The murder trial of Michael Slager, a white former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer who killed an unarmed black motorist in 2015, begins Monday in state court. Walter Scott, who Slager tried to pull over for a broken brake light on April 4, 2015, was shot as he ran away from Slager and after the two reportedly wrestled during an arrest attempt.
Video footage captured on a bystander's smartphone shows not only the moment that Scott was shot, but also the moment where Slager appears to plant a stun gun near Scott's body. Some activists believed that Slager did this to support his claim that Scott reached for his stun gun, giving the officer no choice but to use lethal force.
For many trial watchers, the existence of the such damning video footage raises questions about whether Slager has a solid defense at all. The racially charged case rose to national prominence, amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. Unlike other officer use-of-force cases, local, state and federal officials moved quickly to terminate the Slager's employment and to file criminal and civil rights charges against him.
But is the case a slam dunk for prosecution?
Prosecutors plan to argue that Slager acted as an extrajudicial "firing squad," clearly evident in the video footage of the shooting, the Charleston Post and Courier reported.
Slager's defense team, however, plans to present evidence that gives a fuller picture of what the former officer encountered the initial traffic top and where the video footage picks up. In addition to telling jurors that Scott had traces of cocaine and alcohol in his blood, according to a coroner's report, they plan to show that Scott's DNA was found on Slager's stun gun, among other evidence.
This would explain Scott's alleged erratic behavior, not captured on video, as well as his allegedly grabbing for Slager's stun gun, according to the Post and Courier. Ultimately, the defense wants jurors to believe that Slager was acting in self-defense when he shot at the fleeing Scott.
Who is overseeing the trial and who are the jurors?
Judge Clifton Newman of the South Carolina Circuit Court is presiding over the trial. Scarlett Wilson, the Ninth Circuit solicitor, and Bruce DuRant, her deputy, are leading the prosecution. Slager is being represented by attorneys Andy Savage and Donald McCune.
The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, including jury selection, begins Monday. A pool of 600 Charleston County residents will be whittled down to 12 primary jurors and several alternates, the Post and Courier reported.