- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2016

Jurors considering a murder charge against a white South Carolina police officer who fatally shot a fleeing black man were back in deliberations Monday morning and apparently having a harder time reaching a verdict than originally thought.

Reading from a note sent by the jury Monday morning, Circuit Judge Clifton Newman said the “majority of the jurors are still undecided” and they requested help with several legal questions, including why a manslaughter charge was given as an option in the first-degree murder case. The jurors also sought definitions for terms like “imminent danger” and asked whether the definition of self-defense is different for a police officer than the average person.

Former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, who was pulled over for a broken taillight and ran from his car. Video of the April 2015 shooting, taken by a bystander, shows Mr. Slager fire eight shots at Scott as he ran. The widely distributed footage ignited concerns across the nation about mistreatment of black citizens by police.

The note prompted defense attorney Andy Savage to request a mistrial, which the judge denied.

The jury’s uncertainty came as a surprise as prior notes sent to the judge on Friday seemed to indicate that only a single juror was unable to come to an agreement with others. The jury — 11 whites and one black — had deliberated for about 14 hours over three days before sending the judge an initial note Friday afternoon indicating they could not agree on a verdict.

Judge Newman sent the jurors back to work, urging them not to give up on their firmly held beliefs but to discuss their opinions with an open mind.

“You have a duty to make every reasonable effort to reach a unanimous verdict,” Judge Newman said Friday. “In doing so, you should consult with one another. Express your own views and listen to the opinions of your fellow jurors.”

But an hour later, the jury returned with one member writing: “I still cannot without a reasonable doubt convict the defendant.”

“I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict,” the holdout juror wrote. “At the same time, my heart does not want to tell the Scott family that the man who killed their son, brother and father is innocent.”

The jury foreman asked for an explanation of the law and said the jury would like to continue deliberations. Judge Newman eventually sent the group home for the weekend.

While Mr. Slager was charged with first-degree murder, jurors could also consider a voluntary manslaughter conviction if they believe the former officer shot Scott in a heat of passion after a provocation rather than with a malicious intent. He could also be acquitted of all charges if the jurors believe Mr. Slager acted in self defense.

While the bystander footage of the shooting clearly shows Mr. Slager firing eight rounds at Scott, the defense team sought to focus on the encounter between the two men in the moments before the recording began.

Mr. Slager testified that as he chased Scott and told him to stop that he stunned him three times with his Taser.

While Scott was on the ground, Mr. Slager said the motorist grabbed the Taser and pointed it at him. Scott was unarmed, but the former officer said he was in “total fear” when he fired his service weapon.

Judge Newman said if this jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision, he would declare a mistrial and the case would be heard by a new jury.

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