The trial for a white former North Charleston, S.C., police officer charged with the murder of an unarmed black motorist began in a Charleston courtroom Thursday.
Michael Slager, 34, is charged with the April 2015 murder of Walter Scott, 50. Slager shot Scott in the back five times as Scott ran from a traffic stop in North Charleston. A widely viewed cellphone video filmed by a bystander caught the shooting.
Opening statements from both sides ran for a total of 65 minutes Thursday morning, and by the end of the day, eight witnesses for the prosecution had taken the stand, including Scott’s son, mother and girlfriend, the Charleston Post and Courier reports.
After the jurors were sworn in, Judge Clifton Newman advised them that the trial was not for entertainment but was a fundamental part of American democracy.
“Your purpose as jurors is to find the facts of this case,” Newman said. “You are to determine the facts from the testimony that you hear from this witness stand, together with any other evidence that you hear in this court.”
In her 25-minute opening, prosecutor Scarlett Wilson told the jury that the state’s goal is to bring accountability to Slager for his actions in shooting Scott. She walked the jury through the shooting and told them that Scott was unarmed, had his back to Slager and was shot at eight times.
According to the Post and Courier, Wilson said Scott knew that when his license was run, he was going to be sent to debtors’ prison. She said that Slager’s Taser was in “dry stun” mode, which means that it must have been touching Scott’s body at the time it was used. Wilson said that Scott’s DNA on the Taser does not determine guilt; it goes to provocation, and while it may have provoked Slager, it does not justify his killing Scott.
Lead attorney Andy Savage gave opening arguments for the defense.
“This is a criminal case,” Savage said. “This is not a matter of guilt or innocence. Murder is the charge the solicitor chose.”
Savage pointed out that Slager was charged with the same crime as Dylann Roof in the case of the Emanuel AME Church shootings in Charleston. He reminded the jury that the case is “governed by a presumption of innocence,” and he urged them to consider the charge and its seriousness when deciding the verdict for the trial.
The first witness of the day was Scott’s 22-year-old son, Walter Lamar Scott, and the last was his mother, 73-year-old Judy Scott.
The Post and Courier reports that Judy Scott testified that her son called her when the stop occurred and he sounded distressed. Judy Scott said that she heard someone in the background tell her son to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back.
Later, she said, she heard her son screaming, “They tasing me!” and then heard him “groaning like he was in excruciating pain.” Judy Scott said that she did not hear any gunshots.
Court recessed after her testimony. The trial will resume Friday morning.
Read more at the Charleston Post and Courier.