(CN) — The murder trial of a former North Charleston police officer who shot an unarmed black motorist eight times as he ran away from a traffic stop began Thursday morning with the prosecution saying there is no justification for the shooting.
In her opening statement to the jury of 11 white people and one black man, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said while the defense's contention that Michael Slager felt threatened by Walter Scott after he got hold of the officer's Taser, that threat ended the moment Scott began to run away.
"If Walter Scott stayed in the car, if he did not resist arrest, he would not have been shot. He paid an extreme consequence for his conduct. We are here to bring accountability for [Slager's] decision to go too far and let his sense of authority get the better of him to shoot an unarmed man in the back five times," Wilson said.
Wilson went on to explain in order to prove murder there must be "malice aforethought." She said it's a wrong thought, ill will, extreme indifference, malignancy or meanness that develops sometime before the shot is fired. It can be developed in a split second or in days or weeks before.
"[Slager] had a duty to tell the truth, but after this happened his first instinct was to lie. What he didn't know is his lie could be disproven by this video," Wilson said. "The video shows him run get the taser, he didn't put it in his holster, instead he walked over to Walter Scott's dead body and threw it beside him."
Slager's actions to stage the scene instead of performing CPR and then lying about the events leading up to the killing indicates his malice, she said. The state murder trial is the most closely watched criminal proceeding to occur in Charleston, S.C. in years. It is also a racially-charge case, as Slager is white and the unarmed man he killed after stopping him for a broken tail light, was black.
Slager has said he shot and killed Scott after the slain man ran from the traffic stop and struggled with him in a nearby park. However a video shot by a passerby shows Slager firing at Scott as the motorist was fleeing him, and at a distance of several feet.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Andy Savage tried to keep the juror's attention squarely focused on Scott.
"Why did he choose not to respect the request to stay where he was?" Savage asked at one point.
Later, he offered that it wasn't his client "who was angry and full of animosity" at the time of the shooting.
The prosecution has said Scott ran because he knew he would be arrested for warrants related to unpaid child support.
Savage said Wednesday that no one truly knows why Scott ran.
"All the king's soldiers and all of the king's men claim to know what was in his mind, that he ran because of child support payments. He went to work every day, he wasn't hiding. This is pure speculation to fit the prosecution's narrative," Savage said.
Scott didn't just run, he forcibly resisted to the extent that lead to a fight on the ground, Savage said. "The prosecution wants you to believe that Walter Scott's DNA was found on the taser due to drive tasing and they don't want you to believe the Walter Scott took the taser away from Officer Slager."
Savage also argued that it is preposterous to believe that police officers wake up in the morning wanting to cause harm.
He said Slager was a five-year veteran of the North Charleston Police Department on the day of the shooting, and that for most of that time, he worked the midnight shift. He was put on day duty in October, 2014 after requesting the change because he wanted to spend more time with his pregnant wife and two children.
It was due to his reputation for excellence Slager was put on patrol in the most crime-ridden section of town in the vicinity of Remount Road and Rivers Avenue, Savage said.
"In the video you will see his professionalism," Savage said. "You will not see or hear anything that indicates any kind of anger. He addresses Walter Scott as 'Sir.' You will not see Walter Scott put his hands up; you will not hear him say 'don't shoot.' Walter Scott ran.
"When a suspect runs, that changes things. Officer Slager had no idea why he was running," Savage said. "We are disputing malice aforethought. This was not malicious, it was not planned. Michael Slager will agree with you, this was awful, but not everything that is awful is unlawful."
Slager faces 30 years to life if convicted of murder in the April 2015.
Slager also faces trial next year in federal court on charges including violating Scott's civil rights.
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