Jury selection is underway in the trial of the former North Charleston, S.C., police officer accused of shooting and killing an unarmed black motorist, and the defense team has found another angle with which to push for a dismissal.
Michael Slager, 34, is charged by the state with murder in the death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, who was fleeing on foot from a traffic stop when Slager shot him in the back five times. The shooting was caught on video by a witness and made national headlines in April 2015.
Slager also faces three federal charges, including a civil rights violation. His attorneys charge that state and federal authorities have been “double-teaming” Slager to prosecute him in Scott’s shooting death, the Charleston Post and Courier reports.
“The double-teaming of Slager … is a chilling example of how far politically motivated politicians and prosecutors will go to seek headlines and feather their own nests at the expense of a public servant … who had to make a split-second life-or-death decision that will be second-guessed by comfortable armchair quarterbacks,” defense attorneys Andy Savage and Doug McCune wrote in a filing Friday. “This is unconscionable.”
As the Post and Courier reports, Slager’s attorneys are attempting to upend “dual sovereignty,” a precedent that allows both the state and the federal government to prosecute an individual if the alleged misconduct falls under their jurisdictions.
Slager’s trial is set to begin Monday, and that is the first time a judge will hear this latest motion for a dismissal. At a hearing Friday, state Circuit Judge Clinton Newman did not take up the dismissal motion because the prosecution had not prepared an argument against it.
Scarlett Wilson, the 9th Circuit solicitor, told the Post and Courier that she rejected the notion that the state and the federal government were running a joint investigation.
“While certainly there has been cooperation between the two, we are running parallel,” Wilson said.
The defense’s motion hinges heavily on constitutional protections from double jeopardy, which say that a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime. A former federal prosecutor is expected to argue in favor of the defense’s motion once the trial starts.
As part of the evidence in its 23-page motion, the defense presented an email from Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Klumb that said federal prosecutors’ evidence is largely identical to that of the state’s.
The motion also revealed that prior to seeking an indictment, federal prosecutors offered Slager the opportunity to plead guilty in exchange for dropping a gun charge that carries a 10-year minimum sentence. Slager was indicted two weeks after rejecting the deal.
Slager’s defense lawyers said that he was being “crushed by the logistical, financial and fiscally frivolous policy of simultaneous prosecution.”
Slager’s federal trial is scheduled to begin in 2017.
Read more at the Charleston Post and Courier.