COLUMBIA, S.C. — Federal prosecutors pushing for former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager to be sentenced to life in prison for killing an unarmed motorist are being “unreasonable,” attorneys for Slager said.

In court documents filed last week, Slager’s attorneys argued that their client committed voluntary manslaughter in the killing of Walter Scott during a traffic stop in April 2015. Federal prosecutors have said the shooting was murder, meaning Slager could be eligible for a possible life sentence.

A judge will decide Slager’s sentence Dec. 4.

Slager, 36, pleaded guilty in May to a federal charge of violating Scott’s civil rights. The 50-year-old black motorist ran from the white officer after a traffic stop. Slager fired eight times at Scott’s back, hitting him five times.

That deal closed both the state and federal cases against Slager, who had faced a state murder charge and possible life sentence. Jurors deadlocked after a monthlong state trial last year, and the murder charge was dropped as part of the federal deal.

In considering Slager’s federal sentence, U.S. Justice Department attorneys have continued to argue that the shooting death did constitute murder, saying that Slager had malicious intentions when he shot Scott.

From his law officer training, Slager knew he was prohibited from using lethal force against Scott because doing so “against an unarmed, non-dangerous fleeing subject was a gross-deviation from reasonable conduct,” thus satisfying the “malice” element of second-degree murder, prosecutors have said.

Slager’s attorneys countered that the government has continued to pursue murder against their client “to accomplish their unreasonable goal to have Slager spend the remainder of his life in prison.”

The chilling video shows Scott running from Slager, getting about 17 feet from him before the officer fired eight times at his back. Scott then crumples to the ground. Five of the bullets hit his body.

The video added fuel to the Black Lives Matter movement and was seized on by many as proof of what African-Americans have argued for years: that white officers too often use deadly force unnecessarily against black people.

Slager’s federal plea, which came after a judge ruled a bystander’s cellphone video of the shooting would be allowed as evidence at his federal trial, signaled that Slager and his attorneys felt the federal government’s case against him was strong. The father of three has been in jail since May.


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