CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Defense experts at the sentencing hearing for a white former police officer who killed an unarmed black man in South Carolina said on Tuesday that cellphone video indicated the two men struggled over the patrolman’s stun gun before the shooting.
The testimony in U.S. District Court in Charleston came as lawyers for Michael Slager seek to prove he feared for his safety when he shot 50-year-old Walter Scott after an April 2015 traffic stop in North Charleston.
Slager, 36, faces up to life in prison after pleading guilty in May to violating Scott’s civil rights by firing his gun eight times, hitting him with five bullets, as Scott ran away. A state murder trial last year ended with a hung jury.
The bystander’s cellphone video that captured the shooting, which heightened concerns about how police treat minorities in the United States, remains a focal point in the criminal proceedings against the former patrolman.
Federal prosecutors rested their case Tuesday morning. They have asked U.S. District Judge David Norton to consider Slager’s underlying crime to be second-degree murder, arguing he acted with calculation and malice when he shot Scott.
Slager’s defense says he should receive a less severe punishment because Scott tried to pull Slager’s stun gun away from him during a fight on the ground, justifying Slager’s use of deadly force.
Testifying for the defense, forensic video analyst Grant Fredericks said the video footage backed Slager’s account.
“Clearly, a fight is going on,” he testified on Tuesday.
Audio analyst David Hallimore said enhanced sound from the video indicated that Slager said, “Let go of my Taser or I’ll shoot you,” to Scott before opening fire.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation image analyst testifying for the prosecution on Monday said the video showed Slager planting his stun gun near Scott’s body immediately after the shooting.
Under cross-examination on Tuesday, defense witness Fredericks conceded that the video showed Slager retrieving the stun gun after he shot Scott, dropping it a few feet from Scott’s body, then picking it up about 30 seconds later.
Prosecutor Jared Fishman asked Fredericks, a former police officer, if he had ever heard of an officer processing a key piece of evidence “by taking it and throwing it next to a suspect?”
Fredericks said no.
Reporting by Greg Lacour; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis