There was not probable cause to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown this summer in Ferguson, Mo., a grand jury decided, according to county prosecutor Robert McCulloch. The grand jury was asked to consider five possible counts, from first-degree murder to involuntary homicide, but in all cases, they decided not to indict him. A federal investigation of the incident continues, and Brown’s family still has the chance to file a civil suit, where the level of evidence required is lower.
In a lengthy statement tonight, McCulloch complimented the “unprecedented cooperation between the local and federal authorities,” and noted that all the evidence gathered by respective agencies has been shared with each other. McCulloch also criticized the media’s treatment of the case, saying that “the most significant challenge in this investigation has been the 24-hours news cycle,” which “helped raise suspicion” among citizens who already distrust the criminal-justice system.
McCulloch detailed the events of the day of the killing: Officer Wilson, he said, encountered Michael Brown while responding to a 911 call regarding Brown’s theft of cigarillos from a convenience store, and their confrontation, including the first shots fired, occurred inside of Wilson’s vehicle. In sum, he noted, the grand jury examined the three autopsies performed of Brown’s body (by local authorities, federal authorities, and a Brown-family-hired examiner), examined evidence for 25 days over three months, listened to 70 hours of testimony and hours more of recordings, and then deliberated over two days.
The prosecutor repeatedly criticized the trustworthiness of some of the witnesses who had claimed to see the shooting and had gone public with accounts that seemed to suggest Wilson had shot Brown while he was fleeing the scene or had instigated the physical confrontation. Those witnesses were contradicted by many witnesses who hadn’t related their testimony publicly, McCulloch said, and public witnesses were often recanted in front of the grand jury or other authorities. “Some even admitted that they had not witnessed the event at all but had merely repeated what they’d heard” from other witnesses or acquaintances in the neighborhood, McCulloch said.
McCulloch was asked whether any of the witnesses who contradicted earlier reports that Brown had been fleeing or hadn’t charged Wilson. Every specific witness that McCulloch mentioned in his long explanation of the evidence as contradicting those early accounts, he said, was African American.
When asked whether some of those witnesses could have perjured themselves, McCulloch said he felt that many of them genuinely believed in the accounts they had related and simply couldn’t back them up.