In my real life, I’m a trial attorney who has spent over 30 years as a criminal defense and plaintiff’s injury attorney. Not surprisingly, I get asked a lot, “What do you think of the Ferguson case?” So, out of professional curiosity, I have spent many hours reading over the grand jury transcripts as well as the autopsy reports, witness statements, and other materials to educate myself. I thought I would set forth my conclusions here.
The function of a grand jury is not to decide guilt or innocence. The purpose of the grand jury is only to decide if there exists probable cause to charge a person with a crime. The “probable cause” standard of proof is much lower than that of “beyond a reasonable doubt” which is necessary for a conviction at trial. In Missouri, a grand jury is composed of twelve people. To obtain an indictment, at least 9 must agree. That means that if only 4 of the twelve vote not to indict, no charge is brought. because of grand jury secrecy rules, we will never know what the actual vote was.
So, let’s examine the evidence. I read the grand jury documents at The Guardian website. I am not going to be commenting upon the various eye witnesses, since their perceptions are widely divergent. That is actually to be expected when a sudden traumatic event occurs. Numerous studies have shown eye witness testimony to be very flawed in those situations. Rather, I will focus on the versions given by the officer, Darren Wilson, and Michael Brown’s companion, Dorian Johnson and compare them to the physical evidence.
Dorian Johnson’s testimony is contained in Volume 4. According to Johnson, he and Brown were walking down the middle of the street when a police vehicle pulled up and told them to walk on the sidewalk. Shortly thereafter, Officer Wilson became angry and began wrestling with Brown, trying to pull Brown’s arms in through he open driver’s side window. Brown resisted and tried to pull away, his hands never entering the vehicle. Then Johnson heard Wilson shout, “I’ll shoot” and saw the pistol outside the window. The gun went off while Brown was outside the vehicle. (pgs 101-106). This shot hit Brown in the right upper chest or arm area as Johnson saw blood there.(pg. 106).
In contrast, Wilson testified that after he stopped the two, the 6’5″, 289 pound (see autopsy report) Brown, with out any provocation, leaned into the driver window and started punching Wilson numerous times. (vol.5, pg. 214). Wilson unholstered his pistol, which was then grabbed by Brown. Brown’s hand was well into the vehicle forcing Wilson’s hand holding the gun down towards Wilson’s hip. Wilson told the FBI that with Brown keeping his hand on the gun, that Wilson couldn’t raise the gun to window height so he shot at the door. (there was a bullet hole in the door handle, but the bullet never exited, Vol.2 pg114). Wilson then saw blood on his hand which he said must have come from Brown’s hand. Wilson contends that Brown became even more enraged and came back through the window and started punching Wilson again. Wilson, who was covering his face from the blows, blindly fired again, missing Brown (because Wilson saw a cloud of dust kick up. pg 163) and Brown ran away. How Wilson could see dust kick up behind Brown as Brown is leaning through the window punching Wilson is not explained, nor does anyone ever ask. Nor is it ever explained how that shot would have a downward angle to hit the ground if Wilson was firing up at Brown who was beating him up.
The physical evidence proves that Wilson’s version cannot be true. The autopsy report details a grazing bullet wound Brown’s right hand. The wound contained soot which means that the hand was six to nine inches from the barrel.The most critical fact is that flesh from the wound was found on the EXTERIOR of the vehicle door.(Vol.2, pg 104). The flesh was positively identified in the Microscopic Report as being Brown’s No similar flesh was found on the interior. This definitively proves that Brown was not struggling with Wilson over the gun inside the vehicle. Rather, Brown’s hand was outside the vehicle when the shot was fired just as Dorian Johnson testified.
The autopsy report also notes a wound to the upper right arm in the shoulder area.(wound #6). The path of the wound is upward. This wound correlates with Dorian Johnson’s testimony that the first shot hit Brown in the arm or chest because he saw blood seeping in that area. On the other hand, Wilson’s story is that Brown was only hit once, presumably in the hand while struggling for the gun. I believe that there was one shot that grazed Brown’s right hand while his hand was in a defensive posture, with the bullet then passing into and through Brown’s right arm. To understand this, simply hold your hand out at about a 90 degree angle from your elbow.
The next piece of physical evidence disproving Wilson’s story and corroborating Johnson’s is the location of the shell casings from Wilson’s gun. Two casings were found on the ground OUTSIDE the vehicle.(Vol.2 pg 93) NO casings were found inside the vehicle. (Vol.2 pg150) This strongly suggests that the gun was outside the vehicle when the shots were fired and the casings ejected from the gun. This is especially true since it seems highly unlikely that the shells could be ejected through the window since Brown was supposedly leaning inside the vehicle punching Wilson.
