AFRICANGLOBE – A nearly all-white jury was seated Wednesday for the murder trial of a white former South Carolina officer whose fatal shooting of a Black man stunned the nation after it was recorded on a cellphone by a bystander.
A jury of six white men, five white women and one Black man will hear the case of Michael Slager, charged with murder in the April 2015 shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott in North Charleston.
The images of Slager repeatedly shooting Scott in the back as he tried to run away and then planting a weapon on him inspired many others to record encounters with police since then, and both officer-involved shootings and slayings of police have only drawn more attention.
The jury was seated after two days of qualification, even as authorities apprehended a white supremacist suspect in the killings of two Iowa officers shot while sitting in their patrol cars. Testimony also began Wednesday in the Ohio murder trial of a white officer who fatally shot a Black man.
In the Slager trial, the defense struck nine potential jurors, including seven minorities.
The prosecution challenged whether the defense was using only race as a basis for disqualifying them. The challenge was dropped after the defense provided detailed reasons for its strikes.
Some of those reasons were: not having a good understanding of English, expressing anti-gun sentiments, and in one case, a potential juror is a friend of the medical examiner, who is expected to testify.
Figures released by the clerk of court in Charleston County show that of the pool of 75 qualified jurors from which the jury was selected, 16 are Black, or just over 20 percent. Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show the Black population of the state and the county is about 28 percent.
Opening statements are set for Thursday after Judge Clifton Newman heard a series of outstanding motions late Tuesday.
He denied a defense request to dismiss the indictment against Slager.
The defense argued that charging Slager in state court violates constitutional protections against double jeopardy. Slager also faces trial next year in federal court on several charges, including Scott’s civil rights.
Newman ruled that Slager has been afforded all the due process ensured by the laws of South Carolina. And he ruled that to dismiss the indictment based on grounds of double jeopardy, he would have to “overrule well-established doctrine.”
The judge also denied a defense motion to move the trial out of Charleston County. During a hearing on the motion, during which defense attorney Andy Savage briefly took the witness stand to testify, attorneys argued that pretrial publicity makes it impossible for Slager to get a fair trial in Charleston.
Savage testified that local media coverage has not told the whole story and that coverage in the Charleston area was incomplete. “That’s not to say it was false, but incomplete,” Savage said.
Savage has argued that the brief clip of the murder that has been seen worldwide does not show the alleged fight between Scott and Slager before the shots were fired.
Newman denied the motion, noting all the jurors on the jury have said they can put aside what they have heard about the case and give a verdict based on the evidence.
The court did not immediately take up another motion to keep the cellphone video out of the trial.
Slager, 34, faces 30 years to life if convicted of murder. Scott was murdered after allegedly being pulled over for a broken taillight.