CHARLESTON, S. C. – A year ago, the former South Carolina police officer Michael Butcher was in a Charleston County courtroom, hearing a judge declares a mistrial in the state’s murder case against him in the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist. Relief came over his wife, through tears, thanked advocates for their work in the direction of ensuring her husband would be at home with their family for the holidays.
This week, on the other side of the street, the Butcher is sitting in a federal courtroom, where a judge is considering how much time the former North Charleston patrol officer will spend in federal prison for the shooting. His wife is also there, but this time she looks as a Butcher, shackled and handcuffed, wearing a prison-issue striped jumpsuit, instead of the trousers and button-down shirt that he wore for his state trial.
Butcher, 36, pleaded guilty in federal court in May to violating Scott’s civil rights by shooting of Walter Scott, without justification on April 4, 2015. Butcher had pulled Scott over for a broken brake light, and the 50-year-old Scott ran during the stop. After deploying his stun gun, Butcher fired eight bullets at Scott as he ran away, hitting him five times in the back.
Butcher, quickly dismissed from the department, no longer faces the murder is charging. That case was dropped as part of his federal plea deal. This week, federal prosecutors and a Butcher for the lawyers bring their cases to what his punishment should be. In contrast to the trial to take place only in the presence of a judge, without a jury.
On Tuesday, more differences between the two state and federal cases, it became clear. The court allowed an expert to testify regarding the alleged audio and video recordings of the shooting. Grant Fredericks, a forensic video expert testified that his analysis showed Butcher fought with Scott for their fatal meeting, and the ex-officer said: “Let my Taser before I shoot you.”
The defense team is of the opinion that the evidence reinforced Butcher’s assertion that Scott was aggressive and that the police officer shot him in self-defense. A microphone to Butcher uniform also picked up Scott saying, “F–k the police” after the Butcher asked him on the floor, Fredericks testified.
Prosecutors counter that there is no way to definitively tell what is being said on the recordings, and they have their own experts to demonstrate how to Butcher fired at Scott as he leaves, it is nowhere near the officer’s stun gun.
U. S. District Judge David Norton has had the entire state file for months, nullifying the need for lawyers to re-present a lot of evidence and testimony. Defense attorneys and the prosecutor gave opening statements, including a brief overview of the facts of the case, but not the labor on the explanation of the nuances in the law that would be needed in a lawsuit. At the end of the testimony, they expect to give brief closing arguments.
Butcher faces up to life in prison, although federal sentencing officials have recommended 10 to nearly 13 years. Butcher’s lawyers ask for less than that.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read her work on https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard .