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Judge upholds 20-year prison sentence for ex-South Carolina officer who killed black man

COLUMBIA, SC – A judge on Monday upheld a 20-year prison sentence for former police officer Michael Slager in the murder of Walter Scott, a black man who fled a traffic stop in South Carolina, dismissing claims by Slager that his lawyer did a bad job.

Slager had appealed his conviction, saying his lawyer never told him about a plea offer from prosecutors that could have cut years off his possible prison sentence for shooting Scott five times in the back. .

But Federal Judge Richard Gergel wrote in his ruling on Monday that he believed Slager’s attorney Andy Savage, who said in 2017 court documents that he informed his client of every plea offer. Slager testified at a hearing last week that he was unaware of prosecutors’ initial deal.

Slager’s 20-year sentence was one of the longest in recent memory for a police officer for a murder on duty.

Slager pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge for shooting an unarmed Scott five times in the back on April 4, 2015. Slager had arrested the 50-year-old black motorist for a broken brake light during their confrontation. captured on video from a viewer’s cellphone which then spread around the world on social media.

During the encounter, the two could be seen falling to the ground after Slager hit Scott with a Taser. Authorities said their investigation revealed Scott got up and was shot at a distance of about 15 feet as he fled from the officer.

The shooting itself was captured on video, something Slager was unaware of when he initially told investigators Scott had accused him after stealing his Taser.

“During the sentencing, the petitioner tried to blame the victim. Now he’s trying to blame his defense attorney and the trial judge. But a close examination of this whole tragic episode makes it clear that Petitioner has no one to blame for his current situation and grief, except himself, ”Gergel wrote.

Savage is one of South Carolina’s most accomplished attorneys and at the time also represented a black church member whose life was spared in a racist massacre that killed nine people at a Charleston church in 2015, two months after Slager’s arrest.

Slager’s new lawyers haven’t questioned his guilt, just a conviction that federal prison records show will keep him behind bars until 2033.

While Slager pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation, the length of his sentence depended on how Federal Judge David Norton interpreted the shooting. If this was intentional homicide committed in the heat of passion, the sentencing guidelines meant Slager could have faced as little as seven years.

But Norton ruled the shooting amounted to second degree murder because Slager fired nine rounds in total and lied that Scott stole his Taser.

Savage said in court documents as part of Slager’s appeal that he had not informed the ex-officer of the potential plea deal offered eight months previously due to a conversation he had had with Norton at a private meeting on public funding for Slager’s defense, where the judge said it “isn’t a murder case.”

Savage believed Norton was going to rule this as a manslaughter case where the top end of the sentencing guidelines was eight years in prison, almost four years younger than the party lower of the prosecution’s offer. He recommended Slager to plead guilty without the deal.

Savage never asked Norton for clarity. In court documents from Slager’s appeal, Norton said he was discussing Slager’s murder trial which had already taken place and ended in a dismissal of the trial.

Savage testified at last week’s hearing that his promises in previous court documents that he shared all plea deals with Slager in court documents filed before the final plea were true.

The murder charge against Slager State was dropped as part of the federal plea deal. He could have faced life in prison if convicted on this charge and his lawyers said Slager wanted to spend his sentence in federal prison where he believed he would be safer than in a state prison. .

Gergel praised Savage and his fellow lawyers in his ruling for being “zealous lawyers” and said their work that led to a four-day sentencing hearing that cost nearly $ 100,000 in taxpayer dollars “far exceeded a minimum acceptable performance standard and showed elements of originality and creativity in the face of a discouraging set of facts.”

In the end, even a great lawyer couldn’t get over the video of Slager shooting a runner’s back nine times and lying about it, Gergel said.

“Lawyers are lawyers, not magicians, and they couldn’t do away with this damning evidence,” Gergel wrote.

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