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Former police officer Michael Slager, who shot Walter Scott to death, wants sentence vacated

The racial disparities of traffic stops
The racial disparities of traffic stops 06:24

A former North Charleston police officer serving time in federal prison for fatally shooting unarmed Black man Walter Scott five times in the back in 2015 wants his sentence set aside or cut, CBS Charleston, South Carolina affiliate WCSC-TV reports.

Michael Slager is doing 20 years after pleading guilty to a civil rights charge in 2017. He shot Scott after a traffic stop.

The case became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager testifies during his murder trial at the Charleston County court in Charleston, Souoth Carolina on November 29, 2016.  Grace Beahm / Post and Courier via AP, Pool

Slager recently brought a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, claiming his counsel was ineffective.

During the first day of an evidentiary hearing Monday, attorney Andy Savage testified that Judge David Norton mentioned to him at the time of Savage's 2017 trial that it "was not a murder case."

He said the judge discounted the pre-sentencing report in sentencing Slager to 20 years, but that the judge's alleged comments didn't sway his (Savage's) performance in the case in any manner.

Slager's wife, Jamie, testified that she had heard discussions about the judge's alleged comment. "That's why we decided to take the plea deal," she said. "That's why Mike, you know, is where he is."

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An undated photo shows Walter Scott. WCSC-TV via Facebook

During his testimony, Savage called Slager a "very, very, very good person" who dedicated his life to service.

"I feel terrible," he said. "My judgement was blemished by all the good things that I knew about Michael."

Savage said he doesn't believe Slager deserved a sentence longer than 10 years. The hearing was expected to continue Tuesday.

During his trial, Slager's attorneys said he shot the 50-year-old Scott in self-defense after the two fought and Scott reached for Slager's stun gun. They said race didn't play any role in the shooting and that Slager never had any "racial animus" toward minorities.

Officer sentenced in shooting 01:52

Still, Slager agreed to a plea deal in which prosecutors dropped state murder charges. A year before, a state judge had declared a mistrial when jurors deadlocked.

A bystander recorded the shooting on a cell phone and it was shared around the world, setting off protests across the U.S. as demonstrators said it was another egregious example of police officers' mistreating African-Americans.

Scott's family testified before the sentencing and said they'd forgiven Slager.

The shooting angered local African-Americans who complained for years that North Charleston police harassed blacks, pulling them over or questioning them unnecessarily as they cracked down on crime. The Scott family successfully pleaded for calm, asking everyone to let the justice system run its course.

Two months after the shooting, a young white man killed nine black church members in a racially motivated attacked during a Bible study in Charleston. The family members of the church shooting victims struck a similar forgiveness tone after that attack.

Before the sentence was handed down, the judge had to decide whether the shooting amounted to second-degree murder or manslaughter. Norton found that it was murder.

Scott was running from Slager following the traffic stop when the two struggled over Slager's Taser.

The bystander's video started after the struggle and showed Scott running away and the officer firing eight times. Scott was hit in the back five times.

After the shooting, Slager picked up his stun gun and placed it next to Scott. Slager contends he was securing the weapon. Prosecutors think he put it there to bolster his self-defense story.

An emotional Slager told the Scott family that he was grateful for their forgiveness.

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