As the murder trial of a White former police officer who shot an unarmed Black motorist eight times as he ran from a traffic stop got underway in Charleston S.C., it did so with an overwhelmingly White jury.
Selection of jurors in the trial of Michael Slager, who is charged in the killing of Walter Scott who fled the officer after being pulled over for a broken tail light, completed on Wednesday and defense and prosecutors began their opening arguments Thursday morning.
After three days of interviews, attorneys chose 11 Whites and 1 Black to hear testimony in the case which comes amid the backdrop of near constant news of police shootings of unarmed African-Americans across the country and the ensuing turmoil. Two white men, two white women and two black women are alternate jurors.
During jury selection, the defense struck nine potential jurors, including seven minorities. The prosecution challenged whether race was being used as a basis for disqualifying those potential jurors and the defense provided detailed reasons for its strikes.
The Charleston Post and Courier reported members of the jury panel were taken from a pool of 100 people, each of whom knew about the killing and 95 percent had seen the footage of Slager shooting Scott, which was caught by a bystander.
Slager’s defense attorney Andy Savage moved for a change of venue because of what he called “polluted” news coverage that did not show what happened before the video of the shooting. He requested a trial setting where there was not so much “saturation” of the case. But circuit judge Clifton Newman denied that motion.
In her opening statement, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told the jury that Slager may have been provoked if Walter Scott wrestled his stun gun from him, but that doesn’t justify shooting Scott in the back as he tried to run away.
“If Walter Scott had not resisted arrest, he wouldn’t have been shot. He paid the extreme consequence for his conduct. He lost his life for his foolishness,” she acknowledged. But Slager is on trial for murder because of what he did after Scott broke away from the officer, she said.
“We are here,” she said, “… to bring accountability to Michael Slager for his actions.”
Defense attorney Andy Savage sought to pin responsibility on Scott.
“Why did he choose not to respect the request to stay where he was? That’s something that I hope you consider,” Savage told the jurors. “It wasn’t Mr. Slager who was angry and full of animosity.”
Slager, 34, faces 30 years to life if convicted of murder in the April 2015 death of Scott, 50, whose shooting, captured on a bystander’s dramatic cellphone video, spread on social media and stunned the nation. He also faces trial next year in federal court on charges including violating Scott’s civil rights.
With reporting by the Associated Press