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Michael Slager sentenced to 20 years in prison for murdering Walter Scott

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Michael Slager in court. (WCIV, File)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - In an historic civil rights case, a federal judge Thursday sentenced ex-North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager to 20 years in prison for shooting and killing unarmed black man Walter Scott in 2015.

Slager, who Norton also sentenced to two years of supervised release following his prison term, has two weeks to appeal the sentence.

U.S. District Judge David Norton announced his decision after four days of testimony that ended Thursday.

Norton ruled prior to sentencing Thursday morning Slager had committed second degree murder and obstruction of justice.

For an individual such as Slager with no prior criminal history, the federal sentence guideline for second degree murder is 19-24 years in prison, according to Norton.

Norton said after announcing his sentencing basis, however, that neither the Scott family nor Slager would like his impending sentence.

Slager himself spoke to the court moments before the judge's sentence. Slager said he was grateful to the Scott family for their forgiveness expressed to him earlier in the day.

"I wish this would have never happened," Slager told Scott's family.

Walter Scott's mother, Judy Scott, said during impact statements Thursday that she overheard her son moaning and groaning after he was tased by Slager. Despite the circumstances, Scott said she forgave MIchael Slager, and hoped he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior,

Despite racial narratives attached to the trial given that Slager is white and Scott was black, Scott's brother, Anthony, told the court Thursday he never saw the incident as racial.

"My mother and father raised us not to see color," Scott said.

Instead, Anthony Scott expressed regret that Slager shot his brother in the back, giving anecdotes about watching western movies as a children, and the rule while playing "cowboys and indians" that you should never shoot someone in the back.

During testimony Wednesday, Scott's son, Miles, asked Norton to give Slager "the strongest sentence the laws allow."

"He murdered my father," a tearful Miles Scott told Norton, as he clutched a photo of his father. "I miss my dad so much, I can't sleep at night usually ... I never thought I would lose my dad at such a young age."

Michael Slager's family, including his father, mother, sister and wife,took the stand to testify on the former officer's behalf Thursday prior to sentencing.

Tom Scott, Slager's father, Tom, tearfully shared with the court stories of his son's passion for helping others from a young age, and the good and helpful work his son had done in the community.

"I know he's devastated by this," Tom Slager said.

"As a father, I'm very sorry for what happened," Slager's father added, directly addressing the Scott family.

"The only 3 people who know what happened are God, Michael, and Mr. Scott," Slager's mother, Karen Sharpe said while on the stand.

Slager in May 2017 pleaded guilty to depriving Scott of his civil rights under the color of law through use of excessive force.

Federal prosecutors had asked for life imprisonment for Slager, claiming Slager committed second-degree murder when he fired eight gunshots at Scott in a vacant lot off Remount Road in North Charleston, April 4, 2015.

BACKGROUND | WALTER SCOTT SHOOTING

Slager had stopped Scott for a broken brake light. Moments into the traffic stop, Scott -- who was wanted on a family court bench warrant for unpaid child support -- ran away from the vehicle. Slager gave chase.

There has been exhaustive discussion and testimony regarding what happened between the moment Slager disappeared from view of his patrol car's dash camera in pursuit of Scott, and when Slager ultimately pulled his gun and fired shots toward a fleeing's Scott's back.

The latter scene was infamously and graphically captured on cellphone video recorded by bystander Feidin Santana.

Santana's video shows Scott involved in a struggle with Slager, who was trying to handcuff Scott and place him under arrest.

In the video, Scott is seen breaking free from Slager and beginning to run away. Santana's video shows Scott nearly 15 feet away from Slager with his back turned to him when the officer began firing his weapon.

Five bullets hit Scott, fatally wounding him.

Slager has said he believed Scott had taken control of his department-issued Taser during their struggle and opened fire in fear for his life.

After the shooting, Slager went to Scott's body and placed him in handcuffs. Slager then jogged back to the spot where he and Scott had been struggling on the ground and picked up the Taser.

Video showed Slager then returning to Scott's location, and briefly dropping the Taser on the ground beside Scott's body as another officer arrived on the scene. Slager would later retrieve the Taser and return it to its holster.

Slager's defense attorneys have continued to argue there was no malice on Slager's part in light of his pleading guilty to using excessive force.

Slager's attorneys had asked that Norton sentence Slager according to federal standards for voluntary manslaughter, a prison term of 10 to 12 1/2 years.

Slager previously went to trial in state court in late 2016, facing murder charges, but that case ended with a hung jury.

Scarlett A. Wilson, ninth circuit solicitor, who also testified during this case, said that it’s meaningful that Slager has admitted that what he did was wrong.

Wilson also said that now that Slager has admitted that killing Scott was not justified, there shouldn’t be any further debate about the ex-police officer’s guilt.

“When an officer takes accountability for his/her actions, they have the potential to save the lives of other officers and civilians,” also said Wilson.

On The Scott Family, Wilson said that she applauds them for their courage and respect throughout such a heartbreaking time, “They have demonstrated dignity and grace at every turn.”

State representative Wendell Gilliard also issued a statement saying, “I’ve come to the realization that no matter the outcome today, both families will be negatively impacted. One bearing the pain of never seeing their father, son, or brother again. The other having to bear the burden of their family member causing that pain.”

Congressman Mark Sanford and North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey also offered statements on Slager's sentencing.

"Today's sentencing represents the sad end to a tough chapter in the life of our community. While justice has been served, there are no winners, and it's my simple prayer that all of us learn, reflect, and mourn what it represents and, more importantly, work to better understand our neighbors whether across the street or the nation," said Congressman Sanford.

"We have trusted in the justice system from the very beginning of this case, and today, the system finished the process. The system worked," said Summey.