The mistrial in the Michael Slager murder trial should not be viewed as justice denied, but as an example of how the justice system must sometimes assiduously work. There will soon be another opportunity for the solicitor to bring the former North Charleston policeman back into the courtroom, for evidence to be heard again, and for a jury to sit in judgment.
There is a broad sense of disappointment and frustration, even anguish, over the lack of resolution in the case, which began with the shooting death of Walter Scott in April 2015. It assumed national significance with the emergence of a cellphone video that captured the terrible event.
The jury voted by an 11-1 margin to convict Mr. Slager on Friday, but additional indecision among jurors is cited in our report today. Extended efforts to make the verdict unanimous were finally abandoned on Monday afternoon. The lack of unanimity sends the case “back to square one,” as S.C. Circuit Judge Clifton Newman put it in declaring a mistrial.
Mr. Scott was shot five times in the back by Mr. Slager after the two men struggled and Mr. Scott, who was unarmed, attempted to flee on foot, following a traffic stop for a broken brake light. The shooting was captured by a bystander on his cellphone.
Mr. Slager has been charged with murder. But the jury was also given the option of voluntary manslaughter by Judge Newman. Mr. Slager claimed self-defense, saying he feared for his life during the struggle with Mr. Scott.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson praised the jury for its conscientiousness and personal sacrifice, though acknowledging that she couldn’t “overstate our disappointment that this case was not resolved.”
And she praised the Scott family for setting “an example to this community” with the “dignity and grace” they have shown during the long ordeal. The cellphone video was central to the trial, and was repeatedly analyzed, frame by frame, during the proceedings, with members of Mr. Scott’s family in attendance.
Judge Newman described the jury’s deliberations as a “valiant effort,” while observing that the requirement of unanimity is “the way the system works.”
As this painful case returns to trial, the community should remain confident of a resolution that will finally see justice served.