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S.C. Jury Deliberates Case Of Ex-Police Officer Who Killed Motorist

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Jurors in Charleston, S.C., will continue deliberating today in the trial of a former police officer, Michael Slager. He's charged with murder for shooting Walter Scott last year. Bystander cellphone video showed the officer repeatedly shooting him in the back as he ran away, and that tape was a key piece of evidence used by both the prosecution and by the defense. South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin reports.

ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: In its closing argument, the defense painted a picture of a well-respected North Charleston officer who responded to what he perceived as a dangerous threat while doing his job. At 9:30 on a Saturday morning, Officer Slager pulled over a 50-year-old Walter Scott for a broken brake light. As the officer was checking Scott's license in his patrol car, Scott bolted. A chase ensued, followed by what Slager describes as a ground fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL SLAGER: With everything leading up to the shooting, I was tired. I ran the 200 yards. I was on the fight on the ground. Mr. Scott was coming after me with the Taser twice.

OLGIN: Slager testified during the last day of testimony, maintaining he shot Scott in self-defense after Scott grabbed his Taser. Defense attorney Andy Savage told jurors they need to put themselves in the mind of the officer that day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDY SAVAGE: So in an instant - in a nanosecond, he makes the decision. And because of the video, he's been a poster boy for all the other events that transpired - oh, he did that.

OLGIN: Savage told jurors to ignore speculation in the media about what happened during the confrontation and instead focus on the testimony from more than 50 witnesses and experts. Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson described a different version of events. She told the jury that Scott was trying to get away from the officer because he owed child support payments.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCARLETT WILSON: He did not want to go to jail that day. He'd taken a sorry way to do it. He should be sitting there right now on trial for resisting arrest. The oath that Michael Slager took says the protection of life must always take priority over the apprehension of criminals.

OLGIN: Members of both the Slager and Scott families have been listening to the testimony during the five-week-long trial. Last night, outside the courthouse, Scott's brother Rodney said they still aren't sure why Scott opened his car door and fled.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RODNEY SCOTT: We really don't know what was on his mind at that time because one thing I do know, he didn't have to run. But he chose to run. And why he ran, we really don't know.

OLGIN: The family is hoping for justice. If jurors find Slager guilty of murder, he could be in prison for life or up to 30 years, if convicted of the lesser charge, manslaughter. Regardless of whether this state jury decides to convict or acquit, next year, Slager faces federal charges stemming from the shooting.

For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Olgin in Charleston, S.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEITH JARRETT'S "VICTORIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.