CHARLESTON, Dec 6 — The judge in the murder trial of a white former South Carolina policeman accused of shooting an unarmed black suspect in the back declared a mistrial yesterday after the jury said it was deadlocked.
“I so declare this case a mistrial,” Judge Clifton Newman told the court in the historic port city of Charleston.
“We’re back to square one.”
“I want to thank you for your valiant effort and hard work,” Newman told the jury, which had been locked in deliberations since the middle of last week.
Michael T. Slager faced murder and voluntary manslaughter charges for shooting and killing motorist Walter Scott after Scott fled a traffic stop and struggled with the officer on April 4, 2015 in North Charleston.
Slager’s lawyers argued that Scott’s disregard for authority, aberrant behavior and aggressive actions justified the deadly encounter.
The case was one of several fatal shootings of black suspects across the United States that have thrown the spotlight on how police use deadly force — and whether a suspect’s race plays a role in that decision.
“I’m not sad,” Scott’s mother, Judy Scott, told reporters in an emotional address outside the courtroom.
“I know that justice will be served.”
“I don’t care what men say. I don’t care how it looks,” she said. “It’s not over. You all hear me, it’s not over ‘till God say it’s over.”
Judge Newman had made a plea for the jury to try harder, saying a mistrial would only mean a new trial with the same evidence, and a different panel of jurors.
North Charleston, which borders on Charleston, has a history of strained race relations between the city’s police department and large black community.
Much of the trial focused on a single piece of evidence: a bystander’s video of the incident that captured a portion of the struggle, Scott’s attempt to flee and Slager firing eight shots at the suspect, five of them hitting their mark.
The 34-year-old Slager has said he feared for his life when he tried to subdue the suspect, alleging that Scott grabbed his stun gun and charged at him.
Jurors began deliberations on Wednesday last week after a month of testimony.
On Friday, they initially asked to rehear testimony from Feidin Santana, the lone eyewitness to the encounter between Slager and Scott and the man who made the video.
Santana had disputed Slager’s account of the struggle, saying Scott never charged at him, and was only attempting to flee the policeman’s grip.
But only 12 minutes later, the jurors said they did not need to review the testimony and that they could not reach a consensus. It appeared the jury had just one holdout.
Slager faced a sentence of 30 years to life imprisonment if convicted of murder.
The manslaughter charge carries a sentence of two to 30 years. — AFP