Drama Builds at Michael Slager Murder Trial as Jury Remains Undecided

Michael Slager was a North Charleston, S.C., cop at the time of the shooting.

ByABC News
December 5, 2016, 11:46 AM

— -- The deliberation drama is building today at the trial of former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, as the jury this morning indicated they are still undecided. This comes after one juror said Friday he could not "with good conscience" consider a guilty verdict for Slager, who was arrested for the shooting death of an unarmed black man.

The jury in Slager's state murder trial began deliberating after Wednesday's closing arguments. After a weekend break, they are continuing to deliberate today.

The jury asked a series of questions in a note this morning: Why was a voluntary manslaughter charge offered in addition to murder? Define imminent danger? What is aforethought for murder? Is there a time frame for self defense? Does the idea of self defense apply to a police officer the same as an ordinary person?

These questions come after Friday afternoon, during which the jury sent several notes to the judge, indicating their divisions and that specifically there was a single holdout.

On Friday, the judge read a letter from one juror that explained how he couldn't convict on either charge: "I cannot with good conscience consider a guilty verdict," the note said. "At the same time my heart does not want to have to tell the Scott family that the man that killed their son, brother and father is innocent."

Of the 11 white and one black members of the jury, a white male juror was the holdout. He shook his head "no" when the judge asked the jury if they needed to hear back testimony from the man who recorded the witness video.

In an attempt to reach a unanimous decision, jurors sent back a handful of questions during their deliberations Friday. They wanted to know the difference between fear and passion, a sign they may have been debating not the murder charge, but the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

The jury said they were deadlocked twice Friday afternoon, and ultimately, the jury ended up breaking for the weekend without a verdict.

The judge today denied the defense’s request for a mistral based on Friday’s lone holdout and his note.

The jury's disagreement comes at the end of Slager's high-profile trial. Slager, who is white, is accused of killing Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, after 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.

Slager, who was fired from the force after the shooting, pleaded not guilty to murder. But as the trial concluded last week, the jury was also allowed to consider a voluntary manslaughter charge, officials told ABC News. 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. "That's the essence of the case."

In closing arguments last week, 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."

Wilson told the jury, "You can get it right."

"Nobody has had as much information about this case as you do," she told the jury. 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.

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 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.

"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.

Slager also faces a federal trial, which is scheduled for next year.

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