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Timing Of Leaked Autopsy Report Hints Grand Jury Decision Is Near

Police line the sidewalk in front of the Justice Center in Clayton Wednesday morning. 82014
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo

The timing of the latest leaks about the Ferguson police shooting may make some sense, with the St. Louis County grand jury expected to complete its work within weeks.

“They already know the decision, and they’re trying to prepare people for it,’’ said one source close to the investigation.

That's in line with what former county police chief, Tim Fitch, told KMOX radio. He said that an indictment was unlikely and the leaks are an attempt "to start getting some of the facts out there to kind of let people down slowly."

Ed Magee, a spokesman for St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, confirmed Thursday that the 12-person grand jury is expected to finish by mid-November its investigation into the police shooting that killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. Brown’s killing has touched off months of unrest, attracting national and international attention.

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said Thursday that the recent leaks are “orchestrated’’ and blamed McCulloch’s office.

“The orchestrated leaks regarding the work of the grand jury reviewing the Michael Brown shooting are unbelievable and certainly do not inspire confidence in this process or the office of the prosecuting attorney,” Dooley said in a statement. “We have leaks even with the eyes of the federal government watching. I believe these actions are reckless and do nothing but agitate an already uneasy community. I've called for a special prosecutor and I stand by that; certainly greater oversight is needed."

McCulloch’s spokesman said neither the grand jury nor his office had anything to do with the leaks. 

Some sources have suggested a federal link because the Department of Justice and area members of Congress have been privy to some parts of the local probe. All have denied leaking any information to the press.

Wilson’s lawyer also has issued a statement denying any link to the leak and adding their camp wasn’t in possession of the autopsy report. The lawyer for Brown’s family has decried the leaks as an attempt to discredit Brown.

The grand jury's process

It will be up to the grand jury to recommend whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson should be indicted. Experts familiar with such cases have emphasized for months that police are rarely indicted in shootings, unless it’s clear that the officer acted inappropriately and was not in fear of his or her safety.

If the grand jury does not indict Wilson, its findings are expected to be released around the same time, Magee said. But he emphasized that it would depend on the jury. He noted the large amount of information that has been presented to the jurors.

As a rule, county grand juries have met on Wednesday, but Magee said that this grand jury has a different schedule. It "is meeting when all 12 are available, no set dates or times," he said.

In an appearance on St. Louis on the Air earlier this month, McCulloch said that all testimony is being recorded and prepared for release as the grand jury progresses. He also said that “the judge has told me that she will order that everything be released.”

The official autopsy findings, leaked earlier to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, show that Michael Brown was struck by one bullet – in his hand -- at close range.

The other bullets fired by Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson, including the fatal head wounds, were fired at a distance, the newspaper reported. The autopsy also indicated that Brown was facing the officer.

The autopsy’s general findings are in line with Wilson’s reported testimony to the grand jury, in which Wilson said he first shot Brown during an altercation in the police car.

However, one of the forensic experts quoted by the Post-Dispatch has taken issue with how her comments were interpreted. Judy Melinek told hosts on the cable TV channel MSNBC that she made clear that the autopsy results leave open the possibility for other scenarios, aside from Wilson’s account.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.