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Defense attorney Donald McCune and expert witness Eugene Liscio demonstrate the positions of Michael Slager and Walter Scott following a struggle
For the defense in the trial of Michael Slager, the former North Charleston officer's guilt or innocence comes down to a matter of inches and seconds.
Throughout the trial, Slager’s attorneys have continually tried to convince jurors that the patrolman considered his life to be in danger when he opened fire on Walter Scott. Slager claims that following a struggle, Scott was able to gain control of the officer’s Taser as the two pulled themselves up from the ground. While an eyewitness video of the shooting shows Scott fleeing when he was shot in the back five times, the defense has asked that the jury consider what happened April 4, 2015, not from the perspective of the camera, but through the eyes of Michael Slager.
The fourth week in the trial concluded with testimony from Eugene Liscio, who specializes in creating three-dimensional reconstructions of crime scenes. Using scans taken of the scene of the shooting, as well as images from the eyewitness video, Liscio was able to virtually walk the jury from the parking lot where Slager stopped Scott’s 1991 Mercedes-Benz for a non-functioning brake light to the point where Slager pulled his firearm.
Liscio compared individual frames from the video to the three-dimension scans taken by SLED agents in the weeks following the shooting to pinpoint where the two men were standing after the struggle and when Slager opened fire. Stepping toward the jury, lead prosecutor Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson stood with her arms crossed in front a large monitor as the expert witness walked the courtroom through his presentation. Switching from the cellphone video of the shooting to an interactive rendering of the moment Slager opened fire, Liscio zoomed in on the isolated image of two figures — one standing with his arms out in front of him, pistol drawn, the other highlighted in yellow with his back turned running. This was the moment that the first shot was fired.
Grace Beahm/Post and Courier
Expert witness Eugene Liscio's digital recreation of Michael Slager and Walter Scott at the time Slager opened fire
“What is the distance you computed, or can you compute here between these two? Why don’t you measure from center torso to center torso?” defense attorney Donald McCune asked the witness. Liscio estimates Scott and Slager were 18 feet apart at the time the officer first pulled the trigger, placing the men approximately one foot farther apart than previously suggested by witnesses for the prosecution. But the defense chose to draw the jury’s attention to another key point depicted in the video and Liscio’s recreation.
Cycling back through the video to the moment where Scott is shown pulling away from Slager — the officer’s left hand grabbing Scott’s arm, his right hand reaching for his pistol — Liscio was asked to assess the distance between the two men at that point, which he measured to be 27 inches. As for Slager’s Taser, Liscio said it can be seen tumbling to the ground behind the officer.
Through his own interpretation of the video and the trajectory of the Taser, Liscio told the court that it is likely the weapon was thrown at a time when Slager’s hands appear to be clutching Scott and his holster. During cross examination, the prosecution asked Liscio to clarify his testimony on whether or not he believes Scott was responsible for throwing the Taser.
“What I’m suggesting is, if you look at the position of where the Taser is, its motion, if you look at the position of officer Slager or where he’s pointing to or where he’s directing his fire to, if he had stepped back and kicked it, it would have gone in a different direction,” Liscio said. “If he had thrown it with his hand, it has to be physically consistent, so if somebody throws a Taser down, I would have expected at that point to see officer Slager’s hand in a down position or something to that effect — not with his elbow up. There are other possibilities. You can eliminate other things that maybe Mr. Scott did, but I would say it’s the most likely or maybe the physical evidence points back to it being thrown.”
Closing out questioning on Wednesday, attorneys for both the prosecution and defense chose to look beyond the witness’s three-dimensional renderings, instead choosing to once again bring out a a simple tape measure. With Wilson holding one end, Liscio was asked to measure out 18 feet, stretching the tape from where the jury was seated to the defense table. He continued to step farther and farther away as the solicitor called out the estimated distances from which the subsequent shots were fired.
Not to be outdone, McCune later stood face to face with Liscio as the two measured out 27 inches — the distance between Scott and Slager when the Taser can be seen falling to the ground.
“Twenty-seven inches is 27 inches right? And 1.5 seconds is 1.5 seconds?” McCune asked Liscio, reminding jurors of the time it took Slager to open fire after Scott pulled away.