|Attorney Bill Runyon: Slager Trial May Hold More Surprises|
Staff Reports - Charleston attorney William Runyon this week shared his views on the retrial of accused murderer, former North Charleston policeman Michael Slager.
| Michael Slager |
Slager’s first trial on charges brought by the state in the April 2015 shooting incident ended in a mistrial. Hearings in preparation for Slager’s retrial were held this week.
Slager, who is white, was recorded on video shooting a fleeing Walter Scott, who is black, in the back after a traffic stop. A jury of 11 whites and one black could not reach unanimous agreement on either murder or manslaughter in the trial that ended in early December. Slager is slated to be retried in March. His trial on federal charges is slated for May.
Runyon, a 50-year veteran barrister who has defended both police officers accused of shooting blacks and blacks accused of shooting police officers, shared some of his views about the case this week.
The controversial case is a highly emotional one. It is a complicated case involving many facts and issues, he said. While the video recording of Slager shooting Scott crystallizes the incident for many, societal and legal factors make it a more clouded case to decide.
Those societal and legal factors include issues of perceptions, fears and judgment. For whatever reason, Scott decided to run from what initially appeared a typical traffic stop. The incident was complicated by a struggle between the two men and ultimately Slager’s decision to shoot Scott as he escaped. Runyon said fear, whether justified or not, existed for both men.
Runyon who in 1983 defended Ross Clayton Green, a black man accused of killing one white Charleston County Sheriff deputy and critically wounding another, said he thought things had come a long way since then. Green’s first death penalty trial ended in mistrial.
A second trial that didn’t seek the death penalty resulted Green’s sentence to 30 years. Green was released after serving 20 years. Slager’s case indicates things haven’t come as far as he thought, Runyon said.
The video of Slager assuming a textbook shooting stance and firing as Scott ran away triggers some palpable fears of police that exist among African Americans, Runyon said. But Slager, who had just struggled with Scott, undoubtedly also had fears. The totality of the facts probably doesn’t meet legal standards for murder, he said. More likely the facts are consistent with some form of involuntary manslaughter. Additionally, South Carolina law is unclear, he said.
As defense attorneys wrangle for a later court date, Runyon said he is concerned that the publicity surrounding the case could pose grave problems insuring Slager’s right to due process. He said there is legal precedence for dismissal. The Slager case rips the scab off some complicated and divisive wounds. It has all the ingredients to produce a second hung jury, Runyon said.