Ex-South Carolina police officer's murder trial goes to jury

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A white South Carolina police officer committed a crime when he shot a fleeing black motorist last year, prosecutors argued at his murder trial on Wednesday, while defense attorneys said the shocking video of the killing did not tell the whole story.

Lawyers made their closing arguments to jurors, who then began deliberating to decide whether former officer Michael Slager, 35, should be convicted for killing 50-year-old Walter Scott in North Charleston.

No verdict was reached, and deliberations were set to resume on Thursday.

Video of the April 4, 2015 shooting, captured by a bystander, intensified national debate about racial bias in law enforcement. The jury of 11 white people and one black person viewed it repeatedly during testimony in state court over the past month.

Lawyers for Slager argued the video wrongly transformed him into a national symbol for a wave of police killings of black men in cities including New York, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. Slager was fired, arrested and charged with murder.

"He shot him in fear of his life," attorney Andy Savage said. He said Slager did not know at the time that Scott was unarmed and called the motorist "out of control."

Slager testified on Tuesday that he felt "total fear" when he shot Scott, whom he had stopped over a broken brake light. When Scott fled, Slager chased him, first firing a Taser stun gun at him and then drawing his firearm after a tussle.

Prosecutors contended Slager did not appear to be in danger when he fired at Scott's back, hitting him with five bullets.

"How do you avoid the danger of Walter Scott running away?" prosecutor Scarlett Wilson asked the jury. "You stand still."

The state said Scott fled because he was behind on child support payments and feared arrest, noting that any struggle with the officer reflected his reaction to the stun gun used.

Earlier on Wednesday, the jury visited the empty lot where the shooting occurred, taking in a final bit of evidence.

Slager acknowledged in court that some things clear on the video were not known to him as the incident unfolded, saying "my mind was like spaghetti."

Prosecutors 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.

The jury could weigh a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. Slager faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted of murder.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)