White South Carolina ex-officer Michael Slager defends fatal shooting of unarmed black man
Mugshot of South Carolina police officer Michael Slager (Charleston County Sheriff's office)

A white former South Carolina policeman took the stand at his murder trial on Tuesday to defend his decision to shoot and kill an unarmed black man last year, an incident that intensified a national debate about racial bias in law enforcement.

The testimony by Michael Slager, 35, marked the first time he has given a detailed public account of the April 2015 shooting death of motorist Walter Scott, 50, in North Charleston. A bystander's cellphone video appeared to show Slager firing eight times at Scott's back as he fled after a traffic stop.

"When you shot him, were you filled with ill will or a depraved heart?" defense attorney Andy Savage asked the former officer, who was dismissed from the North Charleston Police Department after the shooting.

"No, I was not," said Slager, dressed in a dark suit.

The recording of the shooting was shown repeatedly on television and social media, fueling outrage from groups such as Black Lives Matter.

Prosecutors presented the footage to the jury of 11 whites and one black during the state court trial, now in its third week.

The prosecution contends Slager did not appear to be in any danger when he hit Scott with five shots after stopping his Mercedes for a broken brake light.

The state said Scott fled because he was behind on child support payments and feared a routine check would result in his arrest.

Defense lawyers have disputed the state's version of events, arguing that Scott resisted arrest and grabbed Slager's Taser during the struggle and pointed it at him.

Prosecutors have accused Slager of altering the crime scene by moving the Taser closer to the handcuffed body so he could claim Scott had taken the stun gun.

Slager faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jeffrey Benkoe)