Why Michael Brown's Legal Team Is Winning the PR War as Prosecutor, Accused Cop Sit Out
As they've done on multiple occasions throughout the past week, the attorneys representing the family of Michael Brown held a televised news conference yesterday. And this one revealed a bigger bombshell than most.
Jessica Lussenhop The parents of Michael Brown (center) with attorney Benjamin Crump (right) at a news conference last week.
Standing at a podium alongside an independent medical examiner retained by the family, attorney Benjamin Crump divulged that the eighteen-year-old Brown had been shot at least six times, with the fatal blow entering the top of his skull.
"It verifies the worst that the family thinks happened -- that he was executed," Crump told reporters.
Quoting Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, Crump continued: "What else do they need to arrest the killer of my child?"
In the court of public opinion, the Brown legal team had scored another victory, leading many to actually consider McFadden's question: Why is St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch taking so long to bring an indictment against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson? And for that matter, why has the public not heard any explanation for the killing from officer Wilson?
Legal experts say there's a sound reason as to why both questions aren't being answered.
"This is not an easy case, even if prosecutors didn't have all the distractions of the media, the protests and everything else," says Matt Schelp, a former federal prosecutor and now a defense attorney with the St. Louis-based Husch Blackwell. "They are having to weigh the results of the autopsy, toxicology, witness statements and ballistics. Really, the timeline so far is pretty normal."
Moreover, given the publicity surrounding the case, Schelp says prosecutors are going to take even more time than usual to "leave no stone unturned" before delivering evidence to a grand jury. And should he publicly weigh in on the matter too early, McCulloch could risk tainting the grand jury -- effectively sabotaging the case from the start.
Jessica Lussenhop The scene on Canfield Drive where Brown was shot and killed August 9.
At his lone news conference about Michael Brown last week, McCulloch said that it would take at least two weeks before he presented the case to a grand jury. As for any evidence his team has collected along the way, it would come out at trial -- or in one fell swoop if no indictment is made. McCulloch has made no other public statement about the case since then.
Update: McCulloch's spokesman Edward Magee confirmed Tuesday afternoon that prosecutors will present their case to grand jury beginning Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the escalating unrest continues in Ferguson. Last night 31 people were arrested and two were protesters shot during the demonstrations.
"I think if they had very early been given more information as to what their investigation is showing, there wouldn't be the same level of public protest," says Marcia McCormick, a criminal-law professor at Saint Louis University who believes McCulloch's team could be somewhat more open about the case. Still, it's unlikely that the limited information the team is able to release would satisfy those demanding answers.
Danny Wicentowski Rev. Jesse Jackson is one of several civil-rights leaders who've come to St. Louis to join protesters seeking justice.
"This is an unusual case because most times when someone is killed, the police are controlling the narrative. They are the ones that report the news to the media," notes McCormick.
"Here, the lawyers for the Brown family are controlling the narrative, and they've taken strong steps to do that in an environment that is primed for a story about structural injustice and racial profiling," says McCormick. "That seems especially true in social media, where the story fits into a narrative that people already have in their heads."
But just as social media is coming out in support of the Brown family, so, too, is social media coming to the defense of his accused killer. There now exist multiple Facebook pages, such as Support Officer Darren Wilson. And since his name was made public Friday, several unnamed sources have come out with what they claim is crucial information justifying the shooting.
One of the most popular versions of that story line came when an anonymous caller claiming to be a close friend of Darren Wilson dialed into Dana Loesch's radio show on KFTK (91.7 FM). The woman told Loesch that Brown punched the officer in the face as he was in his patrol car. When Wilson gave chase, Brown allegedly turned and charged on him before being felled by bullets.
Another purported clue being pushed by Wilson's defenders came by way of a cell-phone video taken at the scene moments after the shooting in which a witness can be overheard giving a somewhat similar account as the radio caller.
Yet notably absent from any defense of Wilson thus far is actual testimony from the officer. Ferguson police have stated that the officer shot Brown only after the teenager tried to grab his gun and physically assaulted him. Other than that, little is known about the accused cop, and it's likely he'll remain silent so long as charges are not filed.
Chad Garrison At a news conference six days after the killing, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson revealed that Brown had been involved in a robbery moments before his death.
"He doesn't really need to publicly say anything at this point, and some would argue that the Ferguson police are doing that for him," says McCormick, referencing the way the police department last Friday released news of Brown's alleged involvement in a "strong-arm" robbery of a convenience store moments before his run-in with Wilson.
"Assuming he didn't plead the Fifth, he's gotten his information to the people who matter -- the police, the investigators, the FBI," adds attorney Matt Schelp. "There are ways to get Wilson's version of the story out there. I've read versions of the events that supposedly came from his friends. If I were his attorney, I'd much rather that information get out independently as opposed to having my client out there."
"Ultimately, what he wants is to not be charged," concludes Schelp. "If that happens, he won. The PR battle doesn't matter."
Correction: This article initially misspelled the name of Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden.
Contact the author at chad.garrison@riverfronttimes or on Twitter at Follow @chadgarrison