CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A state judge approved bail Monday for a former South Carolina police officer charged with killing an unarmed motorist.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman in Charleston allowed a $500,000 surety bond for Michael Slager. Newman also set an Oct. 31 trial date. Slager will have to remain in South Carolina while out on bail. It was not immediately clear Monday afternoon when he would be released.
Attorneys for Slager, who is charged with murder in the shooting death of Walter Scott last April, had said they would be ready for trial this spring.
However, prosecutor Scarlett Wilson is also prosecuting Dylann Roof, the white suspect in the killings of nine black parishoners at a Charleston church, in a July trial. She said a state Supreme Court order prevents her from trying other cases before that one.
Newman previously denied Slager bond because releasing him would “constitute an unreasonable danger to the community.” He issued his new order after an hour-long hearing on the defense’s motion for a speedy trial and a renewed request for bail.
Defense attorney Andy Savage renewed the bail request, saying that Slager otherwise would face 11 more months of incarceration and has been held in solitary confinement. He has remained in jail since his arrest last April.
Wilson said there’s been no change in circumstances to warrant Slager’s release, and added, “We believe the defendant remains, as the court found, a danger to the community and a flight risk.”
Walter Scott, the father of the slain man, also addressed the judge, saying he often goes to the cemetery to visit his son’s flower-bedecked grave.
“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,” Scott said.
Before issuing his ruling, the judge said, “These are difficult issues. These are excruciating issues for the court to deal with.”
He said he was troubled that the trial is being delayed because of the order in the Dylann Roof case.
Slager, a former North Charleston police officer, is shown on cellphone video firing eight times as Scott ran from a traffic stop.
Attention over the case and the bystander’s cellphone video enflamed a national debate about how blacks are treated by white police officers.
Slager, 34, faces 30 years to life without parole if convicted. Wilson has said the death penalty doesn’t apply because there are no aggravating circumstances such as robbery or kidnapping.
In October, the city of North Charleston approved a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott’s family.
After the shooting, the U.S. Justice Department said it was looking into possible federal civil rights violations in the case. On Friday, Wilson said federal officials have sent the state a letter saying that Slager could face charges.
“It’s unclear if they are going to get involved,” she said.