Judge considers arguments to dismiss murder charge, assign public defender for Michael Slager

Retrial set for August

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Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager stands alongside attorneys for the defense and prosecution in a Charleston courtroom on Nov. 3 - GRACE BEAHM/POST & COURIER
  • Grace Beahm/Post & Courier
  • Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager stands alongside attorneys for the defense and prosecution in a Charleston courtroom on Nov. 3
Several key matters surrounding the state retrial of Michael Slager remain undecided following a brief hearing Tuesday. Who will ultimately represent the former officer charged with the death of Walter Scott, as well as if the state trial will even take place, is now up to Circuit Judge Clifton Newman.

Slager, whose first murder trial ended with a hung jury, has requested the help of a public defender heading into his retrial. Circuit Public Defender Ashley Pennington addressed the court during Tuesday’s hearing, telling the judge that Slager says he meets the financial criteria for public assistance. According to Pennington, Slager has been supported by substantial gifts from family members since he was fired from the North Charleston Police Department after eyewitness video surfaced of Scott’s shooting.

This second attempt to acquire the services of a public defender in this case has called into question what role Slager’s lead defense attorney, Andy Savage, will play in his upcoming trial. With Savage having represented Slager pro bono up to this point, Pennington told the judge Tuesday that Savage would be replaced as the lead attorney, but remain a part of the defense team.

According to Pennington, completely dismissing Savage would be akin to starting from square one for the public defenders office and risk the defense’s ability to meet current deadlines set for the August trial. Instead, Pennington said that Savage would be placed on retainer to assist the defense team for a modest fee.

Judge Newman is also considering the defense’s argument to dismiss the murder charge against Slager based on the double jeopardy clause. Attorneys for Slager argue that based on jury comments during deliberation and media interviews following the trial, it is clear that jurors were unanimous in their decision to reject the charge of murder and were instead deadlocked on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. An attorney for the prosecution argued Tuesday that the comments by jurors during interviews following the trial are not admissible in court.

While these important matters related to the case remain unresolved, attorneys on both sides have reached an agreement on several issues. A motion previously filed by the defense requesting the list of incentives that the government may have provided shooting eyewitness Feidin Santana was addressed in court during Tuesday’s hearing.

The defense has questioned whether certain promises made to Santana, who filmed the cellphone video depicting Scott’s death and calling into question key parts of Slager’s account of the shooting, could have led to bias on Santana’s part as a witness in the trial. Savage told Judge Newman that he had been provided with documents related to that request on Tuesday.

Slager also faces a federal civil rights trial that is scheduled to begin in May. A pretrial hearing in the case is scheduled for this Friday.

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