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Despite the Evidence, Civil Rights Leaders Say Slager Conviction Not Guaranteed
11/2/2016 5:58:05 PM

National Action Network State Coordinator Elder Johnson addresses the media at a press conference on Monday October 31 at Marion Square regarding upcoming trials that began this week in Charleston. Photo: Tolbert Smalls, Jr.
By Barney Blakeney

The trial for accused murderer Michael Slager began Monday with jury selection. Slager is charged with murder in the North Charleston police shooting death of unarmed Walter Scott on April 4, 2015. The incident was captured on video as Scott ran away from Slager after being stopped for a minor traffic violation. The City of North Charleston settled a $6.5 million wrongful death claim with Scott’s family the following October. North Charleston has paid for its responsibility in Scott’s death.

The question being asked is whether Slager will pay.

Scott’s death was captured on video as America reeled from incidents of the highly publicized deaths of three other unarmed black men by police and civilians acting as police. In 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Eric Garner was killed by New York police in July 2014 and a month later in August Michael Brown was killed by a policeman in Ferguson, Mo. The perpetrators involved in all three of the previous deaths were exonerated. Like Walter Scott’s death, Eric Garner’s death also was captured on video.

The world watched the video of Walter Scott’s death and has come to Charleston to view the trial of his accused murderer. North Charleston Branch NAACP President Ed Bryant said Monday a lot of people are here who want to insure that justice is served.

“Don’t start nothing, there won’t be nothing,” Bryant challenged. “We don’t want to see nothing slick. We know how jury selections go, how they’re often hand-picked. We want to see a trial that is fair across the board, with a jury that is racially diverse and is reflective of the local community. This is South Carolina. We know how witnesses and evidence disappears. The whole world has seen how Michael Slager shot that man five times in the back. All we want is for a straight, fair trial and for true justice to be served,” Bryant said.

Elder James Johnson, field coordinator of the South Carolina Chapter of the National Action Network, said despite public opinion, 12 jurors will decide Slager’s guilt or innocence. And he notes that the taped death of Eric Garner in New York did not produce a conviction. Slager’s trial, which is expected to last at least a week, could produce a hung jury, Johnson speculated.

And with Andy Savage, one of the nation’s most successful defense lawyers at the helm, unexpected twists might occur, Johnson predicts. Savage’s defense team already has tried to get charges against Slager dropped citing the potential for double jeopardy because the federal also plans to try the accused killer.

Regardless of the outcome of the current trial however, Johnson sees Slager’s upcoming federal trial early next year as another opportunity for a conviction.

Like Bryant of the NAACP, Johnson said his civil rights organization also will maintain a visible presence during the trial. But he’ll prepare for the worst. One juror could hang things up, he reminds.

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