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Ex-police chief in murder trial for 'senseless violence'

Former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs, right, listens as opening statements are given in the first day of testimony of his murder trial in Orangeburg, South Carolina 7 January 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Lawyers for Richard Combs said he only shot as a last resort

South Carolina prosecutors say the 2011 killing of an unarmed black man by a former police chief was a "senseless act of violence".

Former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs shot and killed Bernard Bailey after an argument over a citation.

As his trial began, defence lawyers argued Mr Combs fired in self-defence as he was trying to arrest Bailey.

Mr Combs was the third white police officer indicted in 2014 in a shooting of an unarmed black man in the state.

And his indictment came amid two similar high-profile cases in which officers were not charged.

Opening statements began on Wednesday after a jury of seven black and five white residents were seated.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bernard Bailey's family has received a wrongful death settlement from the town

The shooting came after Bailey visited Eutawville town hall to complain about a traffic citation his daughter had received six weeks earlier for a broken tail-light.

Mr Combs attempted to arrest Bailey on a obstruction of justice charge. Bailey left the town hall and Mr Combs pursued him back to his vehicle.

Prosecutor David Pascoe said Bailey was then "gunned down in an absolutely senseless act of violence" and shot three times as he simply backed out to escape an escalating situation.

Mr Pascoe asked juror to "let [Combs] know that whether you wear a badge or not, you cannot take a life without justification".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bailey had arrived at the town hall to discuss a traffic citation

But defence lawyers said Mr Combs had the right to enforce an arrest warrant and only fired because he was caught in Bailey's lorry as it began to back up.

The police chief was placed on leave after the 2011 shooting, and the town fired him six months later.

Bailey's family reached a $400,000 (£265,000) wrongful death settlement with the town last August.

He faces up to life in prison if he is convicted of murder.

The failure of grand juries to indict white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, over the deaths of black men caused nationwide protests.

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