(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — A federal judge ruled Thursday that a former South Carolina police officer committed second-degree murder when he shot an unarmed black motorist to death.
U.S. District Judge David Norton made that determination in the April 2015 shooting of Walter Scott by former North Charleston officer Michael Slager, who has been in jail since pleading guilty in May to violating Scott’s civil rights. The judge also said Slager, 36, obstructed justice when he made statements to state police after the shooting.
The ruling comes as part of federal sentencing proceedings for Slager, and Norton is tasked with deciding how much time he spends in prison.
This week, federal prosecutors and Slager’s lawyers have called witnesses to testify about technical aspects of the case. That includes the use of Slager’s stun gun, which the former officer says Walter Scott grabbed and turned on him, causing Slager, who is white, to fear for his life and shoot in self-defense, firing five times into his back as he ran away.
After Norton ruled Thursday, attorneys began calling friends and relatives of both men to tell the judge the effect Scott’s death and the officer’s arrest have had on their lives. What’s known as victim impact testimony is intended to help the judge determining the defendant’s sentence weigh the personal implications a crime has had.
A preview of that testimony came Wednesday, when Scott’s youngest son spoke to the court so he could return to his high school classes. Clutching a photograph of his father, Miles Scott said he has had trouble sleeping ever since his father’s death. He said he misses watching football games with his dad and can’t fathom not being able to watch with him the game they both loved.
“I miss my father every day,” Miles Scott said through tears. “I would like you to sentence the defendant to the strongest sentence the laws allows because he murdered my one and only father.”
Federal officials have recommended 10 to nearly 13 years in prison, but his attorneys argue Slager should face far less time.
Slager pulled Scott over for a broken brake light in April 2015, and Scott, 50, ran during the stop. After deploying his stun gun, Slager fired eight bullets at Scott as he ran away, hitting him five times in the back.
Slager faced murder charges in state court, but a jury in that case deadlocked last year and the state charges were dropped as part of his federal plea deal.