By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Jurors in South Carolina weighing homicide charges against a white former policeman who fatally shot a fleeing black motorist last year were to resume deliberations on Monday after earlier declaring they were deadlocked, with one panelist holding out against a conviction.
On Friday, their third day of deliberations, the jurors twice informed the judge that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict in the murder case against ex-North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager, 35.
His shooting of 50-year-old Walter Scott after an April 2015 traffic stop was captured in a bystander’s cellphone video, and intensified debate in the United States over racial bias by police.
Jurors first indicated they were stuck on Friday afternoon. Judge Clifton Newman told them they had a duty “to make every reasonable effort to reach a unanimous verdict” and instructed them to continue their deliberations.
The foreman, who is the only black person on the panel of 12, later said an impasse remained with one juror in disagreement with all the others.
The holdout juror, who the foreman identified as someone other than himself, presented Newman with a rare note explaining his position.
“I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict,” the juror wrote. “At the same time, my heart does not want to tell the Scott family that the man who killed their son, brother and father is innocent,” the juror added.
But jurors afterward said further deliberation could prove fruitful if the judge provided more explanation of the law. They agreed to return on Monday and try again to reach a consensus.
Newman said he would declare a mistrial if no verdict was reached and retry the case later with a different jury.
Last year, two juries deadlocked on a murder charge against a white former Eutawville, South Carolina, police chief accused of killing a black man in 2011 after an argument about a traffic ticket issued to the man’s daughter.
In the case against Slager, prosecutors charged him with murder, but jurors have the option of finding him guilty of voluntary manslaughter if they decide Slager killed Scott in the heat of passion after provocation rather than with malice.
They could acquit Slager if they believe he acted in self-defense. The jury heard four weeks of testimony from more than 50 witnesses.
Prosecutors repeatedly showed the video in court, saying the footage proved Slager was not in danger when he fired eight shots at the fleeing Scott, hitting him with five bullets.
Slager said he did not know at the time that Scott was unarmed. The ex-cop testified he felt “total fear” after the motorist grabbed his stun gun during a scuffle.
Relatives of Scott and Slager were in court all day Friday. Attorneys for the Scott family said outside the courthouse they remained optimistic of a conviction.
“Justice is still coming. We’ll see it Monday,” lawyer Chris Stewart said. “Sometimes it takes awhile.”
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)