The South Carolina jury tasked with deciding the fate of a former police officer charged with murder is at a standstill after more than 14 hours of deliberation, prompting the judge to urge them to reach consensus.
Michael Slager, the North Charleston patrolman who was filmed in 2015 shooting at unarmed black motorist Walter Scott eight times as Scott ran away, could be facing life in prison if he is convicted of murder.
The jury is also considering a manslaughter charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.
But there is no indication a verdict will be reached anytime soon, if it’s reached at all. At various times over the three days of deliberation, the jury requested transcripts of testimony from some of the 55 witnesses who spoke during the monthlong trial.
On Thursday, Judge Clifton Newman said the jury had written a note asking about “the difference between fear and passion,” ostensibly alluding to the different criteria for murder and manslaughter.
Newman declined to provide the jurors an answer, saying, “This is a matter solely for you to determine.”
The 12 jurors — 11 of whom are white — must reach a unanimous decision.
On Friday, after jurors reported their standstill, Newman invited them into the courtroom and warned them of the consequences of failing to reach a verdict, which would result in a mistrial.
“In that case, it does not mean that anybody wins. It just means that at some future time, I will try this case with some other jury sitting where you now sit,” Newman told the jurors.
“The same participants will come, and the same lawyers will likely ask basically the same questions and get basically the same answers, and we will go through this whole process again,” he continued. “There is no reason for me to suppose that the case will ever be submitted to 12 more intelligent, conscientious, and competent jurors than you, or that more clearer evidence will be produced on one side than the other.
“I therefore ask that you return to your deliberations, if you will.”
The trial hinges on whether the jury believes Slager, who is white, could reasonably think he was in life-threatening danger during his interaction with Scott. Slager testified that Scott, after fleeing a routine traffic stop, had wrestled Slager’s Taser away from him and lunged at the officer. However, that account was denied by Feidin Santana, a bystander who filmed part of the incident.