Slager, the white police officer whose video-recorded killing of an unarmed black motorist in North Charleston, S.C., starkly illustrated the turmoil over racial bias in USA policing, was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison, after the judge in the case ruled that the shooting had been a murder.
The death of Walter Scott in April 2015 was one of the most shocking in a series of high-profile U.S. police shootings, often involving minorities, that have deepened tensions and added to distrust between officers and the communities they serve. Slager followed and used a taser to stun Scott.
Slager pulled Walter Scott over for a broken light. Scott fled the scene, afraid because he owed child support payments, according to his family. "The defense wants to get a reduced sentence while continuing to claim that this was all Scott's fault". But video footage of the incident taken by a witness shows Slager shooting Scott in the back as he sprinted away from the officer.
A bystander's cellphone video didn't capture the struggle but did show Slager firing into Scott as he was running away. Slager could be seen pulling out his handgun and opening fire.
"Michael Slager admitted what he did", Judy Scott, the victim's mother, said outside the courthouse after the plea hearing in May. Eyewitness video of the incident quickly viral, shining a national spotlight on the case.
Slaged pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights offense.
U.S. District Judge David Norton had to decide whether Michael Slager's shooting of Walter Scott in April 2015 was manslaughter or murder before he sentences the ex-officer.
Judy Scott on Thursday turned toward Michael Slager and said her faith in God gives her the ability to forgive him for killing her son, Walter Scott.
On Thursday, the fourth day of the sentencing proceedings, Norton said he had concluded that the killing should be considered murder.
"Judging by the history and characteristics of the defendant, he has lived a spotless life", Norton said before adding that, "Just punishment is in the eye of the beholder".
"It was so surreal that this happened that morning", said Walter Scott's mom, Judy, while holding back tears.
"Your honor, I miss my dad so much I can't sleep at night", he said. "I didn't know anyone who didn't like him".
A defense attorney says a white former SC law officer should be sentenced on the low end of guidelines being considered by a federal judge. That case ended in a mistrial, however. State prosecutors were set to retry him earlier this year, but as part of a plea agreement, Slager pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights violation for using excessive force and SC agreed to drop the murder charge.