CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A jury of 11 whites and one black was selected on Wednesday for the trial of Michael Slager, a white former North Charleston police officer accused of murder in the shooting death of unarmed black motorist Walter Scott last year.
Slager, 34, was arrested and charged with murder in April 2015 after a bystander’s cellphone video emerged showing him firing eight times at the back of Scott, 50, who was fleeing.
The video reignited a national debate over police use of deadly force against black men in America and the dangers of working as a law-enforcement officer in a heavily armed country.
Defense attorneys will say Slager felt threatened when Scott grabbed the officer’s stun gun after a struggle and pointed it at the officer.
Six white men, five white women and one black man were chosen to hear evidence and render a verdict in the case.
During jury selection, prosecutors challenged the defense’s strikes of jurors, saying they were illegally made on the basis of race.
Seven of the defense’s nine strikes were against minorities.
After a defense attorney named his reasons for each of the seven minority jurors he eliminated, prosecutors dropped their objection.
Reasons the defense gave for striking minority jurors included expression of anti-gun sentiment, lack of education or education not suitable for the defense’s case, and trouble with the English language.
In addition, Judge Clifton Newman on Wednesday denied a Slager’s request to move the trial out of Charleston.
Defense attorney Andrew Savage said a “tsunami of information” from media coverage had prejudiced prospective jurors and he sought to move the trial to the far northwest corner of the state.
The cellphone video that has been replayed on television was an “incomplete” edited version that presents a “false narrative” of the encounter as it failed to show Scott and Slager fought on the ground and struggled over the policeman’s stun gun, Savage said.
In denying the defense motion, the judge noted that jurors promised they could set aside what they had seen and read about the case and form an objective opinion based on the evidence in court.
“There may be extensive pre-trial publicity but the linchpin of looking at this issue is prejudice,” Newman said.
Opening arguments were set for Thursday.
Editing by Andrew Hay and Alan Crosby