Editor’s note: This story was updated after publication to include more information and quotes from St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell.
St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell is not going to prosecute ex-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing of Michael Brown.
Bell announced his decision this afternoon, telling St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger the news before a scheduled news conference.
Wilson fatally shot the eighteen-year-old Brown on Aug. 9, 2014 after a confrontation on the street. The killing sparked months of protests, leading to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Although this case represents one of the most significant moments in St. Louis’ history, the question for this office was a simple one: Could we prove beyond a reasonable doubt that when Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown he committed murder or manslaughter under Missouri law?'” Bell said at the news conference. “After an independent and in-depth review of the evidence, we cannot prove that he did.”
Bell has faced questions about whether he would reopen the case since before he took office. At least in part, his election as a reform-minded prosecutor was a long-awaited rebuke to his predecessor Bob McCulloch, who oversaw the original case.
In a controversial news conference in 2014, McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson, detailing much of the evidence prosecutors included during the inquiry.
“Physical evidence does not change because of public pressure or personal agenda,” McCulloch said at the time. “Physical evidence does not look away as events unfold or block out or add to memory. Physical evidence remains constant, and as such it’s a solid foundation on which cases are built.”
His role in the case would dog him the rest of his career and ultimately cost him his job. Activists who accused the McCulloch of tanking the case came out hard against him during his re-election campaign — and helped boost Bell to victory in 2018.
But Bell had mostly stayed quiet about whether he planned to reopen the case. This afternoon, his office sent out a media alert, revealing not only that prosecutors had finished a renewed investigation, but that Bell would announce a decision at today’s conference.
He gave Messenger the news first:
During the news conference, Bell told reporters the re-investigation began about five months ago and concluded about two weeks ago. Members of a conviction integrity unit in his office intentionally kept their work secret, even from other county prosecutors to avoid being influenced by anyone, Bell added. He said it was a “tough decision” not to prosecute Wilson, but “we just could not get there with the evidence we had.”
He said prosecutors delivered the news to Brown’s family in person.
“We could not give the family what they wanted, but we did keep our obligation to this community,” he said.
The Department of Justice had reached a similar conclusion in 2015 about the evidence against Wilson.
Bell’s decision was likely the end for Brown’s family and supporters hope for Wilson to be prosecuted for the killing.
Danny Wicentowski contributed to this story.
- DANNY WICENTOWSKI
- Michael Brown’s family called for a new investigation into Darren Wilson on the five-year anniversary of the teen’s death.