April 19, 2021

Judge reserves ex-cop’s 20-year sentence for murdering a black man

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – A judge on Monday upheld a 20-year sentence for former police officer Michael Slager in the murder of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who ran away from a South Carolina traffic stop and dismissed Slager’s claims from his attorney. it’s bad.

Butcher had appealed his sentence, saying his attorney never told him about a plea from prosecutors that could have shortened his eventual jail time for shooting Scott five times in the back.

But federal judge Richard Gergel wrote in his ruling Monday that he believed Butcher’s attorney, Andy Savage, who said in court papers when Savage pleaded guilty in 2017 that he had told his client about every plea. Butcher testified at a hearing last week that he knew nothing about prosecutors’ original deal.

Butcher’s 20-year sentence was one of the longest in recent memory for a police officer for murder on duty.

Butcher pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge for shooting Scott five times in the back on April 4, 2015. Butcher had pulled the 50-year-old black motorist in front of a broken brake light when their confrontation was captured on a cell phone video of a bystander that later spread worldwide on social media.

The encounter featured the two tumbling to the ground after Butcher hit Scott with a Taser. Authorities said their investigation revealed that Scott got up again and was shot from a distance of about 15 feet (5 meters) as he ran away from the officer.

The shooting itself was videotaped, something Butcher did not know when he initially told investigators that Scott had attacked him after stealing his Taser.

“In sentencing, the applicant tried to blame the victim. Now he is trying to blame his defender and the judge in court. But a careful assessment of this whole tragic episode makes it clear that Petitioner is not to blame for his current predicament and punishment except himself, ”wrote Gergel.

Savage is one of South Carolina’s most experienced lawyers and at the time, he also represented a black church member whose life was spared in a racist massacre that killed nine people in a Charleston church in 2015, two months after Slager’s arrest.

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Slager’s new lawyers had no doubts about his guilt, just a sentence that, according to federal prison files, will keep him behind bars until 2033.

While Butcher pleaded guilty to a civil rights crime, the length of his sentence depended on how federal judge David Norton interpreted the shooting. If it had been voluntary manslaughter in the heat of passion, the guidelines for punishment meant that Slager might only face seven years.

But Norton ruled the shooting amounted to second-degree murder because Butcher fired a total of nine shots and lied that Scott had stolen his Taser.

Savage said in court documents as part of Butcher’s appeal that he had not told the ex-officer of the possible plea deal offered eight months earlier because of a conversation he had with Norton at a private meeting about public funding for Butcher’s defense, where the judge said this “is not a murder case.”

Savage took it to believe that Norton would rule that it was a homicide case where the upper limit of the criminal law guidelines was eight years in prison, nearly four years less than the lower limit of the prosecution’s offer. He advised Butcher to plead guilty without the deal.

Savage never asked Norton for clarity. In the court papers in Slager’s appeal, Norton said he was discussing Slager’s state trial on allegations of murder that had already taken place and ended in a mistrial.

Savage testified at last week’s hearing that his promises in previous court documents that he shared all plea agreements with Butcher in court documents filed before the final plea was filed.

Butcher’s murder charge was dropped as part of the federal plea deal. He could have been sentenced to life in prison if convicted of that charge, and his attorneys said Butcher wanted to spend his prison time in federal custody, where he thought he would be safer than in state prison.

Gergel praised Savage and his fellow attorneys in his ruling for being “ diligent attorneys’ ‘and said that their work, which led to a four-day hearing on the conviction that cost nearly $ 100,000 in taxpayers’ money, “ far exceeded a minimum acceptable standard of performance and elements of exhibited originality and creativity in the face of a daunting series of facts. “

In the end, even a great lawyer couldn’t get over the video of Butcher shooting nine times on the back of a running man and then lying about it, Gergel said.

“Lawyers are lawyers, not wizards, and they couldn’t make this damning evidence disappear,” Gergel wrote.