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How the Ferguson prosecutor scapegoated the media, Twitter, and the witnesses to Michael Brown’s killing

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announces the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cristina Fletes-Boutte, Pool)
AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cristina Fletes-Boutte, Pool
Media critic.
By Adam Pasick
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch gave a long speech Monday night, explaining all of the reasons he did not secure a grand jury indictment of Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot dead the unarmed black youth Michael Brown in August.

While protesters outside the Ferguson courthouse and interested observers around the world waited on tenterhooks, McCullouch spent several long minutes complaining that the intense public interest in the case made his job harder.

“The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about,” he said, “following closely behind with the non-stop rumors on social media.”

McCulloch also gave a lengthy discourse about the inconsistencies among witness statements as an explanation for why the grand jury did not indict Wilson on charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first degree murder:

“Many witnesses to the shooting made statements inconsistent with other statements they made, and also conflicting with the physical evidence,” he said. “Several witnesses adjusted their statements in subsequent statements.”

Criminal justice experts (as well as Law and Order viewers or Serial podcast listeners) know that eyewitness accounts are notoriously contradictory and changeable. But these inconsistencies are usually sorted out at a trial, under examinations and cross-examinations by the prosecution and defense—not by a grand jury.

In fact, grand juries almost always deliver indictments—that’s why a judge famously explained that prosecutors can usually persuade grand juries to indict just about anyone or anything, including a ham sandwich. But there’s with one big exception: cases involving police shootings. As Quartz has reported, cops who kill citizens are rarely punished; when their cases do make it as far as grand jury, the ham sandwich rule doesn’t apply.

Here is the video of McCullough’s full press conference:

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