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Ex-officer’s plea satisfies family, alleviates trial burden

Judy Scott, third from right, holds her son Rodney Scott's hand as family members and attorneys wait in the courtyard before speaking to the media after a plea hearing for Michael Slager, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, in Charleston, S.C. Slager, a white former police officer whose killing of an unarmed Walter Scott running from a traffic stop was captured on cellphone video pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal civil rights charges that could send him to prison for decades. Michael Pronzato/ The Post and Courier/The Post And Courier via AP)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — It’s now up to a judge to decide the fate of a fired white officer who pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of a black motorist whose killing was recorded on a bystander’s cellphone. Michael Slager could get life in prison or as little as probation.

But prosecutors and the family of Walter Scott praised the plea agreement, because while Slager’s sentence remains uncertain, his admission of guilt is secure.

Some of Scott’s relatives are hoping Slager will be imprisoned for life by U.S. District Judge David Norton, a veteran jurist who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

But Judy Scott said the simple fact that Slager has admitted guilt is allowing her to finally think of the future without her son.

“I miss him dearly, and I thank God for justice,” Judy Scott said. “This is just the beginning. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The deal closes both the state and federal cases against Slager, who accepted responsibility for the most severe federal charge he faced. In exchange, South Carolina prosecutors dropped efforts to retry him for murder after a hung jury in his first trial.

The deal gives Scott’s family the peace of mind they need to finally move forward, two years after the shooting death, without having to live through another trial, another appeal, another chance to see their loved one’s killer in court.

“Now it’s being resolved with certainty that he will be going to prison, and it will be for a conviction,” said Rene Josey, a former U.S. Attorney in South Carolina, now in private practice, saying it’s assumed Slager will serve time given his immediate transport to jail following the plea. “Victims won’t have to go to trial anymore. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

Slager vigorously objected to the murder charge in the monthlong state trial that ended in a hung jury last year. He testified that he feared for his life after the unarmed man tried to grab his stun gun.

The video, seen around the world, shows the 50-year-old Scott running from Slager, getting about 17 feet from him before the officer fired eight times at his back. Scott then crumples to the ground. Five of the bullets hit his body.

The plea formally entered Tuesday likely means Slager and his attorneys felt the federal government’s case against him was strong. It came weeks after the judge ruled that the video would be allowed as evidence at trial.

The chilling video added fuel to the Black Lives Matter movement and has been seized on by many as proof of what African-Americans have argued for years: that white officers too often use deadly force unnecessarily against black people.

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Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Reach her at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.

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