For a second time, the former North Charleston policeman who shot Walter Scott has said he's too poor to pay for his own lawyer — a plea to free up public money for his defense as his second murder trial nears.
Michael Slager, whose killing of Scott was captured on cellphone video, appeared to qualify earlier in the case for a court-appointed lawyer, but a judge declined to allow government funding for expert witnesses and the private attorney representing him free of charge.
The latest bid, filed late last week by Circuit Public Defender Ashley Pennington, said Slager relied on donations from loved ones to support his family of five. They live below the federal poverty line — about $29,000 annually for a family that size — and couldn't reasonably pay for the second trial, the motion stated.
It's unknown if the request would necessarily remove Charleston lawyer Andy Savage from the case or simply provide government backing for the same defense team. Savage said before Slager's first trial ended in a hung jury in December that the costs for the case had climbed into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Private attorneys outside the public defender's office frequently are appointed to cases at taxpayer expense. That happened in the separate civil rights case against Slager in federal court, where a judge deemed it wise to have Savage continue to represent him.
Pennington said Monday that it was too early to comment on the action in the state case, and Savage also declined to discuss it until a hearing on the issue is held. A proceeding has not been scheduled.
"In the meantime," Savage said, "we will continue to work diligently in both the federal and state cases to obtain justice for Michael."
Slager's retrial is slated for August. Whether it happens could hinge on the outcome of the federal proceeding in May. The former lawman is charged in U.S. District Court with counts of violating rights under the color of law, lying to authorities and using a firearm in a violent crime.
A conviction in either case could carry up to life in prison.
A jury in the first trial couldn't agree on whether Slager committed a crime when he shot Scott, 50, in the back in April 2015. He had stopped Scott's car for a broken brake light and chased after the running motorist. They fought, and the officer said Scott grabbed his Taser and tried to use it against him.
The eyewitness video showed the stun gun falling to the ground as Scott turned and ran. Saying he feared for his life, Slager fired his gun eight times.
Slager's first attorney dropped him after the footage emerged publicly, and Savage said he took the case because of the way Slager was treated by the lawyer hired by the Southern States Police Benevolent Association. Slager paid dues for legal representation from the association, which later settled a lawsuit he filed. How much of the money went to Savage wasn't known.
Savage has said that his downtown firm had taken a significant financial hit.
"But it's been worth every penny," he said, "regardless of the outcome."
Slager's financial predicament has changed little since then. In late 2015, when the public defender's office declared him indigent, he indicated in a form that he was getting federal assistance for low-income families. He had no cash and few other assets to his name, aside from a 2001 Mercury Sable.
In the latest motion Friday, Pennington said that he thinks Slager qualifies for an appointed lawyer, but that the law calls for a judge to make a final determination in "uncertain" cases. That decision would likely fall on Circuit Judge Clifton Newman.
Slager and his wife had been unemployed until recently, but their resources are still insufficient, Pennington said.
"Since his arrest, he has been unable to meet his family's monthly expenses without voluntary donations from his father and uncle," wrote Pennington, who has attended past hearings in the case. "His savings appear to be inadequate to retain the services of a qualified attorney for a trial ... of this complexity."