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S.C. judge allows officer who killed motorist after traffic stop free on bond due to trial delay

"We believe the defendant remains, as the court found, a danger to the community and a flight risk," prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said of her opposition to the officer's release.
By Doug G. Ware   |   Jan. 4, 2016 at 9:58 PM

CHARLESTON, S.C., Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A former South Carolina police officer up against a murder charge for shooting a black motorist to death after a traffic stop last year was allowed by a judge Monday to walk out of prison, free on bond.

Ex-officer Michael T. Slager was arrested and jailed in April after the shooting of Walter L. Scott, Jr., which was captured on a bystander's cellphone. The footage purportedly shows Slager shoot a fleeing Scott eight times in the back. Slager was ultimately fired by the North Charleston Police Department and brought up on charges.

Monday, a judge ruled that he should not be forced to remain in jail until his trial starts at the end of October -- 10 months away -- and allowed him to be released on a $500,000 bond.

Slager posted the bond and left the jail around 7 p.m. local time Monday.

The judge ordered that Slager, though, must be kept under house arrest until the trial begins on Oct. 31. Monday's ruling was a major victory for Slager, 34, who had been kept in isolation in jail for eight months.

The main factor in the judge's ruling was the fact that prosecutors said they could not try Slager until the fall, at the earliest, largely due to the concurrent prosecution of alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof. Slager's attorneys had requested a spring trial date.

Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson opposed Slager's release, as did Scott's family.

"The family is not happy about Mr. Slager getting bond, but they understand that it's just part of the judicial process," family attorney Justin Bamberg said. "It's not like it vindicates him of any wrongdoing; it just means he won't have to spend this time sitting in a jail cell."

"If we let him out, he's going to go home to see his wife and children. All I can look at is a pot of flowers," Walter Scott, the victim's father, said Monday.

"We believe the defendant remains, as the court found, a danger to the community and a flight risk," Wilson said.

The shooting of Scott sparked a national outcry and became another example, activists said, of the serious problem that exists between police departments and black citizens in the United States.

If convicted, Scott would face 30 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In October, the city of North Charleston paid a $6.5 million civil suit settlement to the Scott family.

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