But, what about the shot into the door which didn’t exit? I believe that shot occurred accidentally while Wilson was exiting the vehicle to chase Brown. I believe this for a couple of reasons. First, Johnson heard only one shot before he and Brown ran. Secondly, the shot to the door simply could not have happened as described by Wilson. Third, it would explain why both shell casings were found outside the vehicle. I believe Wilson made up the highly improbable story about the second shot missing Brown and seeing it hit in the adjoining field. That story is improbable for a number of reasons. Brown was supposedly leaning into the window pounding on Wilson. Brown was almost 300 pounds and 6′ 5″. How could that shot miss Brown when he must have been filling up the entire window space? And how could Wilson see the bullet hit if he was shielding his face, firing blindly, and Brown was filling up that window space?
There is further evidence corroborating that the struggle took place outside the vehicle rather than inside. Two bracelets, presumably Brown’s since they were never identified as Wilson’s, were found on the ground outside the vehicle.(Vol.2 pg 92). This would be consistent with Brown trying to get away from Wilson rather than Wilson being punched inside the vehicle. Brown’s cap was also found outside the vehicle. (Id.). In fact, other than some minor blood splatter (presumably from the first shot), no physical evidence was found inside the vehicle.
Dorian Johnson testified that after they took off running, he heard a shot and it appeared o hit Brown as he stumbled somewhat and turned around (Vol.4 pg 120). Johnson could then hear Brown say that he didn’t have a gun before Wilson then shot him numerous times (Vol.2 pg 124).
Wilson gave a recorded statement to St. Louis County detectives one day after the shooting. Wilson told the detectives that Brown ran away about 30 feet. Wilson said he hadn’t yet fired any shots except the two in the vehicle. He said Brown began charging at him with his left hand in a fist and his right hand in his waist band and under his shirt, implying that Wilson believed that Brown may have been reaching for a weapon. After firing a number of shots, Brown kept coming with his right hand still in his waist band, Wilson retreated at least ten feet , fired some more, before Brown went down about 8 to 10 feet from him, his right hand still in his waist band under his body.
The autopsy describes an entrance wound to the dorsal right forearm.(wound #8) The dorsal part of forearm is the side which has the most hair. The bullet went through the forearm exiting on the ventral side, or the side without hair. This wound could have happened as Brown was running away, pumping his arms as he ran. The wound also proves that Wilson’s story is impossible. In his grand jury testimony (vol 5 pgs 227-229) Wilson describes being fixated on Brown’s right hand in his waist band. The reason for Wilson saying this is obvious. He had to come up with some reason to use deadly force. However, the autopsy disproves all this.
Put your hand in your waist band or on your belt buckle. The ventral, or hairy part of your forearm is exposed toward the front. At first glance, this would seem to fit Wilson’s story that he fired only after Brown started charging him with his right arm in his waist band. In that situation, an entrance wound would be on the side exposed toward Wilson. But, the bullet EXITED the other side of the forearm (wound #9), which means the bullet would have had to cause an entrance wound in Brown’s abdomen! There is no wound to the abdomen.
There is other evidence which is inconsistent with Wilson’s story. In his statement the day after the shooting he said that Brown was 8-10 feet from him when he fell face first with his right hand still in his waist band under his body. The medical examiner, though, stated that Brown’s right arm and hand were extended upward away from his body.(vol.1). Wilson stated that Brown ran two car lengths or 30 feet before he stopped and turned around. The crime scene investigator measured the distance from Wilson’s vehicle to Brown’s body at 153 feet, or 51 yards.
Wilson testified that he was rapidly backpedaling as he was firing because he was scared of Brown charging at him. (vol 5, pgs 228-29). But, acoustic evidence proves that all ten rounds were shot from the same spot. the acoustic evidence was never presented to the Grand Jury. Further, 6.5 seconds elapsed from the time of the first shot outside the vehicle to the last shot. Even a very slow person can run much further than 30 feet in 6.5 seconds.
In Wilson’s statement the day after, he describes the shooting as occurring as Brown rushed straight at him with his right hand in the waist band until he was shot in the head and collapsed. In his grand jury testimony a month later, Wilson changed his narrative to Brown, as he got to within 10 feet bending down as if he was going to tackle Wilson, but with his right hand in his waist band. Let’s put aside the obvious question about why Brown would keep his right hand in his waist band since he had no weapon and that seems like an extremely awkward way to charge someone. What changed between the time of the shooting and the grand jury testimony where Wilson now says Brown was trying to tackle him, apparently with one arm since his right was still in his pants?
What changed was the autopsy had been performed. The autopsy showed that a shot had entered the top of Brown’s skull and traveled downward. Since Brown was 6’5″, that was a problem. It would certainly seem that Brown was on his knees or on the ground when Wilson shot him in the top of the head. So, Wilson changed his story to allege that Brown was bent over trying to tackle him. Ask yourself, isn’t that an important detail to leave out of your recorded statement, that Brown was so close he tried to tackle him?
There are a lot more inconsistencies in Wilson’s statements, but I’m confining this post to the physical evidence. The physical evidence conclusively proves that Wilson’s story of the shooting is not possible.