By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Jurors trying to reach a verdict will begin a third day of deliberations on Friday in the murder trial of a white former South Carolina police officer who fatally shot a fleeing, unarmed black motorist last year.
Ex-North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager, 35, faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if found guilty of murder in the death of 50-year-old Walter Scott in April 2015.
Civil rights activists have vowed to protest should Slager be acquitted.
“We won’t sit idly by,” said James Johnson, state director for the National Action Network in South Carolina.
Conviction on a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter would carry a prison term between two and 30 years.
The jury of 11 whites and one black began deliberations on Wednesday in a case that gained widespread attention after a bystander’s cellphone video footage of the officer shooting at Scott’s back was made public.
The video added fuel to a national debate over the use of force by U.S. law enforcement against minorities in the wake of police killings of black men in New York, Baltimore, Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities.
Jurors viewed the video multiple times and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses during the state court trial in Charleston over the past month.
On Thursday afternoon, they requested transcripts of the testimony given by Slager and the chief investigator on the case. They later sent the judge a note asking for guidance in distinguishing between “fear” and “passion.”
Soon after that they were sent home for the night and were to resume deliberations on Friday morning.
Slager told jurors earlier this week that Scott ran after being pulled over for a broken brake light and resisted the patrolman’s orders to stop.
Prosecutors said Scott likely fled because he was behind on child support payments and feared arrest.
Scott was not armed, but Slager’s lawyers said the officer did not know that at the time of the confrontation.
Slager said Scott grabbed his stun gun as the two men scuffled. Feeling “total fear,” Slager said he drew his gun and opened fire until he had stopped the threat.
Prosecutors argued the video proved Slager was not in danger when he fired eight shots at the fleeing Scott, hitting him with five bullets.
Outside the courthouse on Thursday, Scott’s brother, Anthony, waited with television crews, police, chaplains and bystanders for a verdict.
“It’s gonna be OK,” he said. “If it’s not OK, we’re not done.”
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Leslie Adler and Simon Cameron-Moore)