The ongoing grand jury proceedings may suggest the prosecutor is trying to avoid backlash if Wilson isn’t indicted
Officer Darren Wilson testified this week in the grand jury investigation into his shooting of Michael Brown, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper’s scoop was unusual. Unlike most criminal-justice proceedings in the U.S., grand juries are highly secretive. Leaking information about them is a criminal act.
But perhaps it should no longer be surprising to see the investigation take an interesting turn. More than a month after Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., the grand jury appears to be nowhere near a decision on whether Wilson should be charged. And the road to justice has been paved with strange decisions.
Several elements of the grand jury’s proceedings have been uncommon, according to legal experts surveyed by TIME. None of these decisions are necessarily improper. But together they have raised eyebrows. “This is not your regular St. Louis grand jury case,” says Susan McGraugh, a veteran Missouri criminal-defense attorney and law professor at St. Louis University.
The investigation has been fraught from the start. Residents of Ferguson, who have massed in protests each day since Brown was killed on Aug. 9, immediately cast doubt on the impartiality of McCulloch, who has been the county’s elected prosecuting attorney since 1991. McCulloch’s father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty by a black suspect. Critics have pointed to his record of charging police-involved shootings and suggested that his background may cloud his judgment in the case. There were early murmurs that McCulloch would recuse himself or be replaced by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. Instead, McCulloch has delegated the task of presenting evidence to two senior attorneys in his office.
The first unusual decision taken by the prosecutor’s office, experts say, was not to recommend a specific charge for Wilson. Instead, the prosecutors are presenting evidence as it becomes available, and leaving it up to the grand jury to decide what the evidence warrants.
To some members of the community, the decision was taken as a sign that McCulloch may be trying to avoid an indictment. “To present a case to a grand jury, without any direction or instructions with regard to what you want them to achieve,” says Adolphus Pruitt of the St. Louis NAACP, “gives the best odds that an indictment will not occur.”