Andy Savage saw the video for the first time in his bedroom.

It showed Walter Scott running away, and North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shooting him in the back.

His reaction was like many. Turning from the TV to his wife, he said, "Oh my God."

"I had very negative thoughts of law enforcement conduct from the video I saw," said Savage, a criminal defense lawyer in Charleston. "That video of the eight shots is a very, very powerful, emotional, evoking video."

But with a phone call the next day — from the officer's wife — the way he viewed the footage would start to change. The more he learned, he said, the more he thought Slager had been made a pariah by officials in a city long troubled by allegations of unfair policing and an easy target of criticism for the national inspection of officers' use of force against black people. The more evidence he gathered, he said, the more he believed that the officer had made a reasonable decision in a stressful situation.

It became his mission to make others believe that. He battled cancer, fought an immune disorder and spent hundreds of thousands of his own dollars with the ultimate goal in mind: to make 12 jurors see it the same way.

But when Slager's murder trial starts Monday with jury selection, the stakes will be high for all involved, not just for him, the attorney fighting for his freedom and the police officers who have stood by him. Authorities, once applauded for jailing Slager within an hour of the video's first public airing, will look to follow through on pledges of justice. An elected solicitor will grapple with a task that has proved tall for many prosecutors: to get a conviction of a police officer. Black communities nationwide who saw Scott's death as the epitome of their plight will watch to make sure the authorities follow through on their promises.

No outcome will please everyone. Ed Bryant, president of the NAACP chapter in North Charleston, said the most favorable result to Slager, an acquittal, would upend the progress some community members saw in the officer's arrest. Local leaders like Bryant met with area police officials last week to plan for the possibility of unrest after such a verdict. Their job is to urge calm.

"With this trial wrapped up with the elections, there's a hype in the community, and people are tense," Bryant said. "It's important for everyone that it comes across fair and square. Let me just say this: If he's acquitted, let's see what kind of fight they get out of Charleston."

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett said she remained "steadfast in my refusal to try this case in the press" and declined to comment extensively for this report.

"I have no doubt that we will give the Scott family and defendant Slager a fair trial," she said, "and that the jury will see this case for exactly what it is."

At a hearing last week, she added, "Our goal is not to win. Our goal is to get it right."

'A firing squad'

After spending this week picking an impartial jury, prosecutors will mount their case. Wilson already has publicly dubbed Slager an executioner.

The officer stopped Scott's car April 4, 2015, for a broken brake light. After inconsistent answers to questions about the Mercedes-Benz, Scott jumped out and ran. Slager chased him and used a Taser to bring him down.

When the 34-year-old officer tried to handcuff Scott, 50, they fought. Scott jerked away the Taser, Slager said, and turned it on the officer. He had stepped toward Slager before the policeman opened fire, Slager said.

Authorities called Slager a liar. Feidin Santana, a key witness for the prosecution, filmed the end of the confrontation, but the video didn't show Scott charging toward the officer. It showed him turning away as the Taser fell to the ground and Slager drew his gun. He had distanced himself from Slager by several yards before he was shot. Five of the eight bullets hit him from behind.

In a hearing last year, Wilson pointed out that Slager then picked up the Taser and dropped it next to Scott's body, only to return the stun gun seconds later to its holster.

"(Scott) was only interested in taking off," Wilson said. "That’s not something that calls for Mr. Slager being a firing squad."

But Savage will insist that his client had been scooped up in the broad criticism of law enforcement, that the arrest was meant to ward off a violent, riotous reaction to the video. That mistreatment, Savage said in an interview, started with Slager's first attorney, who dropped the case once the footage emerged. The officer had just given state investigators his account of the shooting, and a staffer for his attorney called him a liar, Savage said.

The news media also focused on the footage of the gunfire rather than what happened earlier, Savage said. Because Slager is white and Scott was black, racial themes also arose. In the wake of controversial police-involved deaths in Missouri and New York, Savage said the media had taken Slager's case, "crumbled it up and thrown it in with the rest."

"To say racism isn't alive and well in America in 2016 is a falsehood. To say there's no institutionalized racism in law enforcement is a falsehood," Savage said. "The national narrative is that white cops do bad things to black people. And you know what? I tend to agree with that. But every case needs to be judged on its own merit."

