-- Former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager was sentenced today to 20 years in prison for the deadly shooting of unarmed black man Walter Scott.
U.S. District Judge David Norton ruled that Slager committed second-degree murder and obstruction of justice, when he shot and killed 50-year-old Scott in 2015. The second-degree murder ruling came with a recommended 19 to 24 year sentence.
At one point during the sentencing Scott's mother looked the former officer in the eye and told him she forgave him. Families on both sides of the court burst into tears.
One of Walter Scott's brothers, Rodney Scott, told the court that the death of his brother the worst day of his life. Rodney Scott said he wants Slager to pay for his actions.
Slager’s father, mother, sister and wife also spoke to the judge, begging for a lighter sentence. They talked about how Slager led a life of service and how upset they were after the shooting. Michael Slager's wife, Jamie Slager, told the judge, “He had to make a decision in a split second. I couldn’t imagine having to make a decision that fast.”
The judge's decision comes after Michael Slager, who is white, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights offense.
Michael Slager shot and killed Walter Scott on April 4, 2015, while Slager was an officer with the North Charleston Police Department. Michael Slager claimed self-defense, but witness cellphone video that surfaced shortly after the encounter showed the officer fatally shooting Walter Scott in the back as he ran away. He was fired from the force after the shooting.
Michael Slager was charged in South Carolina with murder and pleaded not guilty. During the state murder trial, Michael Slager's attorney said his client shot Walter Scott because he was in fear for his life. In 2016, the case ended in a mistrial. The state retrial and federal trial were expected to take place this year, but instead, in May Michael Slager pleaded guilty to violating Walter Scott's civil rights in federal court, ending the federal case against him and also resolving the state charges that were pending after the mistrial.
Before hearing his sentence in federal court, Michael Slager called each family member out by name and apologized, thanking them for forgiving him. “I wish this never would have happened," he said. “I wish I could go back to the day and change the events, but I can’t.”
At a news conference after the sentencing, Rodney Scott said his family is "pleased."
"We got justice," he said.
He said his family is "thankful for the justice system that worked on our behalf," but added that "a lot of work" still needs to be done in the justice system.
Another one of Walter Scott's brothers, Anthony Scott, thanked Feiden Santana, the witness who filmed the shooting, for being "brave" enough to film what he saw.