Monday, November 21, 2016

Witnesses testify regarding alleged Taser marks on Michael Slager’s uniform

Expert cannot rule out Taser burns

Posted by Dustin Waters on Mon, Nov 21, 2016 at 2:36 PM

click to enlarge Attorney Chad Simpson for the prosecution questions SLED forensics examiner Megan Fletcher - GRACE BEAHM/POST AND COURIER
  • Grace Beahm/Post and Courier
  • Attorney Chad Simpson for the prosecution questions SLED forensics examiner Megan Fletcher
Attorneys for Michael Slager opened up the fourth week of trial by attempting to convince jurors that the former North Charleston officer had his Taser used against him during a struggle with Walter Scott. Slager stands trial for the fatal shooting of Scott in April 2015 following a traffic stop for a non-functioning brake light. If found guilty, Slager could face a sentence of 30 years up to life in prison.

In hopes of proving that Slager was in fear for his life when he opened fire on Scott, lead defense attorney Andy Savage began a line of questioning Monday aimed at showing that the former officer was in clear and present danger just seconds prior to the shooting. SLED forensics examiner Megan Fletcher was called to the stand to testify regarding the findings of gunshot residue on both Scott and Slager, in addition to possible evidence of Taser damage on Slager’s uniform.

Following the shooting, swabs were performed on Scott and Slager’s hands to collect any residue that may be left behind from a firearm. During questioning by the defense, Fletcher testified that gunshot residue (GSR) was found on the hands of both men. Taken just hours after Scott’s death, SLED investigators discovered that gunshot residue was present on the front and back of his right hand, but was absent from his left palm. Fletcher confirmed that residue could have been transferred from one person to another in a number of ways, such as when Slager handcuffed Scott following the shooting.

“In a catalogue of different cases that we’ve done in our laboratory where we have analyzed victim GSR kits, we’ve found that in over 75 percent of the cases the victim was positive for gunshot residue in at least one area,” said Fletcher.

In addition to evaluating both men for gunshot residue, Fletcher also examined Slager’s uniform to determine if the microscopic damage found on the fabric was consistent with a stun from a Taser. Firing a Taser directly into shirts identical to the one Slager was wearing during his struggle with Scott, Fletcher studied the marks left behind by the weapon.

In a report issued less than two weeks before the trial commenced, Fletcher informed attorneys that she could not rule out Taser fire as the cause of melted fibers observed under a microscope.

“These fibers have undergone some sort of high temperature greater than the melting point of polyester,” said Fletcher. “As I said before, that is greater than 480 degree Fahrenheit.”

While the expert examiner could not rule out that the damage was caused by a Taser, Fletcher was unwilling to state that the melting was not caused by another heat source, even though she was unable to guess what that may be. Attorney Chad Simpson for the prosecution cross-examined Fletcher, asking about the presence of small holes found in the shirts tested with the Taser. Fletcher testified that no such marks were found on the portion of Slager’s uniform that she examined.

Following Fletcher, the defense called Dr. Mark Kroll to the stand to offer his expertise on the effects of electricity. Although Fletcher would not definitively state that the marks found on Slager’s shirt were caused by a Taser, Kroll claimed a Taser was the only possible cause.

“There’s really no alternative source for that heat damage. We both agree it’s not a clothes iron that’s going to do that,” said Kroll.

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