The son of a black motorist who was shot to death by a white former police officer asked a judge Wednesday to hand down the stiffest sentence possible: life in prison.
Clutching a photograph of his father, Miles Scott said he has had trouble sleeping ever since his father, Walter Scott, was shot in the back while running from then-officer Michael Slager after a traffic stop in 2015. He said he misses watching football games with his dad.
‘I miss my father every day,’ the high school student said through tears. ‘I would like you to sentence the defendant to the strongest sentence the laws allows because he murdered my one and only father.’
Slager pleaded guilty in May to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights. Federal officials have recommended 10 to nearly 13 years in prison, but his attorneys argue the 36-year-old Slager should face far less time.
U.S. District Judge David Norton could hand down the sentence this week. Before he does that, he will decide whether the shooting was second-degree murder or manslaughter.
After hearing closing arguments from both sides, Norton recessed proceedings for the day and said court would reconvene at 10am Thursday, pushing the hearing into a fourth day.
Attorneys on both sides were expected to summon more witnesses to testify about the impact Scott’s death and Slager’s arrest have had on both families.
Slager faced murder charges in state court, but a jury in that case deadlocked last year, and the state charges were dropped as part of his federal plea deal.
Slager pulled Scott over for a broken brake light in April 2015, and the 50-year-old Scott ran during the stop. After deploying his stun gun, Slager fired eight bullets at Scott as he ran away, hitting him five times in the back.
Slager has said the two men scuffled and he fired in self-defense after Scott grabbed his stun gun.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Andy Savage acknowledged the shooting was criminal but reiterated the stance that his client was protecting himself and feared for his own safety.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Jared Fishman disputed that story.
‘Walter Scott never assaulted the defendant. Walter Scott never took the defendant’s Taser,’ Fishman said.
The attorney portrayed Slager as calm, calculated officer who hadn’t killed Scott in a moment of passion but did so intentionally – a hallmark of murder, not manslaughter.
‘He was not in a frenzy,’ Fishman said. ‘He was not in the throes of passion.’
Fishman also said Slager had changed his story several times as to what he remembered about the shooting, including flawed state trial testimony about Scott charging him with his own stun gun. Fishman said those statements aren’t backed up by evidence.
‘This is not memory loss,’ Fishman said. ‘This is a concerted, deliberate effort to obstruct justice and to cover up for his unjustified shooting.’
Earlier in the day, prosecutors cross-examined Dr. Charles Morgan, a forensic psychiatrist who examined Slager in May 2016 and diagnosed him with normal psychological function.
Morgan said he felt that Slager had an above-average tolerance for stress and didn’t diagnose him with any disorder related to memory loss.
During his exam, Slager told the doctor he remembered having a ‘scuffle’ with Scott but otherwise didn’t recall specific details from any fight the men had.
Slager testified during his state trial that he shot Scott in self-defense because he felt threatened when the man grabbed his stun gun.
In an unusual move, attorneys for Slager called the state prosecutor to the stand to question her about their assertions that she and federal prosecutors unfairly teamed up on Slager.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she had interacted with federal prosecutors but couldn’t recall specific contacts and hadn’t planned prosecutorial decisions with them.
Slager’s former supervisor, Wade Humphries testified that the officer followed proper procedures during and after his encounter with Scott.
On Tuesday, the judge allowed expert witnesses to testify about disputed audio and video recordings of the shooting.
Grant Fredericks, a forensic video expert, testified that his analysis showed Slager fought with Scott before their fatal encounter and the ex-officer said: ‘Let go of my Taser before I shoot you.’
The defense team believes that evidence bolsters Slager’s self-defense claim. A microphone on Slager’s uniform also picked up Scott saying, ‘F–k the police’ after Slager asked him to get on the ground, the expert testified.
Prosecutors counter that there is no way to definitively tell what is being said on the recordings, and they have used their own experts to show how Slager fired at Scott as he was running away, nowhere near the officer’s stun gun.
Scott’s mother, Judy Scott, said she was on the phone with her when he was pulled over and told him to comply with the officer’s demands ‘so there wouldn’t be any trouble.’