Jury in the Michael Slager trial deadlocked; mistrial declared
CHARLESTON, S.C. —Jurors in the trial of former South Carolina patrolman Michael Slager informed the judge just after 3:30 p.m. Monday that they were deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial.
Slager is charged in the shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott, who was shot five times in the back last year while running from Slager during a traffic stop in North Charleston.
Gov. Nikki Haley released a statement late Monday afternoon saying: "It is my understanding that there will be, as quickly as possible, a new trial where the Scott family and all of South Carolina will hopefully receive the closure that a verdict brings. Justice is not always immediate, but we must all have faith that it will be served - I certainly do.
"I urge South Carolinians, in Charleston and across our state, to continue along the path we have walked these last two years: a path of grace, faith, love and understanding. That is who we are, and who I know we will continue to be."
The jury had resumed deliberations Monday morning as the defense continued to request a mistrial.
The judge gave jurors additional instructions, including reminding them that a guilty verdict must be beyond a reasonable doubt.
Before they reached a deadlock, jurors asked Circuit Judge Clifton Newman for clarity on the meanings and definitions of several phrases, including imminent danger, malice aforethought, provocation and self-defense.
The judge merged concerns from the defense and prosecution about the jury’s request into a single written response that he prepared for the jury.
The judge returned with the response at about 12:30 p.m. Monday,and shared it with attorneys before calling the jury back to the courtroom.
The prosecution and defense reviewed the judge’s response. The defense asked the judge to add that there is no malice if one has a just cause to act.
The judge reminded the jury to accept the law as defined by him. The written response explained that manslaughter was included as an option because it is a lesser but included crime in a murder case. The judge defined manslaughter as an unlawful killing without the malice of murder.
The judge’s response to jurors included telling them that they could not convict Slager of murder or manslaughter unless the charge had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The response also said that if the defendant believed he was in danger because of some provocation by the victim, it could have induced the heat of passion.
Newman said self-defense would be the case if a person of normal prudence and courage felt in danger.
The judge’s response said a conviction for murder requires determining if a person acted with malice aforethought.
Newman said the new instructions were to be taken in conjunction with previous instructions and they should be treated as a whole.
The defense asked that the judge re-instruct the jury regarding the potential manslaughter charge, saying that the nomenclature of it being a “lesser offense” might influence the jury when it is a crime considered in the same category as murder with similar penalties. They asked that it be referred to as "another charge" or an "alternate charge," not a lesser offense.
The defense also asked that the judge charge the jury that both provocation and heat of passion must exist or manslaughter should be taken off the table, and that the judge instruct the jury that that malice must have existed at the time the shots were fired for a charge of murder.
The prosecution argued that all of the charges as given to the jury were appropriate.
The judge said the defense’s requests to modify the instructions to the jury were not timely and additional information given to the jury would lead to confusion. He said his responsibility was to answer the jury’s questions, not to change the original charge to the jury.
Within minutes, the word came that the jury was deadlocked.
The jury deliberated more than 20 hours over four days before ultimately deciding that they could not reach a unanimous decision.