Ferguson grand jury witness Sandra McElroy lied about what she claimed occurred during the August 9 fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson — but McElroy was far from the only witness who lied. Prosecutors knew that many of the 62 witnesses called before the grand jury were not telling the truth, according to a CNN report.
Not only was McElroy called twice to testify, even as prosecutors aggressively attacked her testimony, another questionable witness, identified only as Witness 37, actually asked the prosecutors who were grilling him why they were bothering with his testimony.
“If none of my stuff is making any sense, why do y’all keep contacting me?” Witness 37 asked the prosecutors during the grand jury hearings.
Prosecutor Robert McCullough’s decision to go ahead with testimony from the untruthful Ferguson witnesses, sometimes with multiple appearances from those witnesses, has called into question the entire approach he employed in the grand jury process that led to Wilson walking free with no trial or even any charges for killing the unarmed teenager with multiple gunshots.
Unreliable witnesses, even outright lying witnesses, are part of any criminal investigation, according to lawyer and author Jeffery Toobin, a CNN legal expert. But the prosecutor’s job is to weed out anyone whose story does not at least seem to have a solid footing.
“It’s no surprise that some people did not tell the truth in this or any other grand jury,” Toobin said. “Usually, a prosecutor applies her own screen to the witnesses — and only introduces evidence that she believes will be credible and believable.”
McElroy, previously known as Witness 40, gave such inconsistent testimony that prosecutors at one point asked her if she had dreamed about seeing the shooting and confused the dream with reality. She eventually admitted that she based her story on accounts she had read in the news media.
But prosecutors called her to testify twice.
Another woman, Witness 22, admitted that she “just wanted to be part of something” by falsely claiming to have witnesses the shooting of Brown by Wilson.
Witness 35 also admitted fabricating testimony after prosecutors told him that his description of Wilson shooting Brown while the teen was on his knees was “not forensically possible.”
So why would prosecutors, whose sole job at the grand jury stage is to obtain indictments, present a parade of exposed liars to the grand jury? One expert, former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin, told CNN that McCullough wanted to confuse the jurors, causing them to doubt the case and let Wilson walk free.
“The prosecutors didn’t want to indict,” Hostin says. “That’s why they conducted it that way.”
Toobin said that McCullough’s tactic of presenting every possible witness, truthful or not, was designed to “dictate” that Wilson would get off with no charges.
“The best thing the criminal justice system can do is treat everyone the same,” Toobin said. “And the process that the prosecutor used — using a grand jury, which is rarely used in any kind of setting, and throwing all the evidence, rather than a selection of it, before the grand jury — almost seemed to dictate the result, which was an exoneration.”
The problem, the legal experts say, was not that a Ferguson witness lied or that several did — but that the prosecutor chose to present those witnesses to a grand jury with the apparent intent of letting Wilson go free.