The state's retrial of former police officer Michael Slager has been set Thursday for March 1, two months before a federal civil rights proceeding is slated to begin.
Slager's first murder trial in Walter Scott's shooting death ended earlier this month in a mistrial, but 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson vowed to retry him promptly. It was unclear until Thursday, though, how soon that might happen.
After a deadlocked jury couldn't decide whether to convict Slager, 35, of murder or voluntary manslaughter, or to acquit him, the focus shifted to the separate case in U.S. District Court, where the former North Charleston patrolman is charged with violating Scott's civil rights, lying to authorities and using a firearm in a violent crime. A federal judge last week set the trial's start date at May 1 after discussions with prosecutors and Slager's defense team.
Wilson, meanwhile, expressed hope that the state's retrial would be scheduled "sooner rather than later."
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman's order setting the March start date came late Thursday afternoon.
State Rep. Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Scott’s family, said he was not surprised by the move.
“Scarlett Wilson and her team said they were ready to go again,” he said. “It looks like they’ll have their opportunity. We’re looking forward to it.”
Slager's lead attorney, Andy Savage, said Thursday that he was focused on personal matters. Savage had said in an interview after the mistrial that the holidays would be a time for reflection on the defense case. At the time, he said he expected the next trial to unfold in federal court.
"Hopefully," he said, "it’ll be over in 2017."
Wilson said she and her team are "reinvigorated" for the second attempt.
"As I’ve said consistently, we will be ready for trial whenever the court calls," she said after Newman issued the scheduling order. "The Scott family is anxious for justice, as are we."
Slager remains charged with murder and is free on bail while awaiting the second trial.
He pulled over Scott's car April 4, 2015, for a broken brake light. Scott stopped, but he soon ran. Slager tried to subdue Scott with a Taser, but the officer said the 50-year-old suspect refused to stop. They fought, the lawman would later testify, and Scott grabbed his stun gun, trying to use it against him. Slager said he fired in self-defense and kept firing until the threat he saw was eliminated.
But an eyewitness, Feidin Santana, filmed the gunfire, offering a different perspective. His footage showed the Taser bouncing on the ground — though Slager said he didn't know that at the time — and Scott running away as Slager opened fire. Five of the eight bullets from Slager's gun hit Scott from behind.
Slager was arrested on the murder charge when the video emerged publicly three days later. He was indicted on the federal charges this spring. In each case, he could face life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him.
But Wilson, the state prosecutor, said the elements of the federal charges are simpler than her murder case. She had hoped the federal authorities would bring a speedier trial, she said, but "scheduling can get complicated."