Walter Scott's youngest son asked a federal judge Wednesday to give the former North Charleston police officer who fatally shot his father the maximum sentence: life in prison.
Sitting at a table between civil rights prosecutors, Miles Scott became emotional as he talked about how much he misses his father, whose picture he gripped tightly in his hands. Behind him, Walter Scott's parents wiped their eyes as they listened to their grandson during the third day of Slager's sentencing hearing that would stretch into a fourth.
"He will never see me play high school football, never see me graduate," the teenager said. "My heart is destroyed because the way my father went was wrong. ... I would like you to sentence the defendant to the strongest sentence the laws allow because he murdered my one and only father."
The boy's first courtroom statement about his father's death came Wednesday as Slager grew closer to learning his punishment for shooting a fleeing Walter Scott in 2015, a killing that was captured on video and drew national attention. But that decision did not come.
With television crews amassed outside the Charleston federal courthouse and observers across the country awaiting the outcome, defense lawyers summoned their eighth witness and prosecutors, their fourth. The attorneys finished their arguments on issues that can affect the sentence, but U.S. District Judge David Norton still had not heard from other members of Scott's and Slager's families.
Norton might finally deliver Slager's penalty Thursday. By law, the 36-year-old faces between no prison time and life.
'It was murder'
Slager pulled over Scott's car on April 4, 2015, for a broken brake light, but the 50-year-old motorist soon ran. Slager tried using his Taser to bring down Scott, who kept trying to get away.
After they struggled on the ground, they got back to their feet. By then, Slager said, Scott had taken the stun gun. The officer said he fired to stop Scott from using it on him.
But a bystander's video showed Scott turning around as the Taser bounced behind the officer and Slager pulled out his pistol. The patrolman fired eight bullets as Scott ran away, hitting Scott five times from behind.
Though Slager pleaded guilty in May to a federal charge of violating Scott's civil rights, Norton has listened to a dozen witnesses this week in preparing to decide his underlying offense: voluntary manslaughter or second-degree murder. The ruling could greatly affect the penalty that the former lawman ultimately receives.
A pre-sentencing report, which determined the offense to be manslaughter, recommended a term of between 10 and 13 years in prison. But that report is just a suggestion, and if Norton opts for murder, Slager could face a harsher punishment.
In making an argument on the point Wednesday, Washington-based civil rights prosecutor Jared Fishman said many people might have labeled Scott as a violent person. But maybe, he said, Scott should be given the same benefit of the doubt that people often give police officers in shootings.
"Maybe we have demonized the whole community of North Charleston and just called them criminals," he said after defense testimony portrayed the city as a violent place since the shooting. "We cannot demonize a whole community."
At one point, Fishman suggested that the defense was wasting time by calling unexpected witnesses, including 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who discussed her handling of the state murder case that ended in a mistrial last year. Scott's family, he said, was "anxiously trying to move on."
“The killing of Walter Scott was not justified," Fishman added in the closing argument. "It’s time to call the killing what it really was. It was murder."
It 'was criminal'
Since the shooting, Slager has "conveniently" forgotten elements of the killing that are harmful to his self-defense account, including why he dropped the Taser near Scott's lifeless body shortly after the shooting only to pick it up moments later. Fishman called that a "concerted, deliberate effort" to obstruct justice.
But to offer an explanation, a forensic psychiatrist for the defense told the judge Wednesday that stressful experiences can affect someone's memory. Dr. Charles Morgan portrayed Slager as "someone who is not impulsive."
He's "someone who likes to be meticulous, methodical," he said, and "follow the rules."
Lead defense lawyer Andy Savage argued that his client never told investigators that Scott was charging at the officer at the time of the gunfire.
But Scott still posed a threat when Slager decided to shoot, Savage said. Signs of a struggle, such as the Taser wire wrapped around Slager, showed that there was provocation for the shooting, an element of manslaughter rather than murder, they argued.
Slager broke the law, though, when he failed to stop himself from firing again and again, Savage said; that was excessive force.
"What Michael Slager did … was criminal," the lawyer said. "(His actions) were appropriate until they weren't."
As he watched the proceedings Wednesday, Slager appeared unkempt. His solitary jail confinement has combined this week with a busy court schedule to prevent him from showering, his lawyer said. The attorney sprayed the back of Slager's jail uniform with Lysol disinfectant before the hearing.
He looked forward most of the time, occasionally chatting with his attorneys. He once winked at his loved ones gathered in the courtroom and blew his wife a kiss.
When Scott's son spoke, he turned his head. Himself a father, Slager watched as Miles Scott sobbed. The former policeman blinked occasionally.
"I cry most of the time because I'll never see him again," Scott said of his father. "I miss my dad so much."