The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Q&A with Robert McCulloch: ‘Some people regardless of the outcome…will not be happy’

Robert McCulloch. (St Louis County Prosecutor’s Office via Reuters)

The following interview with St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch was conducted on Wednesday afternoon.

Kimberly Kindy: It’s unusual for you to have a grand jury hear all of the evidence in a case. Why did you choose to do it this way?
McCulloch: “Because of the interest that this case has generated and the concern it has generated in the community. Rather than have the lead investigator testify and a witness here and there, we are giving them everything.”

Kindy: Some people in the community are accusing you of taking this tack to avoid responsibility if Officer [Darren] Wilson isn’t charged. How do you respond to that?
McCulloch: “I don’t know how that is dodging anything. They are getting direct testimony from witnesses to the event…There are some people regardless of the outcome who will not be happy. That just comes with the territory.”

Kindy: There are concerns about civil unrest if the jury does not indict Officer Wilson. Are you doing anything different because of those concerns?
McCulloch: “Everything that the grand jury hears — all the testimony and all the physical evidence — will be released to the public if there is no indictment. People will be able to see everything regardless of what happens.”

Kindy: When do you think the grand jury will be finished with the case:?
McCulloch: “It is looking like very late October, probably going into the first or second week of November even…It’s gone slower than I anticipated. The witnesses have taken longer than we thought they would.”

Kindy: Why has it taken so long with the witnesses?
McCulloch: “They are hearing any statement that they made to the police, to the media and [grand jury members] are hearing from the witnesses themselves…the grand jury can also ask questions as they deem appropriate.”

Kindy: Why extend the grand jury’s term to Jan. 7?
McCulloch:“Nobody anticipates it will go anywhere near January, but in case something does go wrong, we felt it was important to have that time just in case.”

Kindy: When was the last time you had to do this with a grand jury; extend their service in this way?
McCulloch: “I’ve been doing this for 24 years. I haven’t ever done this.”

Kindy: How many witnesses do you have in this case?
McCulloch: “We won’t say how many witnesses there are. We are just saying that anyone who viewed the shooting or witnessed any part of what happened, who have come forward, will testify before the grand jury. It’s very similar to a jury trial in that way.”

Kindy: Can you talk about Officer [Darren] Wilson and his testimony?
McCulloch: “No. We aren’t talking about if he testified or did not testify.”

Kindy: Some members of the community have asked that you step down from the case. They say you can’t be fair. Can you?
McCulloch: “This argument is silly. They keep bringing up my father who was killed in the line of duty…When I was 12 years old, my father was killed. I lost a loved one to violence. The pain was because I lost my father. It didn’t matter that he was an officer….It shaped my life. If anything, it made me a strong advocate for the victims of violence.”

Kindy: You started presenting evidence to the grand jury while the FBI and county police were in the middle of their investigations. How close are they now to wrapping things up?
McCulloch: “For the most part, they are pretty much done. No one has written a report yet though. And normally, we wouldn’t even present to a grand jury until the report was done.”

Kindy: Are jurors hearing evidence from both of the investigations?
McCulloch: The FBI and county police “are doing separate investigations. The county is looking for violations of state law. The feds are looking for violations of federal law. The grand jury will only consider violations of state law, but if the FBI interviewed a witness, they provided that information to us…Whatever the county police has that also went to the FBI. So we are all operating with the same information.”

Kindy: Are you in the jury room at all?
McCulloch: “I met with the grand jurors before the process started to lay out the procedures that they would follow. I told them that was the first and last time they would see and hear from me.”

Kindy: What role are you playing?
McCulloch: “I am playing the role of the supervisor. The two attorneys (Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley) who are presenting are highly qualified. They keep me abreast of things: when [the grand jury] is meeting, how many witnesses they have and how things are going. I am not involved with interviewing witnesses or talking to witnesses before they go in or anything like that.

Kindy: How often is the grand jury meeting?
McCulloch: “Several times a week. Maybe it’s not a full day each time they meet. A half day here and there. Whatever works for them. Whenever they can get all 12 members together.”

Kindy: What is one of the biggest misconception about the grand jury process that you want to dispel?
McCulloch: “People seem to think I selected the grand jury. The grand jury is selected by a judge. The judge sends that list to us. We play no part in the selection process.”