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Jury In S.C. Police Shooting Trial Says It Is Struggling To Reach Verdict

Andy Savage, defense attorney for former North Charleston, S.C., police Officer Michael Slager, awaits a verdict from the jury on Friday.
Grace Beahm
Post and Courier via Pool
Andy Savage, defense attorney for former North Charleston, S.C., police Officer Michael Slager, awaits a verdict from the jury on Friday.

Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET

The jury in the murder trial of former North Charleston, S.C., police Officer Michael Slager told the judge on Friday afternoon that it's having trouble coming to a unanimous verdict.

They will resume deliberating Monday.

Slager is accused of murder for shooting Walter Scott multiple times as he ran away from the officer in 2015, after a routine traffic stop.

The jury heard nearly a month of testimony in the case, including testimony from Slager. Friday was the third day of deliberations. The jurors had three options if they hoped to avoid a mistrial: a guilty verdict on murder or voluntary manslaughter, or an acquittal.

But, as a series of Friday afternoon notes from the jury to the judge made clear, one of the 12 jurors could not agree with the other 11 on a guilty verdict.

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In a letter read from the bench by Judge Clifton Newman, the dissenting juror wrote, "I understand the position of the court, but I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict. ... I expect those who hold opposing views will not change those views."

"We all struggle with the death of a man and with all that has been put before us," the letter continued. "I still cannot convict the defendant. At the same time my heart does not want to tell the Scott family that the man who killed [Walter Scott] ... is innocent. But with the choices, I cannot and will not change my mind."

Two other notes to the judge were both from the foreperson of the jury, who wrote in the first, "It's just one juror who has the issues," and in the second, "That juror needs to leave, he is having issues. Thank you. Sorry for all the notes."

Around 4 p.m., Judge Newman asked the foreperson to clarify in writing whether the jury was hopelessly deadlocked. At that point, attorneys for the defense requested a mistrial, and the jury sent another note saying it was "hopelessly deadlocked."

But when the jury reentered the courtroom, the foreperson did not confirm that the jury would be unable to reach a unanimous verdict if they were given more time, saying instead that they felt more information about the law would have been helpful.

About half an hour later, the foreperson told the judge the jury wished to keep deliberating.

Earlier in the day, the judge refused to answer a question from the jury about the difference between "fear" and "passion," which seemed to relate to the question of whether Slager acted in self-defense when he shot Scott.

At one point in the afternoon, Judge Newman called the jury into the courtroom and encouraged members to break the deadlock.

"You should not give up your firmly held opinions just to be in agreement," Newman said, but "the majority should consider the minority's position, and the minority should consider the majority's position."

The judge said:

"If you cannot agree on a verdict, I must declare a mistrial. In that case, it doesn't mean anyone wins. It just means at some other time I will try this case with some other jury sitting where you now sit. The same participants will come, and the same lawyers will ask basically the same questions and get basically the same answers."

As The Two-Way has reported, cellphone video from a bystander appears to show Slager shooting Scott multiple times in an empty lot at a distance of more than 15 feet. When Slager took the stand earlier this week, he said in his testimonythat he had been "in total fear" during the incident, and contended, as he has previously, that Scott had taken his Taser stun gun.

Video of the shooting does not appear to show any Taser in Scott's hand.

The City of North Charleston has already approved a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott's family in connection with the killing, and Slager is also facing separate federal civil rights charges for shooting Scott.

As we've reported, "in that indictment, federal prosecutors accuse Slager of deliberately misleading investigators by telling them he had fired his weapon 'while Scott was coming forward at him with a Taser.'"

The indictment continues, "In truth and in fact, as defendant MICHAEL SLAGER then well knew, he (SLAGER) repeatedly fired his weapon at Scott as Scott was running away from him."

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Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.