The Walter Scott Case Just Took an Unsettling Turn

December 2nd 2016

Thor Benson

News reports out of South Carolina indicate that the jury hearing the trial of Officer Michael Slager for the killing of unarmed black man Walter Scott has reached an impasse.

A lone juror has stated he "cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict" against Slager, NBC News reports.

According to a Reuters reports, deliberations will continue on Monday.

Judge Clifton Newman, who had already attempted to get the deadlocked jury to come to a verdict, received a note from the juror on Friday stating that deliberations had reached a dead end.

"We all struggle with the death of a man and all that has been put before us," the juror wrote to Judge Newman.

If the jury cannot come to a unanimous decision for the case, then Judge Newman will be forced to declare a mistrial. The jury previously asked for help clarifying the laws and details surrounding the case hoping to have a better chance at coming to an agreement. Slager is being charged with murder, but the jury is also allowed to reach a manslaughter verdict.

Slager pulled Scott over because of a broken taillight, and he ended up shooting Scott in the back several times while he ran away after some kind of altercation. Scott was unarmed, and a pedestrian video released shortly after the shooting shows shots were not fired until Scott attempted to run away. Slager has claimed that Scott reached for his stun gun, and that he shot Scott because he feared for his life.

Walter Scott

"Deadlocked juries do happen. They are uncommon, but they do occasionally happen," Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, told ATTN:. "They often tend to happen in the most high profile cases. It seems those high profile cases are often very controversial, and the facts are often more balanced than they might be in a run-of-the-mill criminal case. In a run-of-the-mill criminal trial, we won't typically have a deadlocked jury."

Winkler said deadlocked juries are a major problem for the judicial system, because it means the case has to start from square one if a mistrial is declared because of the deadlocked jury.

"There have been proposals for changing the jury system to allow convictions without a unanimous jury, things like that. There have been proposals, but deadlocked juries remain a problem," he said. Winkler believes high profile cases likely often produce deadlocked juries because jurors know they will be scrutinized over their decision.

One potential problem that has been raised about the jury is that it's nearly entirely white, comprising six white men, five white women and a black man. According to NBC News, nine jurors were struck by the defense, including seven minorities. The prosecution dropped challenges to those strikes after receiving a detailed response from the defense.