Ex-South Carolina Officer Indicted in Walter Scott Homicide

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 09, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A grand jury has indicted former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager for the murder of Walter Scott. Slager shot Scott in the back as he ran from the officer, while a bystander recorded the incident.

While the indictment is just one small step on the path to trial, it is nonetheless noteworthy in comparison to other cases of police officer shootings, most notably Michael Brown's, which failed to clear the indictment hurdle.

Malice Aforethought

South Carolina has only one statute for murder: "Murder' is the killing of any person with malice aforethought, either express or implied." In murder cases, "malice aforethought" refers to the "intent, at the time of a killing, willfully to take the life of a human being, or an intent willfully to act in callous and wanton disregard of the consequences to human life."

Contrary to the connotation of "malice," the legal term doesn't necessarily imply hatred or ill will towards the victim, and the state only needs to prove that the premeditation existed for a few seconds before the killing to convict under the statute. Prosecutor Scarlett A. Wilson told reporters, "As long as malice is proven in the heart and mind, the state has proven its case."

Indictment Afterthoughts

The old saying goes that any good prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, referring to the ease with which prosecutors could secure indictments for criminal defendants. That hasn't been the case, however, when the defendant is a police officer. Along with a Ferguson grand jury refusing to indict Officer Darren Wilson, a Deland, Florida grand jury declined to indict an officer for vehicular homicide, even when it had video from the officer's dashboard camera that depicted him running over a man fleeing an alleged seatbelt violation.

Slager's case seems a little more clear-cut, at least in terms of the attitudes of the officials: The North Charleston Police Department and local authorities were immediately vocal in their criticism of the incident. The department fired Slager, and he has remained in jail since his arrest on April 7. While his attorneys have not made any requests for bail, they will likely request that his trial be moved, for fear that the attention the case garnered in the community has biased the local jury pool.

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