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Ferguson Documents Focus On 90 Key Seconds

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Last night, the prosecuting attorney in St. Louis County released thousands of pages of documents from the case. It's a trove of evidence that was presented to the grand jury, focusing on 90 key seconds - that's the amount of time that passed from when Officer Wilson stopped Michael Brown to when he fired the final bullet. NPR's Eyder Peralta has been sifting through the documents, and he joins us now. Welcome, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: So start with the top line. As you sift through these thousands of pages, what stands out most?

PERALTA: So we've been focusing on three things - the testimony from Darren Wilson, dozens of witness statements and then there's a lot of physical evidence in this case.

SHAPIRO: So let's start with what Officer Darren Wilson told the grand jury. What do these documents say about that?

PERALTA: The story that Wilson tells is that he was really scared of somebody who was much bigger than him. He says Michael Brown reached into his police vehicle and punched him several times. At one point, he grabs onto Michael Brown's arm and he says, quote, he "felt like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan." It is worth noting that Wilson is six feet, four inches tall and weighs 210 pounds. Brown was an inch taller and weighed about 290 pounds.

SHAPIRO: So according to Wilson's testimony to the grand jury, he was afraid for his life?

PERALTA: Yeah, I mean, he said as much. He said that after those two punches, a third could be, quote, "fatal if he hit me right."

SHAPIRO: Investigators found that Officer Wilson fired 12 shots. Six of them directly hit Michael Brown, two more grazed him. Did Wilson explain to the grand jury why he fired so many shots?

PERALTA: Wilson says he didn't realize how many times he fired his weapon, and he didn't even realize if he was hitting Michael Brown. He says he kept firing because Michael Brown kept coming at him. I'll read one telling excerpt. (Reading) At this point, it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I was shooting him.

SHAPIRO: In addition to Wilson, the grand jury heard from dozens of witnesses, some saying that Brown was stumbling towards Wilson, some saying that he was charging towards Wilson. When you read this testimony, what kind of an impression are you left with?

PERALTA: Yeah, I mean, that's the most complicated part of the case and probably the most important part of the case because some witnesses very clearly say that he was surrendering while some witnesses say that he had no expression on his face and was moving forward or toward the officer in an aggressive manner. And that's certainly what Officer Wilson says. And then there's another witness that very clearly says, you know, Brown was, quote, "executed." So there's just many different perspectives of what happened.

SHAPIRO: So many of the protests have involved this hands up, don't shoot gesture. Is it clear from the witness testimony whether Brown had his hands up or was reaching for what Officer Wilson might have believed to be a weapon, even though we now know that there was no weapon on Brown's body?

PERALTA: Yeah, again, I think this is one of the most important and one of the most complicated parts of the case. One witness clearly says, you know, his hands were below his shoulders while one says, you know, there were completely up. And, again, it's how you interpret that. You know, one witness says that maybe he was looking at injuries. So does that mean that his palms were facing the officer or facing himself, right? And so it came down to interpretation of whether you saw this as an aggressive move or as a move of surrender. Darren Wilson, in his testimony, says that he couldn't tell whether he was making fists with his hands up.

SHAPIRO: In addition to the witness testimony, there was a lot of physical evidence presented to the grand jury. What does that show?

PERALTA: So there's two things of importance. First, all three autopsies agree that Michael Brown was never shot in the back as some early witnesses claim. Second, they found Brown's blood inside the police car and on Darren Wilson's gun. This implies that there was close range contact, like Wilson alleges.

SHAPIRO: So, Eyder, after sifting through all of this, what is your takeaway?

PERALTA: You know, it's really unusual for a prosecuting attorney to release this much evidence. And last night, Robert McCulloch said that he released this trove to provide some closure, but it also leaves a lot open to interpretation.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta. Thanks very much, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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