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Anxieties mount as Ferguson waits on grand jury

November 24, 2014

FERGUSON, Missouri (AP) — Anxiety and speculation mounted Sunday as residents of Ferguson awaited a decision by a grand jury on whether to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black 18-year-old.

More than 3½ months have passed since police Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown after a confrontation in the middle of a street in the St. Louis suburb. The shooting triggered riots and looting, and police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas. The incident reignited debate over how police deal with young black men, and drew attention to racial tensions simmering in U.S. communities four decades after the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Two-thirds of Ferguson’s residents are black but the police force is almost entirely white.

Many in the St. Louis area thought a grand jury decision on whether to charge Wilson with a crime would be announced Sunday, based partly on a stepped-up police presence in the preceding days, including the setting up of barricades around the justice center where the panel was meeting.

The grand jurors met Friday but apparently didn’t reach a decision, and they were widely expected to reconvene on Monday, though there was no official confirmation of that. Grand juries, composed of regular citizens, determine only whether probable cause exists to indict a suspect. If the jury indicts Wilson, a separate trial will be held to decide whether to convict or acquit him.

Protesting on Sunday night, Reggie Cunningham said he doubted Wilson will be indicted and it seemed authorities were delaying an announcement “to spin this in the most positive way possible.”

“The more that they drag this out, the angrier people are going to be,” said Cunningham, 30, of St. Louis.

During church services, some pastors encouraged their flocks not to fret.

At the predominantly black Greater Grace Church in Ferguson, the pastor, Bishop L.O. Jones, referred to the pending grand jury decision briefly.

“Everybody stand to your feet and tell somebody, ‘Don’t be afraid. God is still in control,’” Jones said as church members repeated after him.

As they wait, some people have continued daily protests, while speculation has grown that the delays are intentional.

“People feel like it’s been engineered, so that the results wouldn’t come out until after the election and until the weather got cold, and it would be more difficult to protest,” said Susan McGraugh, supervisor of the Criminal Defense Clinic at the Saint Louis University School of Law. “It’s really adding fuel to the fire.”

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch had said he expected a grand jury decision by mid-to-late November. But that’s not ultimately in his control.

The 12-person grand jury deliberates in secret, without McCulloch, and sets its own schedule depending upon when the members are available.

It’s not uncommon for deliberations to take a while in complex cases when, such as in the Brown shooting, self-defense is alleged or there are two widely conflicting versions of events, said Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson, who is not involved in the Ferguson case.

Downtown STL Inc., a St. Louis civic group that promotes downtown businesses, told members in an email Saturday that the grand jury will reconvene Monday to continue deliberating. The email did not explain how the group knew that, and McCulloch’s office has not commented on the grand jury’s schedule.

If jurors meet Monday, there is no guarantee they will reach a decision that day, or even this week.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown’s family, said they are frustrated the prosecutor didn’t charge Wilson, or at least suggest a charge to grand jurors.

As it is, “you don’t have any direction, you’re just putting all the evidence out there and you’re going to let them figure it out and they can make up their own minds,” Crump said.

When the panel reaches a decision, it will be up to McCulloch to publicize it.

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Lieb reported from Jefferson City. Associated Press reporter Alex Sanz contributed to this report from St. Louis. Follow David A. Lieb at: https://twitter.com/DavidALieb

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