The trial of Michael Slager, a former South Carolina police officer accused of murdering an unarmed black motorist, could end in a mistrial, apparently because of one juror who “is having issues” coming to a guilty verdict.
The jurors deliberated for more than 15 hours over the course of three days before informing Judge Clifton Newman they were “hopelessly deadlocked.”
In an unusual move, one juror wrote a note to the judge explaining that he “cannot and will not” declare Slager guilty of murder or manslaughter in the death of Walter Scott.
“Judge, I understand the position of the court but I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict,” Newman read aloud to the courtroom. “I expect those who hold opposing views not to change their minds because I see them as good, honest people.”
“Therefore, I regret to say we may never reach a unanimous decision.”
In a separate note, the jury’s foreperson seemed to indicate the jury was locked in an 11-1 split, with only the first note-writing juror opposing a guilty verdict.
“It’s just one juror that has the issues,” the follow-up note read. “That juror needs to leave. He is having issues. Thank you, sorry for all the notes.”
Newman contemplated declaring a mistrial before allowing the jury to reconvene Monday morning. Judge Newman has asked for the intransigent juror to be replaced by an alternate who attended the trial.
The judge acknowledged the unusual nature of the written communication from the jury. The courtroom doesn’t typically learn of “the inner workings” of a jury’s thought process, he said, including a numerical count of where individual jurors stand before a verdict is reached.
L. Chris Stewart, one of the Scott family’s attorneys, told members of the press outside the Charleston courthouse he wasn’t concerned about the apparent standstill, and that he remained confident the jury would deliver a guilty verdict on Monday.
“We are not worried about it taking so long because justice takes a long time sometimes,” he said.
The trial hinges on whether the jury believes Slager, who is white, could reasonably think he was in life-threatening danger during his interaction with Scott.
Bystander video showed Slager shooting at Scott eight times as Scott ran away from the patrolman. But Slager testified that Scott, after fleeing a routine traffic stop, had wrestled Slager’s Taser away from him and lunged at the officer. Slager’s account was denied by the bystander who recorded the video.
If convicted, Slager is facing the possibility of life in prison.
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