CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The judge in the Michael Slager trial said Wednesday the jury will have the option to consider a charge of voluntary manslaughter as an alternative to the murder charge Slager faces in the shooting of a motorist.
Slager shot and killed Walter Scott, the man who fled a traffic stop, on April 4, 2015. Slager claims it was self-defense.
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Slager was charged with murder when cellphone video of the shooting recorded by a passerby was made public.
If convicted of the murder charge, Slager would face 30 years to life. However, a conviction of voluntary manslaughter would carry a penalty of two to 30 years.
Judge Clifton Newman also allowed the jury to leave the court to view the scene of the Walter Scott shooting, instructing jurors not to discuss the case with anyone, including each other, explaining that the purpose of the trip was only to observe the scene. Newman said one representative of both the defense and the prosecution will accompany jurors but members of the media will not.
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Closing arguments are slated to begin on Wednesday when the jury returns from the scene of the shooting.
The defense wrapped its case Tuesday after Slager himself took the stand followed by additional defense witnesses. Slager teared-up twice on the stand: once, telling the jury he missed the birth of his child from being in jail; the other, while saying how scared he was of Scott.
Slager testified he has not been the same since the shooting and said his mind was like spaghetti from running and chasing after Scott.
"I was happy April 4th because Easter was the next day and I had off for a few days," Slager said. "Spent time with my family, and... after April 4 it's been a roller coaster can't sleep nightmares. My family has been destroyed by this, the Scott family has been destroyed by this, it's horrible."
Slager told authorities he shot at Scott after the man ran from his vehicle and then took hold of the officer's Taser in a struggle on a yellow-paved lot in Charleston Farms, repeatedly called a high-crime area of North Charleston.
Slager testified that he was going to give Scott a warning ticket for a broken taillight when Scott ran from his car. Slager testified that after Scott ran, Slager fired his Taser several times. He said at some point, both of them wound up on the ground and Scott grabbed Slager's Taser.
"And he takes the Tazer out of my hand with such force, it comes out of my hand, and then I see him with the Tazer in his hand and I see him spin it around," Slager said. "That's the only thing I see is that Tazer coming at me, I see that barrel, it's like this big, coming at me and I knew I was in trouble, I knew I had to call backup, I needed back up, I knew I was being overpowered."
Slager said during the struggle he realized Scott was much stronger than he was. Slager, choking back tears, says he felt "total fear" when Scott pointed the weapon at him.
Slager said he tried to get Scott to listen to his commands several times before the struggle and the shooting. Slager said he handcuffed Scott after the shooting because Slager didn't know if he hit Scott or if Scott tripped.
Prosecutors accused Slager of changing his story about the chase. During cross-examination, prosecutors again showed the cellphone video and asked Slager if it didn't show the Taser on the ground just before the shooting. Slager replied that at the time of the shooting he would have said the weapon was not on the ground, but that looking at the video can see that it was.
When asked about the video, Slager says he doesn't remember certain things, because it all happened so quickly.