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PUBLISHER'S NOTE: As reporter Alex Johnson notes: "A video made by a bystander showing Slager shooting Scott in the back in April 2015 stunned the nation and led to murder charges for the former North Charleston police officer, who could be sentenced to 30 years to life in prison if he's convicted."..."This Blog is digging into the momentous on-going trial from time to time, when issues relating to the forensic evidence emerge from the fray.
Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;
STORY: "Troubled' judge allows state's last witness in Michael Slager case, but limits Taser testimony," by reporters Andrew Knapp and Brenda Rindge, published by The Post and Courier on November 16, 2016.
GIST: "Instead of a resounding final presentation to help jurors envision Walter Scott’s last moments and to cast further doubt on an officer’s reason for shooting him, prosecutors on Tuesday found themselves in an hours-long legal quagmire that threatened to end their case with a whimper. Their 31st and final witness against Michael Slager, the North Charleston policeman who shot Scott in the back, planned to play an animated timeline and re-creation of the fatal encounter, culling evidence from dispatch recordings, police car video and a bystander's footage. But the jury never saw him or his presentation. The witness, Bill Williams of Georgetown County, took the stand for more than four hours without the jury in the courtroom. He testified that state agents got key portions of their investigation wrong, but at the same time, he was questioned about his own lack of formal education in the techniques he used to fill in the gaps. The issue was whether he should be dubbed an expert who could express to jurors his opinions and interpretations of the evidence. Presiding Judge Clifton Newman ruled that he was qualified expert in several fields, including computer technology, animation and crime-scene analysis. But Williams, the judge ruled, must limit his testimony about Slager’s Taser, a key element in the officer’s decision to shoot Scott and one of the most disputed pieces of evidence in the case. Despite his ruling, Newman said he still had qualms. The issue of expert witnesses often emerges in appeals, becoming the basis for some verdicts to be reversed later on. Newman indicated earlier Tuesday that he “can just imagine seeing this case again before the Supreme Court.” “I’m troubled on the issue of whether (the witness) meets the reliability test in general in testifying in the fields I indicated,” the judge said. “He might testify to something already in evidence and but not in the form of offering any opinion concerning Tasers.” How that affects the final presentation that Williams shows jurors will be revealed Wednesday when he finally takes the stand. The prosecution is expected to rest once he’s done — a milestone that had been forecast to happen Tuesday — and the defense will likely follow with a routine motion to dismiss the case altogether.........Anthony Imel, an FBI video examiner who enhanced the video, testified Tuesday that he tried to focus on locating the officer's Taser in the footage, but he declined to offer any opinion about what the video showed. His enhanced version was still blurry. But it's clear from the clip that the stun gun fell behind Slager as the lawman pulled his pistol with his right hand and grabbed Scott with his left hand. Scott turned and ran as Slager fired eight times. Five bullets hit him. Defense lawyer Andy Savage quizzed Imel, a prosecution witness, on Tuesday about what the video and the enhancement of it did not show. Only a portion of the struggle was captured, Savage noted. Going through parts of Santana’s video frame by frame, the attorney steered Imel through a measurement of the time that passed between the moment Scott and Slager last touched and the first gunshot: a little more than a second. “This shooting, this altercation, happened in mere seconds,” Imel agreed. “A second,” Savage said. “No time to reflect, no time to process, no time to think.” A prosecutor interrupted, successfully objecting to the point better saved for the defense’s closing argument. Probe's faults: To complement Imel’s work on the video, the prosecution aimed to offer Williams’ interpretation of the evidence. Williams owns a contracting business that specializes in creating animations used mostly in lawsuits. He got his start in the automotive industry, teaching himself on the job how to make computer-generated tutorials on the inner workings of cars. He created some of the software he used. He tried college twice, he said, but it didn’t work. He was self-taught in his field and never got formal training. He started the business in 1996 and first did animations for civil attorneys in 2003. He could demonstrate with computer simulation, for example, the failure of parts on a Ford pickup that led to a crash. His experience in criminal cases is limited, though he has re-created several shooting scenes in civil court, he explained. He qualified as an expert for the defense in the criminal case of Richard Combs, the former Eutawville police chief whose two murder trials in a shooting death ended in hung juries. Combs eventually got a year of house arrest and five years of probation on a lesser charge. But judges have at least twice faulted Williams' qualifications. He mentioned one of the cases in which he blamed an attorney who had him do work he didn’t believe in. In another suit against Ford, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled on appeal that a trial judge should not have qualified Williams as an expert in cruise control. For that and other reasons, a $18 million verdict was overturned. One of Slager’s defense lawyers mounted the challenge to his expertise Tuesday. Williams’ testimony was designed to fill in perceived shortcomings by the State Law Enforcement Division’s crime-scene analysis. He said SLED agents' measurements of the scene and their resulting diagram were wrong. “But they took some really nice photos,” Williams said.
Williams and a partner used pictures of SLED’s evidence markers to find where at the scene key evidence landed during the confrontation between Slager and Scott. During visits to the site, he matched rocks and pebbles in the images to the ones he found on the ground. Matter of inches: While answering questions Tuesday about his techniques — most of which came from the defense, others from the judge and prosecutors — Williams said he had spent 500 hours on the effort and $10,000 for new software he used. He expressed frustration, saying he had never encountered such a hurdle for his work to be used in a trial. "I’ve spent way too much time on this whole project,” he said. He estimated that Scott had distanced himself from the officer by about 17 feet before the first shot was fired. The bystander was standing about 131 feet, 9 inches away when he captured the action, Williams concluded. But a crucial component would be the Taser. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told the judge Tuesday that she planned to ask Williams who he thinks threw down the stun gun before the shooting. But without Williams as an expert on the Taser’s location, that testimony is unlikely to happen. Wilson argued that much of Williams’ work could have been done by regular people with common sense and computer expertise; he doesn't need to be called an expert. She proposed to let the jury decided whether to believe him. “Demonstrations like this don’t have to be exact in every detail,” she said. Williams’ finished product would start the jurors with the dashboard camera footage of the traffic stop. It features audio from Slager’s radio. But as the men run from their cars, an animation begins, showing characters superimposed on footage filmed with a drone from the air. The animation leads the viewer into a field where the final confrontation happened, but it cuts out without depicting a struggle between the men — the most disputed moment of the ordeal. The lawyer who opposed his testimony, Donald McCune, said it would be a “disservice” to allow jurors to hear Williams’ take if it’s based on measurements that could be off. He called the effort a "bootstrap" operation. “He essentially matched it up and said, 'That's about right,’” McCune said, “This case is about a matter of inches and a matter of split seconds.”
The entire story can be found at:
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/