Former North Charleston, S.C., Police Officer Michael Slager, who is charged with the murder of unarmed black motorist Walter Scott after a routine traffic stop in April 2015, is asking for public funding to pay for his second trial.
The Charleston Post and Courier reports that Slager appeared to qualify for a court-appointed lawyer earlier in the case, “but a judge declined to allow government funding for expert witnesses and the private attorney representing him free of charge.”
Circuit Public Defender Ashley Pennington filed the latest bid for public funding last week and said in his motion that Slager relied on donations from loved ones to support his family of five, who live below the federal poverty line, and couldn’t reasonably pay for the second trial.
From the Post and Courier:
It’s unknown if the request would necessarily remove Charleston lawyer Andy Savage from the case or simply provide government backing for the same defense team. Savage said before Slager’s first trial ended in a hung jury in December that the costs for the case had climbed into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Private attorneys outside the public defender’s office frequently are appointed to cases at taxpayer expense. That happened in the separate civil rights case against Slager in federal court, where a judge deemed it wise to have Savage continue to represent him.
On Monday, Pennington said that it was too early to comment on the action in the state case, and Savage also declined to discuss it until a hearing on the issue is held, the Post and Courier reports. No proceeding has been scheduled yet.
“In the meantime,” Savage said, “we will continue to work diligently in both the federal and state cases to obtain justice for Michael.”
Slager’s retrial for the murder of Scott is set to begin in August, but whether it actually happens could depend on what happens in the federal trial in May, where Slager faces charges of violating civil rights under the color of law, lying to authorities and using a firearm during a violent crime.
Either way, he faces a sentence of up to life in prison if convicted in either case.
Slager’s first trial for the murder of Scott ended in a hung jury in December, and a mistrial was declared. Jurors could not agree on whether or not Slager had committed a crime when he shot Scott in the back as Scott ran away from him.
Slager claimed that Scott had grabbed his Taser and tried to use it against him, but eyewitness video captured via cellphone showed the stun gun falling to the ground as Scott turned and ran. Slager fired his gun at Scott eight times, saying that he feared for his life.
After the video was made public, Slager’s first attorney dropped him, and Savage took the case reportedly because of the way Slager was treated by the attorney hired by the Southern States Police Benevolent Association.
In Friday’s motion, Pennington said that he thinks Slager qualifies for an appointed lawyer, but the law requires a judge to make the final determination in “uncertain” cases.
Pennington told the Post and Courier that Slager and his wife had been unemployed until recently, but their resources are still insufficient.
“Since his arrest, he has been unable to meet his family’s monthly expenses without voluntary donations from his father and uncle,” Pennington wrote. “His savings appear to be inadequate to retain the services of a qualified attorney for a trial ... of this complexity.”
Read more at the Charleston Post and Courier.