- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2016

A judge declared a mistrial Monday after the jury was unable to agree on a verdict in the murder case brought against a white South Carolina police officer who fatally shot a fleeing black man.

Many had expected an open-and-shut case because video taken by a bystander clearly showed former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager firing eight shot at 50-year-old Walter Scott as he ran away from the officer. The officer was indicted on criminal charges days after the shooting and summarily dismissed from the department.

But after deliberations spanning approximately 22 hours, the 12 jurors were unable to agree on a verdict in the case. While Mr. Slager was charged with first-degree murder, the jury could have also considered a conviction on voluntary manslaughter.

Concern about a mistrial in the case surfaced Friday, when a juror sent a note to the Circuit Judge Clifton Newman indicating that the person would be unable to find Mr. Slager guilty. The judge ordered jurors back into deliberations for several hours Friday before finally sending them home over the weekend.

But it was apparent Monday that the panel of 11 white jurors and one black juror was still having difficulty reaching consensus.

Reading from a note sent by the jury Monday morning, Judge 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.

Mr. Slager shot Scott during an altercation after he pulled the motorist over for a broken taillight and Scott ran from his car. Video of the April 2015 shooting, taken by a bystander, shows Mr. Slager firing eight shots at Scott as he ran. The widely distributed footage ignited concerns across the nation about mistreatment of black citizens by police.

The jury’s uncertainty came as a surprise as prior notes sent to the judge Friday seemed to indicate that only a single juror was unable to come to an agreement with others. The jury 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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