Michael Slager, the former South Carolina police officer who killed unarmed black man Walter Scott, was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in federal prison.
US District Court Judge David Norton made his decision after hearing emotional victim impact statements from Scott’s relatives. Norton earlier Thursday had said the “appropriate underlying offense” for Slager, who is white, was second-degree murder and suggested a sentence of 19 to 24 years in prison.
Life sentence sought
Federal prosecutors sought a life sentence for Slager, arguing he had committed second-degree murder and also should be punished for obstructing justice by providing the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division with false statements.
Slager shot Scott five times in the back “for running away, simply for having a broken taillight,” Jared Fishman of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told the court in his closing statement this week.
It’s “time to call it what it was — a murder,” Fishman said, specifying second-degree murder.
But defense attorney Andy Savage argued that while Slager’s actions were criminal, they did not amount to murder. The appropriate offense was voluntary manslaughter, Slager’s attorneys said.
A probation officer had recommended Slager be sentenced to 10 to 13 years in prison.
Norton recognized Thursday that neither the Scott family nor the Slager family likely would be pleased with his punishment, adding that sentencing is the hardest facet of his more than 27 years on the bench.
Slager has 14 days to appeal.
‘Our family will never be the same’
Before the sentence was announced, Scott’s mother broke down in tears as she addressed the court.
“If you met him, you would like him,” Judy Scott said of her son. “I didn’t know anyone who didn’t like him.”
Speaking to Slager, Scott also said she forgave the former officer, a sentiment echoed by Walter Scott’s brother, Anthony Scott.
“I miss my brother, and our family will never be the same,” he said. “Until I got the help I needed, it helped me to release the pain of losing my brother. God gave forgiveness in my heart for Officer Slager.”
“I’m not angry at you, Michael,” he added. “I forgive you, and Michael, I pray for you now.”
Scott’s son had addressed the court a day earlier to accommodate his high school schedule.
“Your honor, I miss my dad so much I can’t sleep at night,” Miles Scott, clutching a framed picture of his father, told the judge Wednesday. “As I get older, my dad will never see me or his future grandkids. I never thought I would lose him at a young age, and I still can’t believe he is gone.”