The jury foreman in the trial of North Charleston police officer Michale Slager surprised people this morning when he spoke about the mistrial in the case, and noted that a murder conviction simply was not on the table once they looked at the available evidence.
The jury in the the murder trial of former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager, dismissed the murder charge, finding no evidence of “malicious” intent, according to jury foreman Dorsey Montgomery, the lone person of color on the 12-member panel. The jurors then consider a lesser charge of manslaughter, but five jurors could not decide on that, and one juror said he was dead set against conviction. Although the officer what white and the suspect black, race did not come up in the deliberations, Montgomery told the Today Show. “I do believe some jurors may have had that in their mind, but the majority of them didn’t have anything in reference to race that may have played a factor in the decision.”
I have to admit that after seeing the video of the 2015 shooting, it appeared to me to be a criminal homicide, and more than likely murder, not manslaughter (South Carolina does not have degrees of murder).
Jury foreman Montgomery’s revelation that half the jury either could not make up their minds or was against convicting Slager at all was very surprising to me. Six of the jurors were for convicting Slager of manslaughter, five were undecided, and one was dead-set against conviction.
So what led to a jury to be deadlocked like this, when Slager had been so convincingly convicted in the court of public opinion?
According to Mr. Montgomery, it appeared that the jury found Slager was not malicious in his shooting of Walter Scott. He was instead acting out of a misperception that Scott still posed a threat, and that based on his training, firing those shots was an appropriate response.
Ultimately, half the jury looked at all the available evidence and the applicable laws and came to the determination that Slager did not act reasonably, and that he committed manslaughter. Five other members of the jury looked at those same laws and the evidence, and could not decide whether Officer Slager broke the law or not. One juror was firmly convinced that he had acted reasonably.
Prosecutors have stated that they will try Michael Slager again for the killing of Walter Scott, and there is also a federal civil rights trial expected in 2017.
I’m now much less convinced, however, that Slager will be convicted in Scott’s death, and the possibility of him being convicted of civil rights violations frankly seems remote.
The video of Walter Scott’s shooting was clearly disturbing. That a jury so deeply immersed in all the facts and details of the case could not even apparently come close to convicting him, despite that key piece of evidence, should perhaps be a warning to us all against rushing to judgment.