iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — In closing arguments this afternoon in the state trial of former police officer Michael Slager, who is accused of murdering an unarmed black man in South Carolina, the defense blasted the media for creating what was described as a false narrative, while the prosecution told the jury, “You can get it right.”
Slager, who is white, is accused of killing Walter Scott at a traffic stop on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston while Slager was an officer with the city’s police department.
Witness video that surfaced shortly after the deadly encounter appears to show the moment Slager fatally shot Scott as he ran away. The video garnered national attention, propelling Slager into the spotlight. He was fired from the force after the shooting, according to The Associated Press.
Slager has pleaded not guilty to murder. His attorneys have said the witness video doesn’t show the whole struggle between Slager and Scott, and does not give the perspective of events from Slager’s point of view.
In this state trial, the jury can now also consider a voluntary manslaughter charge, officials told ABC News today. The voluntary manslaughter charge was requested by the prosecution and the judge allowed it based on testimony he heard during the trial.
“The court must let the jury decide if the force used was reasonable,” Judge Clifton Newman said today. “That’s the essence of the case.”
In the prosecution’s closing arguments, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson described murder and voluntarily manslaughter. She said murder involves malice, which “has to be in the mind before the shots are fired.” She said malice is a feeling and an emotion. Voluntarily manslaughter, meanwhile, “is an unlawful killing in the heat of passion,” Wilson said.
Wilson said jurors must decide the difference between heat of passion and malice “because from a distance they can look the same.”
She also discussed reasonable doubt.
“There are a lot of things that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ does not mean,” Wilson said. “The judge will give you an instruction and you’ll see that it’s the kind of doubt that [makes] you hesitant to act.
“It means that it’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt when we have proven our case, not beyond every doubt, not beyond a shadow of a doubt, but a reasonable doubt,” Wilson said.
She said reason is used because “in life, it’s almost impossible to prove things beyond all doubt 100 percent.”
Wilson told the jurors to look at reasonable doubt as proof that leaves them “firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt.”
Wilson also praised the jury. “Y’all have been remarkably alert. Y’all have been remarkably attentive,” she said. “We know that we made the right decision. … We know that you can do this. You can get it right.”
She told the jury: “Nobody has had as much information about this case as you do.” Wilson also said the jury has seen a lot of “smoke” and “mirrors” but said “these are complicated, important decisions,” that must be made on facts.
Wilson said the defense made Scott look like a “deadbeat dad,” but in reality, Wilson said, Scott’s college-age son was living with him, and his other son, for whom he owed child support, spent the night before the shooting at Scott’s.
Furthermore, said the defense was “trying so hard to make y’all think he’s a thug,” Wilson said. She said that the defense calling Scott “armed and dangerous” was based on a 1991 conviction. Wilson added that when Scott was pulled over, “What does he do? … He’s such a thug he calls his girlfriend … can’t get her, and he calls his mother.”
When defense attorney Andy Savage gave his closing arguments, he blasted the media for creating what he described as a false narrative.
Savage said the media misleads the public and because of what the public has been told, “They have certain expectations.”
Savage said the narrative surrounding the shooting in the media focused on a white cop’s shooting a black motorist and that “Mr. Scott got out of the car and ran and was shot.”
“The impression that the media has, and the state is trying to sell you, is that nothing happened — he just ran after him and shot him in the back,” he said.
Savage said that “Mr. Scott did not get shot because he had a broken taillight” — he said Scott was shot “because of what he did on April 4.”
“You hear the media … say … ‘unarmed man,'” Savage said. “Did Slager know that? Did he have a chance to frisk him?” Savage asked the jury. “Did he have a chance to pat him down?”
Savage said Slager shot Scott because he was in fear for his life. Savage added that Slager didn’t know what Scott would do and said Scott could have hurt someone if he got away.
“What do you think if a police officer stops you?” Savage asked the jury. “Some people may want to run … but if you’re warned with a Taser,” he asked, wouldn’t you say, “‘Hands up, don’t shoot?'”
“This is not about a brake light,” Savage said, and not about “Mr. Slager’s decisions.” It’s about Scott’s “felonious conduct,” Savage said. “He made decisions to attack a police officer.”
Savage also implied that there must have been a fight between Slager and Scott, saying, “If there was no fight, how was Slager injured?”
Savage dismissed the jury’s consideration of a voluntary manslaughter charge, saying, “They think that if they give you ‘manslaughter'” as an option, “You might say, ‘It’s not murder.’ … You compromise.”
Ahead of closing arguments, jurors spent this morning at the scene of the shooting. On Monday, Slager testified in his own defense, saying that Scott was a threat and that he kept shooting him until the threat was over.
Scott’s family and family attorney held a news conference this evening, mentioning the “long, hard” weeks of enduring the high-profile trial. Scott’s brother said it was hard to hear his brother’s clear voice on the video, which was played in court, and he said he found it very hurtful.
Slager also faces a federal trial, which is scheduled for next year.
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