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South Carolina Police Officer Faces Sentencing In 2015 Shooting

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week, we learn the penalty for a police shooting. In 2015, an officer pulled over Walter Scott in South Carolina. Michael Slager, a white police officer, shot and killed the unarmed black man as he ran away. The incident was caught on video, which, we should warn you, we are about to hear. Slager's murder trial ended with a hung jury. He later pleaded guilty to reduced federal charges. And this week, he will be sentenced. South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen reports from Charleston.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

VICTORIA HANSEN, BYLINE: Eight shots heard across the nation have not silenced the debate. Was it murder, manslaughter or self-defense? Michael Slager pleaded guilty to violating Walter Scott's civil rights, which carries anywhere from no prison time to life. Prosecutors want nothing less than life. Defense attorney Andy Savage says they're overzealous, eager to make an example of his 36-year-old client following a number of officer-involved, racially charged killings.

ANDREW SAVAGE: They figure that this is going to be their only opportunity with a video of somebody being shot as they're running away, and they can determine that to be murder.

HANSEN: Prosecutors have declined to comment. But in court documents they say, Slager committed, murder obstructed justice and lied to investigators, and by claiming self-defense, they say, he's not accepting responsibility as part of his plea deal.

SAVAGE: He's always accepted responsibility for that. That's what I think people have missed in part of this story is that from day one he regretted that he took somebody's life.

HANSEN: Savage insists Slager acted out of fear. He wants the court to consider the victim's behavior, saying he fled on foot after a traffic stop, wrestled with the officer and took his taser. The family says they just want justice. Here's their attorney, Justin Bamberg.

JUSTIN BAMBERG: You want him to be punished for what he did, but you also want the sentence to serve as a deterrent. If other people don't learn that you cannot do the things that he did, then did Walter died in vain?

HANSEN: Former South Carolina attorney general Charlie Condon has been following the case. He says the sentencing, which begins today and could last several days, is like a mini-trial, that the judge will have to decide.

CHARLIE CONDON: It has this mix of emotion and potentially novel legal issues. And you also have the national spotlight that will be on Judge Norton relative to sentencing.

HANSEN: Local civil rights groups will keep watch and are planning to rally outside the courthouse. For NPR News, I'm Victoria Hansen in Charleston, S.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED SNAPPER'S "4 DEAD MONKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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