Earlier this month, Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson testified for nearly four hours to the St. Louis County grand jury that will decide whether he will be indicted for the Aug. 9 shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
It was a striking moment. The subject of a grand jury investigation rarely risks the legal consequences of testifying before they have even been charged. But it was, at least in theory, in keeping with the prosecutor's pledge to put every piece of evidence before the jurors. Anthony Gray, one of the attorneys for the Brown family, had a visceral reaction to the news of Wilson's testimony, though: "The only thing that happened for over four hours was Mike Brown's body laying on concrete."
"I can't imagine what he could talk about for four hours," Gray told TPM in a recent phone interview, "about an incident that took in total a matter of minutes."
It crystallizes the deep-seated distrust between the authorities and the Brown family specifically and the Ferguson community more broadly, a tension that has become centered on one of the most closely watched grand juries in years. As recently as last week, both sides were unable to see eye-to-eye about what role the Brown family could even play in the investigation. In interviews with TPM, lawyers for the family cast doubt on the prosecutor's motives, and the prosecutor's office expressed skepticism that the family would have any evidence relevant to the case that the police do not already have.
The grand jury began hearing evidence on Aug. 20. In most cases, the prosecutor directs the investigation with specific charges in mind, which then dictates what evidence is presented to the jurors. But not this time. Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, whose office is overseeing the case and who has come under scrutiny in the Ferguson community for his ties to law enforcement, has said that the jury will see everything.
“We will be presenting absolutely everything to this grand jury -- every statement that any witness made, every witness, every photograph, every piece of physical evidence,” McCulloch said last month “Absolutely nothing will be left out.”
McCulloch has been a controversial figure. Protesters have pointed to his past, which includes the 1964 shooting of his father, a police officer, in the line of duty. He has tried to counter that through pledges of transparency and assigning day-to-day oversight of the grand jury to two deputies, one whom is black.
Still, the unusual nature of the grand jury proceedings has raised eyebrows, and former prosecutors have told TPM that the approach would undoubtedly give McCulloch some public-relations cover if the jury decides not to indict Wilson. In fact, one suggested that there was a easy way to help one understand how truly transparent this grand jury would be.
"If they're doing this wide open grand jury investigation, is it simply the district attorney's office who's deciding what witnesses are going in there?" Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who is now a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles, told TPM. "Or have they reached out to the lawyers of the family or other people? Are they actually soliciting input from other parties?"
"That can give you an idea of whether this is just cover," she said, "or this is really a community investigation."
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