CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A prosecutor says it doesn’t look as if the death penalty can be sought in the case of a Black South Carolina man who was fatally shot as he ran from a White police officer.
Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager is charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott. The April 4 shooting was captured on cellphone video and showed Slager firing eight shots at Scott as he ran following a traffic stop.
Meanwhile, the case has been assigned by the state’s chief justice to a Black judge from Kingstree, South Carolina, about 70 miles from Charleston. And the Rev. Jesse Jackson was due in Charleston on Thursday to hold a rally in support of the Scott family at a local union hall.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson released a statement this week saying that, based on the facts so far, the death penalty doesn’t appear to apply. Under state law, death can only be sought in a killing with aggravating circumstances such as robbery and kidnapping among a number of other circumstances.
“Based on the facts revealed thus far, it does not appear South Carolina’s death penalty provision applies in this case because there are no statutory aggravating circumstances present,” the solicitor’s statement said.
Slager faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.
Wilson said she has been in contact with the State Law Enforcement Division agents who are investigating the case but has not received their investigation file, something she said she doesn’t expect for days or weeks.
She added that the Charleston County grand jury meets in May but “when we present indictments to the grand jury will depend upon when we receive the investigative file and the amount of time it takes to review it.”
South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Toal, in a two-sentence order issued on Tuesday, assigned the Slager case to Judge Clifton Newman of Kingstree, who has been on the bench for 15 years.
Toal authorized the clerk of the state Supreme Court, Dan Shearouse, to release a statement on the assignment to the media. It says state law requires a systematic rotation of trial judges so most cases are handled by more than one judge while before the courts.
“When a matter is complex or is otherwise in need of management from beginning to end by one judge, the Chief Justice routinely issues an administrative order making such an assignment. This practice was followed here,” the statement said.
It said Newman has been assigned a number of such cases in both criminal and civil court.
Newman was called on by the court in 2012 to hear arguments and report back to the justices in another case that attracted national attention – a lawsuit brought by preservation and conservation groups challenging plans for a new cruise terminal in downtown Charleston.
“Judge Newman enjoys an excellent reputation as a jurist, and we look forward to working under his guidance,” said a statement released by Andy Savage, Slager’s defense attorney. “A more competent member of the judiciary could not be found.”
Wilson released a statement Thursday calling Newman an excellent judge.
“Our experience with him has always been stellar … We look forward to working with him and know that he will give us all a fair trial,” she said.