The story that drove the riots in Ferguson last August was this: an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, 18, had been killed in cold blood by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, on Aug. 9.
Grand jury proceedings made public Monday evening by the St. Louis County prosecutor tell a different story. The witness testimony and physical evidence all show there was a confrontation through the window of Wilson’s Chevy Tahoe that day. The fight resulted in shots fired from Wilson’s sidearm that wounded Brown.
But the new clarity has already given way to another confusion: what happened next? After Brown was shot he staggered away from the police vehicle and Wilson got out of the car. From there, witness testimony becomes contradictory. The forensic evidence shows, and most eyewitness accounts agree, that the final shots were fired after Brown turned to Wilson and began moving back towards him. But there is little consensus over Brown’s intentions as he did, and whether his hands were raised in a threatening manner or attempting to show surrender.
Here are some of the key witness accounts of what happened when the two faced off for a second, deadly encounter:
Ultimately it was the grand jury’s responsibility, after weeks of testimony and days of deliberation, to pass judgment on the credibility of the witnesses and to weigh their words against the physical evidence to determine whether there was probable cause to issue an indictment.
Before they made that judgment, the jurors were given the following instructions from St. Louis County prosecutor Kathi Alizadeh, who set a high bar for jurors to return a true bill against Wilson. Alizadeh compared it to “proving a negative”:
“You must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not act in lawful self-defense and you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not use lawful force in making an arrest,” Alizadeh instructed the grand jurors. “And only if you find those things, which is kind of like finding a negative, you cannot return an indictment on anything or true bill unless you find both of those things.”