Federal prosecutors oppose statewide jury pool for upcoming trial of Michael Slager

Government requests local jury for federal trial

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Michael Slager's faces a retrial for state charges in March followed by a federal trial in May - GRACE BEAHN/POST AND COURIER
  • Grace Beahn/Post and Courier
  • Michael Slager's faces a retrial for state charges in March followed by a federal trial in May
Federal prosecutors are opposing a motion from Michael Slager and his attorneys to draw from a statewide jury pool. The former North Charleston officer has pleaded not guilty to Slager charges of deprivation of rights under the color of law, use of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, and obstruction of justice in the killing of Walter Scott. With his federal trial set to begin May 1, prosecutors hope to select a jury from the Charleston and Beaufort areas.

Following one of the most high-profile trials in South Carolina’s recent history, Slager’s state murder trial ended in deadlock as jurors were unable to reach a unanimous decision regarding his guilt. Now, attorneys representing Slager in federal court cite the massive public attention the case has received as justification to look outside of the Charleston area for a fair and impartial jury.

“To ensure the efficient selection of impartial jurors, Mr. Slager respectfully requests the court find that, due to the extensive pretrial publicity in this case, the services of a district-wide petit jury is required,” states a motion filed by Slager’s attorneys earlier this month.

Slager was captured on eyewitness video shooting Walter Scott after Scott fled from a traffic stop for a non-functioning taillight. Attorney Andy Savage, who is representing Slager in both state and federal trials, has argued that Scott was able to wrestle Slager’s Taser away from the officer during a brief struggle. Claiming he feared for his life, Slager said he fired the fatal shots after Scott approached him with the weapon.

The video of the shooting begins just moments after the struggle and shows Scott turning his back to Slager and fleeing before being shot five times from behind.
The release of the eyewitness video just days after Scott’s death called into question major details in the former officer’s account of what happened that day and drew national attention. Federal prosecutors, however, argue that the extensive publicity that the case has received does not justify a statewide jury pool.

“Admittedly, although this case has received extensive media coverage, pre-trial publicity has not been limited to the Charleston and Beaufort area,” states a motion filed by prosecutors Tuesday. “There has been extensive statewide and national coverage. There is no evidence to suggest that the extent of publicity in the Charleston and Beaufort area exceeds that in the remaining areas of our state.”

Attorneys for the government also say that enough safeguards are in place during the jury-selection process to guarantee Slager an unbiased jury and point to the extensive travel time and court cost that could possibly arise from selecting jurors from across the state to participate in the trial set to take place in a Charleston courtroom.

“For example, if a district-wide juror was selected from Pickens County to serve in the instant action in Charleston County, that juror would need to endure an eight-hour round trip each day of trial or be provided with lodging, in both instances generating additional court costs,” states the motion from federal prosecutors. “These costs are unnecessary given Defendant’s failure to demonstrate good cause.”

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