The jury weighing whether former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager should be convicted of the murder of Walter Scott, the unarmed black man he shot eight times in the back in 2015, announced Friday it has been unable to reach a verdict.
The judge told the jury to keep deliberating after it announced it was deadlocked, and also cautioned that if the jury could not reach a verdict, he would have to declare a mistrial. Slager, who is white, was slated to face a true jury of his peers, with 11 of the 12 jurors selected being white.
To avoid a mistrial, the jury has three options: convicting Slager of murder, convicting him of voluntary manslaughter, or allowing the officer who killed Scott to walk free with an acquittal.
Scott’s death came after a traffic stop that all parties involved agree began routinely. But after Scott began to flee on foot–his family says he had unpaid child support payments–Slager pursued him on foot and the two men tussled. Slager contends that Scott tried to commandeer his Taser, which left him fearing for his life.
Slager fired his service weapon eight times, striking Scott in the back. Although Scott was lying face down on the ground and not moving, the eyewitness who captured the disturbing video of Scott’s final moments testified that Slager handcuffed Scott anyway.
In the video, which thrust the case into the national spotlight, Slager can be heard shouting at Scott to put his hands behind is back after gunning him down. The video begins moments after Slager deployed his Taser, showing the weapon at his feet as Scott runs from him, just moments before firing the deadly shots.
The jury sent two notes to the judge: one asking for the testimony from the man who recorded the video and a second about their lack of consensus. During yesterday’s deliberations, the jury sent a note asking the judge to define the difference between “passion” and “fear.” That’s an important question, as the Post & Courier explained:
[T]he question made it apparent that they were torn over voluntary manslaughter, the lesser of the charges that Michael Slager now faces at the end of his month-long murder trial.
While Slager said he feared for his life when he fatally shot Scott, killing someone in the “heat of passion” is the central element of manslaughter under South Carolina law.
If we do listen to this, it will not change based on they (sic) juror,” the note read, according to the Post and Courier.
Journalists on the ground reported that while the note wasn’t well worded, it seemed to indicate that there was one juror holding out on reaching a unanimous verdict, with MSNBC’s Ari Melber tweeting that a single juror was opposing a guilty verdict.