'Erase an opinion'

Savage has built a reputation in Charleston as the go-to guy for anyone charged with a crime — whether guilty or not. 

He defines his career as a defense attorney, though, not by pointing out the cases he has won, but by taking on clients who are less fortunate, less educated or in some other way less likely to have the means to beat the odds against them. Slager supported a pregnant wife and two stepchildren on the $43,000 salary he lost when he was fired, and he needed a good lawyer "very badly," Savage said.

When Slager's wife called his firm after the video surfaced, Savage took the case free of charge, knowing his firm would see a financial hit. Over the next year, he would hire some 55 experts to testify and do independent testing.

"It's been worth every penny," he said. "He's caught up in a national frenzy about very legitimate public concerns of why ... black males are being killed by law enforcement. ... It just does not belong."

Savage has become engrossed with Slager's case, perhaps more than any other in his career. It has consumed him, he said, and his personal predicament allowed that.

His body, ravaged by a hormone deficiency, made it hard for his immune system to fight off infection and, by mid-afternoon every day, he's usually exhausted. That's why he asked the presiding judge to limit Slager's trial to banker hours. He also had radiation treatments that warded off the cancer his doctors found.

His health problems stopped him from taking on new cases, so he became laser-focused on Slager's.

But the resulting task might be the greatest of career: to turn people's preconceived notion about the video on its head. Through focus groups, he said, he knows it's possible.

Evidence has surfaced recently in Slager's favor, including a state analysis indicating that two marks on the officer's uniform could have been caused by the Taser that Scott allegedly turned against him.

Savage draws parallels between the choice Slager made and the tough calls that football referees must make at the height of a play, without the benefit of instant replay. But he feels a tremendous weight, particularly the one posed by the video that has been replayed on websites and replayed in people's minds.

"In and of itself," he said of the footage, "that scares me.

"We're not just forming an opinion. We have to erase an opinion."

'Crying for some justice'

To many others, everything that Savage said went wrong in the handling of Scott's shooting death and Slager's arrest was what actually went right.

State Rep. Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Scott's loved ones, sees the case as a "prototype" for how the aftermath of officer-involved killings should play out — from Slager's prompt arrest, to a $6.5 million payment of the family's liability claim, to the community's response.

"The city was peaceful. People allowed the criminal justice system to run its course," the Orangeburg County Democrat said. "What we are going to see now is a test of that system. We are going to see whether or not — even with a video capturing an unjustified shooting — a family, a community will be able to get justice."

To Bamberg and local activists, no amount of evidence portraying Scott as a violent person who took the officer's Taser can excuse Slager shooting him in the back. If the jury in state court disagrees, he said, Slager can be prosecuted across the street at the federal courthouse, where he's charged with lying to investigators, violating Scott's civil rights and using a firearm to do so.

But some advocates, like James Johnson, state president of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, have heard speculation from younger community members that Slager will be acquitted. Such a result would be a "black mark" on the region and South Carolina, he said.

But he's confident that Slager will be convicted, he said, "because the video don't lie."

"The whole world will be looking at this trial," he said. "Charleston has already set an example for other communities to respond to tragedy on a nonviolent basis. ... But to be honest, I don't know what's going to happen. We don't want to see this city burn."

Like other observers across the country, Cara Rabe-Hemp watched the video of the shooting last year and thought it might be a "slam dunk" for prosecutors. But, as a criminal justice professor at Illinois State University, she continued to follow developments. Now, she is no longer sure, and she's "fearful" of the response from the segment of the community that has only one ideal outcome in mind.

Legal precedent, she said, instructs juries in police killings to decide whether an officer's actions were reasonable at the time, without the benefit of what we know now. If Slager's defense shows that Scott had the Taser before it fell, a jury could see Scott as a danger, fulfilling another requirement for a warranted use of force, Rabe-Hemp said.

Regardless, it won't be as simple as a video clip depicting 2.7 seconds of gunfire.

"The public is crying for some justice, and it really does appear to them that this is an open-and-shut case," the professor said. "But I just don't think it's going to be as straightforward as we all thought."

Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414 or

Andrew Knapp is editor of the Quick Response Team, which covers crime, courts and breaking news. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at Florida Today, Newsday and Bangor (Maine) Daily News. He enjoys golf, weather and fatherhood.