A South Carolina judge on Monday declared a mistrial after a jury deadlocked on whether white former police officer Michael Slager committed murder in the April 2015 shooting death of black motorist Walter Scott.
The jury, which deliberated over four days, said it was unable to reach a unanimous decision on the murder charge or a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
— ABC News (@ABC) December 5, 2016
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Twelve jurors weighing whether a white former South Carolina police officer is guilty of murder for a black motorist’s shooting death last year got an explanation of legal terms critical to the case on Monday.
The jury in the state trial for ex-North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager no longer said it was deadlocked, a shift from its stance during deliberations on Friday.
But South Carolina Judge Clifton Newman told lawyers in a Charleston courtroom a note from the jurors, on their fourth day of deliberations, indicated they were undecided.
Slager, 35, was arrested and charged with murder after investigators watched a bystander’s cell phone video that showed him firing eight times at 50-year-old Walter Scott’s back as he fled an April 2015 traffic stop.
The shooting helped rekindle debate in the United States over use of force against black men amid a wave of police killings in cities including New York, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.
On Friday, jurors who had heard four weeks of testimony indicated that one member was holding out against a conviction, though they did not say whether the rest of the panel was settled on finding Slager guilty of murder or a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
The panel said more explanation of the law could help them reach a consensus and asked for a weekend break to rest.
On Monday, after the jurors sent notes to Newman seeking clarification of specific legal terms including malice and self-defense, the judge complied.
“Malice need not exist at any appreciable time before the act,” Newman told the jury. “It may be conceived at the very moment the fatal blow is given.”
Prosecutors have argued that shooting someone in the back proves malice, which is an element of the murder charge.
Jurors had asked how long malice had to exist in Slager’s mind to warrant a murder conviction, Newman said.
Newman also explained that manslaughter is the unlawful killing of someone without malice, but in the heat of passion.
Manslaughter follows provocation by the victim of a “type that would make an ordinary person become enraged and temporarily lose control,” he said.
He also clarified that a serious threat could justify Slager’s claim of self-defense.
(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Tom Brown and Letitia Stein)