On Thursday, former police officer Michael Slager, 50, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the second-degree murder of Walter Scott in 2015, the most severe sentencing of any of the high-profile racially charged police-involved shootings in recent years.
Though Scott's family asked for the stiffest punishment for the man who took the life of their loved one after a traffic stop turned tragic, they also said they forgive Slager. AP describes the emotional scene:
Through tears, Scott’s family told Slager they felt sorrow for him and the loss his young children would feel in his absence. In the end, a judge sentenced Slager to 20 years in prison, giving the Scott family the justice they had sought ever since a stranger came to them with the shocking video of Scott being killed.
“I forgive Michael Slager. I forgive you,” Scott’s mother, Judy, said as she turned toward her son’s killer. “I pray for you, that you would repent and let Jesus come in your life.”
Sitting just a few feet away, Slager wiped tears from his eyes and mouthed: “I’m sorry.”
"With my actions that day, Walter Scott is no longer with his family, and I am responsible for that," Slager said, according to AP.
In response to the forgiveness offered by the family, Scott said, "I am very grateful for that."
The case was one of the high-profile officer-involved shootings of a black man that became part of the Black Lives Matter movement's list of grievances in recent years. Unlike some of the other racially-charged cases, like the Michael Brown shooting, the evidence stacked up against Slager.
The most damning evidence was cell phone footage taken by a bystander showing Slager shooting Scott in the back, hitting him with five of eight rounds, from 17 feet away, then walking over and dropping the stun gun that he said Scott wrestled from him next to Scott's body, suggesting he was trying to plant evidence. Slager then misled investigators in his initial statement about the circumstances of the shooting.
The shocking cell phone footage went viral, leading to massive backlash and more BLM protests.
Slager's attorneys say his actions were not racially motivated nor was he trying to manipulate the crime scene by moving the stun gun, claiming he was just trying to secure the weapon. However, as part of a plea deal in federal court in May to drop the murder charges, Slager pleaded guilty to violating Scott’s civil rights.
Though a pre-sentencing report found Slager was guilty of manslaughter, the judge was not obligated to follow that recommendation, determining instead that he was guilty of second-degree murder.
The previous trial against Slager resulted in a mistrial in December 2016 after a single juror refused to convict him.