What, if anything, could exonerate Michael T. Slager?

A Reasonable Doubt

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Like many of you, I watched the gripping docu-series "Making a Murderer" and found myself drawn in by the story of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, two men who were wrongly convicted of the murder of Wisconsin "Auto Trader" photographer Teresa Halbach, or at least that's what the Netflix show proposes. I too am incensed by what appears to a miscarriage of justice — and fascinated by the ways in which law enforcement and the court system not only failed, but seemingly conspired against these seemingly innocent men.

Slager - PROVIDED
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  • Slager
But as easy as it is for us to view this criminal case through the skeptical, if not accusatory, lens created by filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, it was in all likelihood just as easy for the police, the press, and the public of Manitowoc County, Wisc., to view both Avery and Dassey as a particularly twisted pair of psychotic individuals who brutally beat, raped, killed, dismembered, and burned a young, vivacious woman.

After all, a considerable amount of evidence — whether planted or not — points the finger at Avery. Couple that with the fact that Dassey confessed to the crime — whether coerced or not. In that way, the facts of the matter don't change. The truth, as originally understood, remains the same. It's only in hindsight, and a 10-hour docu-series, that anyone sees the possibility that perhaps what they believed to be the real story was in fact a figment of their collective imagination, an illusion that they saw thanks to a sinister spell cast by the state.

In light of all the new attention brought to this crime by Ricciardi and Demos' exhaustive and exhausting and exasperating investigation, I can imagine that it's uncomfortable for the people of Manitowoc County to come to grips with the fact that they may have been trolled by the Manitowoc County Sherif's Department and a complicit prosecution. No one likes to be played, and it seems that in the case of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, that's what happened.

Which brings us to the Walter Scott shooting and the upcoming trial of North Charleston Police officer Michael T. Slager. 

This week, Slager was released on a $500,000 bond and placed under house arrest, much to the dismay of the community, not to mention the Scott family. After all, we have seen the video footage of Slager firing round after round into the body of Scott as he fled on foot away from the officer. It's crystal clear what happened. Or is it?

That's the question being proposed by Slager's attorney Andy Savage, a local superstar lawyer who also represents members of the Emanuel AME Church, an association that seems odd considering the racially charged nature of both the Slager and Dylann Roof cases. According to Savage, footage exists showing the moments leading up to the events in the heart-breaking video that will exonerate Slager, and while I doubt there’s anything truly there, the potential jury members in his trial must be open to the possibility.

And so the question arises: Exactly what new evidence will lead a jury to draw the conclusion that Michael T. Slager is innocent of murdering Walter Scott?

Let's start with the most obvious: Savage's heavily touted video must show Scott brutally assaulting Slager. It can't be a minor scuffle in which Scott wrestles with the officer, punches him a few times, snatches his tazer, and flees. It must be a berserker rage — Scott may or may not reach for the officer's gun — and there must be photos of the resulting cuts and bruises on Slager's body to prove it. Any verbal threats on the video from Scott directed to Slager must also be of a dramatically threatening nature.

Savage will also have to show that Scott posed a significant threat to the community at large in order to provide justification for Slager's need to shoot an unarmed man in the back. I'm not really sure how this will be demonstrated. Perhaps there is some recorded interaction that indicates such, verbal or otherwise, but if I had to bet, I would assume that Savage and company will argue that Scott was under the influence of drugs; after all, cocaine was reportedly found in his system. But then again, we're talking about cocaine here, not PCP or bath salts or any of a number of unholy concoctions that will turn a normal man into a drug-crazed zombie straight out of "28 Days Later." Added points if Slager has bite marks. And I say that not the least bit in jest.

While Slager will likely offer some sort of statement that he feared or even had cause to believe Scott had a gun, the officer must offer up some concrete reason why this was the case. And for that to happen, there must be some item in Scott's possession that, at least for the briefest of seconds, appeared to be a gun or which in the tussle on the ground felt to Slager as if it was a gun. The existence of an actual gun is irrelevant to Slager's case — especially since there is no indication that there was one around other than the one in the officer's possession. All that matters is that Savage can argue that there was a concrete reason — an actual object of some sort that jury members can visualize as being mistaken for a gun — to bolster any argument that Slager may put forth that he reasonably feared for his life and the lives of others. 

We also can't ignore the possibility that whatever information about Scott or his passenger that Slager retrieved indicated that the victim, or his passenger, was a either a threat or a potential threat. Maybe there is a comment over the scanner that we haven't heard or maybe information from the computer in Slager's vehicle states such a thing. It is conceivable that Slager was fed bad information, either unintentionally or intentionally. Murphy's Law affects us all.

And now, it's time to go down the rabbit hole. What if Michael T. Slager has been framed? What if there is bad blood between Slager and another officer with access to alter records or who had the ability to either provide directly or indirectly faulty information to Slager? What if there is an officer in the North Charleston Police Department or at county dispatch who had a grudge against Scott and/or Slager? What if this person or persons was motivated to frame not one, but two men, for crimes that only through careful orchestrations and manipulations he, she, or they put in place, and for no other reason then to cover up some previous misdeed or slight or embarrassment?

None of those are likely. But if "Making a Murderer" has taught us anything, absolute certainty is the most dangerous weapon in the criminal justice world while the power of suggestion is enough to cause seemingly reasonable people to dismiss all reasonable evidence that a guilty party did in fact commit the crime of which they have been accused.




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