MISTRIAL: Walter Scott family says they, solicitor ready to try murder case again
Justice delayed. That’s how attorney Chris Stewart described the hung jury moments after a mistrial was declared in the murder trial of Michael Slager for the shooting death of Walter Scott during a traffic stop and foot chase last year.
It’s what Stewart, who along with Justin Bamberg represents the Scott family, described the outcome of the five-week trial as a missed opportunity.
“The fight isn’t over. That was round one,” Stewart said, adding the case would be tried again. “But if you thought that we were going to come out here crying or weeping or weak, you don’t know the Scott family who have become my family.”
Stewart even said Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told him a day earlier she was ready to try the case again immediately, and would work to get it scheduled. It’s a sentiment Wilson echoed to the jurors after the mistrial was declared as she thanked them for their service.
Wilson told the 12-person jury she was disappointed they did not reach a verdict, but said she did not find fault with the panel. And she urged them not to listen to the public who might criticize them for their efforts.
She called the jurors “remarkable.”
Wilson also released a statement shortly before 5 p.m.
When defense attorney Andy Savage addressed the same group, he thanked them for upholding the rule of law by not considering the circumstances or the people involved, but they focused on the law, as Judge Clifton Newman directed.
“And you have done that. And I thank you,” Savage said.
Outside the courthouse, the Scott family gathered with their attorneys for a brief press conference and field questions from local and national members of the media.
Judy Scott, Walter’s mother and the woman who has been held up as the family’s religious backbone, said she was not sad after the mistrial was declared.
“I fear not. Y’all hear me? It’s not over ’til God says it’s over!” she said, her voice raising in volume as she spoke. “Jesus is on the inside and I know justice will be served.”
Bamberg, asked whether he was disappointed, said this was only a step in the whole process.
“Yeah, we wished the outcome may have been different but at the end of the day this is just another step in the process. We all know that at the end of the day, justice will be had,” Bamberg said. “The one thing that we’ve learned throughout this entire process is that it doesn’t really matter how many times you get knocked down. Just make sure you land on your back because if you can look up, you can get up.”
Anthony Scott, Walter’s brother who has been most outspoken over the last 18 months, thanked Charleston for sticking by the Scott family through the process.
“It didn’t turn out the way we feel, but we feel like our voices need to be heard, and we need to let the nation know we’re not happy but we’re not sad because we know that God has it,” Scott said.
The Scott family has urged people to remain calm throughout the process, from the shooting and arrest of Slager to the start of the trial. Again on Monday, Scott urged peaceful protest.
He also said he felt for the Slager family, specifically mentioning the baby boy just added for the former officer’s family.
“I do feel for that baby boy, and I do feel for his family, but you know, he gets to spend Christmas with his family. He gets to go home at night with his family,” Scott said.
“Me and my family will never see Walter never again. We have to live with the fact that Walter got gunned down, shot in the back eight times. We have to live with his video being played over and over again across the world.”
Scott said he was ready to continue the legal process, with the solicitor in state court and then again in federal court where Slager faces civil rights violations charges.
That sentiment was echoed by Gov. Nikki Haley, who also called for continued peace.
“It is my understanding that there will be, as quickly as possible, a new trial where the Scott family and all of South Carolina will hopefully receive the closure that a verdict brings. Justice is not always immediate, but we must all have faith that it will be served — I certainly do,” she said in a statement.
“I urge South Carolinians — in Charleston and across our state — to continue along the path we have walked these last two years: a path of grace, faith, love and understanding. That is who we are, and who I know we will continue to be.”
The mistrial came after nearly 23 hours of deliberations and a reissue of charges in simplified language.
In a letter apparently written by one juror and signed by the foreman, the jurors asked a series of questions:
- Why was voluntary manslaughter offered?
- What is sufficient legal provocation?
- What is imminent danger?
- Define forethought in murder, is there a time limit? Is one second enough time or does it have to be longer?
- Does self defense apply to police the same as an ordinary person?
Savage again requested a mistrial, citing the letter sent Friday by another juror who said he could not vote guilty. He pointed to the letter saying it seems more have left their positions and are undecided. Wilson said she was preparing a draft response to hand to the court for consideration.
Newman denied the motion for mistrial again, and said he would give the attorneys a chance to answer the questions if they want. Newman said the court had an obligation to answer questions if the jury can break its deadlock and reach a verdict.
The group broke for the weekend after telling Newman they could not come to a unanimous decision only to then agree that a clarification on the law would help them.
At the time, the jury foreman, the only black member of the panel, said jurors were split 11–1 in favor of guilt. It’s not clear whether they were considering Slager guilty of murder or the added charge of manslaughter.
Last week, the jury asked for the difference between passion and fear, what many considered to be a sign they were considering manslaughter or a self-defense finding.
The lone holdout wrote a letter to the judge on Friday, an unorthodox move since juries almost always communicate through the foreperson, saying he could not “in good conscience” vote for a guilty sentence but could not tell the Walter Scott family Slager was innocent in the fatal shooting.
Slager was charged with murder after cellphone video of the fatal shooting was released by Scott’s family.
Slager pulled Scott over for a broken taillight, and during that stop Scott ran. The defense contends there was a ground fight and Scott gained control of Slager’s Taser.
Prosecutors say Slager was in no danger because Scott was running from the officer at the time of the shooting. Both sides agree Scott was at least 17 feet away from Slager when he fired the first shot.