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The Other Side of the Story in Ferguson

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I take press reports with a grain of salt, not because I think reporters are biased (although some certainly are), but because I much prefer facts about alleged crimes to be proved by the rigors of presentation in court, in particular oath-taking and cross-examination.  This is one reason that, for example, I put no great stock in one-sided "reports" that, 22 years after the fact, Cameron Todd Willingham has been "proved" innocent by "more advanced" scientific testing conducted by his partisans without oversight, scrutiny, or adversarial process of any kind.

It is with this skepticism in mind that I bring you this report from the New York Post:  "A Dozen Witnesses Say Ferguson Teen Attacked Cop Before Shooting".  There is also a report out that the cop, Officer Darren Wilson, suffered a facial fracture as a result of being attacked by the teenager he shot.

If these reports are true, it's very difficult to see how a scrupulous prosecutor can indict Wilson.

Unfortunately, with the politically edgy Civil Rights Division on the case, the operative word here is "scrupulous." 

We shall see.

UPDATE:  The original source for this story, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter 
Christine Byers, has been on family and medical leave since March, and has tweeted that the story does not appear in the paper because "it did not meet standards for publication." This makes me happy that I started this entry by reiterating my skepticism about about media reports.  Of course the story may still be true; we should find out more in the days to come. 

3 Comments

"[I]t's very difficult to see how a scrupulous prosecutor can indict Wilson."

Well, that's not what former Missouri Attorney General and now Governor Jay Nixon believes. He is calling for a "vigorous prosecution." Either he has inside information regarding the strength of the case against Wilson or he is engaged in political grandstanding to further his career in his party?


One other thing he's doing is providing grist -- should a prosecution come about -- for a motion to dismiss on grounds that the jury pool has been intentionally poisoned. This is of course not to mention what Eric Holder has done along those same lines.

I doubt such a motion would succeed, but it seems to me that what government officials should do if they're actually interested in a fair trial (and if there turns out to be a basis for an indictment at all) is QUIT TALKING. When I was a federal prosecutor, I never even considered jabbering to the press at the investigatory stage. I don't know if it's unethical, but it's certainly unprofessional, not to mention stupid.

I agree, a motion to dismiss will fail. But the poisioning of potential trial jurors might result in a change in venue.

Can't a grand jury also be tainted because of Holder and Nixon's diarrhea of the mouth? Isn't Wilson entitled to a fair grand jury proceeding as well as a fair trial (assuming he is indicted)? Can any ensuing indictment be challenged on the ground that the grand jury was tainted by the prejudicial comments/publicity (presuming guilt and obliterating the presumtion of innocence)?

It is my understanding that 50% of felony cases in St.Louis County are initiated by indictment and 50% by information. So why would the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney elect the grand jury route in this case, and do so before his office has completed its officer involved shooting criminal liablity determination?

This whole thing smells bad. The wheels of justice generally grind slowly -- very slowly in most serious cases. So why the rush in this case? It seems to me that pressure from the mobs and the politicos, rather than objective, considered, thoughtful legal and factual analysis by an apolitical prosecutor, is steering this ship.

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