-old black motorist Walter Scott on April 4, 2015, after Scott ran from a traffic stop. The shooting was captured on a cell phone video shot by a passerby, and the incident stoked an already raging debate across the country over incidents in which white police officers killed unarmed blacks.
Slager maintained that Scott got hold of his Taser during a scuffle and that he feared for his life when he fired at the fleeing man.
After reading the note, Judge Newman told jurors that have a duty “to make every reasonable effort to reach a unanimous verdict.”
He also said that if no verdict is reached, he would declare a mistrial and re-try the case with a different jury.
On Thursday evening jurors asked Newman 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.”
On Friday morning Newman said the distinction between the phrases was up for them to decide, based on their common sense and the understanding of those words.
Slager, who is white, pulled Scott over in April 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.