By Barney Blakeney
Retired S.C. Circuit Court Judge Daniel E. Martin Sr. said Friday he thinks its highly probable North Charleston police officer Michael Slager will strike a plea bargain deal to avoid the death penalty or life in prison.
Slager has been charged with murder in the April 4 police shooting death of Walter Scott. Slager shot Scott after a traffic stop because of a faulty brake light. According to an initial police report made after the shooting, Slager called for backup during a foot pursuit before saying he had deployed his taser. Later he said shots had been fired and the suspect was down. Scott was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS paramedics.
Days later Slager was charged with murder after a video of the incident revealed he wantonly shot Scott in the back. The video shows Scott running away from Slager who draws his service weapon and fires eight times, striking Scott four times, as Scott runs away eventually falling after the final round struck him. Martin was asked to comment
on whether the charge of murder is appropriate.
Martin spent 10 years as an assistant solicitor in the Ninth Judicial Circuit after becoming the state’s first African American assistant solicitor. In 1974 he was elected to the South Carolina State Legislature where he served eight years. He was elected a circuit court judge in 1992 and served until his retirement in 2000 as one of 10 African Americans among the total 118 judges serving the South Carolina court system at the time.
Martin said Slager’s attorney Andy Savage, among the most capable defense lawyers in the country, is astute enough to transform Slager’s downward spiraling legal position into one salvageable in terms of receiving the death penalty or a life sentence.
Martin said a murder charge, which hinges on a presumption of malice or forethought, easily could be sustained against Slager. But a jury also likely would be asked to consider a conviction on the charge of manslaughter.
“There’s no problem establishing malice,” Martin predicts. But he thinks Savage is astute enough to bring other options to the table.
One of Charleston’s most successful defense attorneys, Savage has represented a slew of high profile clients including Qatari national Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri who spent 13 years in detention as an enemy combatant before being sent back to Qatar, investment fraud suspect Al Parrish and many defendants in capital cases. He is a former two term Charleston County Councilman and influential political figure.
Martin said the most important message the case brings to Blacks in Charleston is that it is essential they use their greatest weapons against criminal injustice - their ability to register to vote, identify credible candidates and vote them into offices.
“That puts people in power with the ability to change things,” he said.