Michael Slager—the police officer from North Charleston, South Carolina who shot fleeing, unarmed suspect Walter Scott in the back, killing him, in an April 4 incident that was caught on video—has been indicted by a grand jury on murder charges. A number of outlets have thus reported Monday that Slager has been “charged with murder.” But per headlines in April, Slager was “charged with murder” within days of the shooting. What’s the difference between what happened then and what happened now?
The answer is that news outlets are being vague about using the word “charges.” Local authorities formally accused Slager of murder within days of the shooting, and a judge ruled that he be held without bond. (He was also fired from the North Charleston police department.) But no one in South Carolina can actually be tried for a felony without being indicted by a grand jury. The earlier “charge” was a preliminary step in a prosecution that was always going to require an indictment to move forward.
South Carolina prosecutor Scarlett Wilson has said that she will not seek the death penalty against Slager, who faces a minimum of 30 years in prison if convicted.