Dershowitz: 'Presume Innocence' in Ferguson Shooting

Monday, 18 Aug 2014 07:01 PM

By Bill Hoffmann

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Renowned Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz says that there should be no rush to judgment in the shooting death of Michael Brown — and that the police officer who killed the teenager must be presumed innocent for now.

Dershowitz told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV that there are still too many loose ends to conclude what happened when police officer Darren Wilson confronted Brown for allegedly blocking traffic.

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Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was shot from six to eight times by Wilson, who is white, triggering a week of rioting, looting and arson in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., a predominantly black city of 21,000.

"The policeman's version, recounted by a third party, has lots and lots of holes in it. But he's claiming the young man came at him in a bum's rush and tried to grab his gun and the gun fired,'' Dershowitz said.

"I would think the forensics should demonstrate whether there were any bullet holes in the car or any firing from the car. We also don't know whether or not there was any residue on the clothing.

"We do know that there was no residue on the body, which strongly suggests the bullets were not fired from 6 inches or 4 inches or 3 inches. But they could have been fired from 24 inches away and still leave no residue.''

Dershowitz said those questions mean that a lot more forensic work is necessary before any conclusions are formed.

"We have to presume innocence. Look, the officer should have presumed the young man innocent, and we now have to presume the officer innocent,'' Dershowitz said.

"People should not rush to judgment in these cases until all the forensics are in. I'm glad the family hired [former Chief New York City Medical Examiner] Michael Baden, who I know very well and who's a terrific, reputable expert.

"He's done the second autopsy . . . and come to some inconclusive conclusions as to whether the entrance wounds are from the back, from the front, from the top as he was leaning over.''

The lack of video of the shooting also makes it harder to come to conclusions, says Dershowitz.

"Every police encounter should be videoed, but there is no video here, so it's going to have to be inferentially decided by forensics and people are going to be able to have their own narrative, even after all the evidence comes in,'' he said.

The famed civil-rights lawyer said it's "hard to tell" whether Brown's shooting will go to trial.

"I mean, it shouldn't go to trial unless there's proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer committed a crime. Even if the officer made a terrible mistake,'' he said.

"Now, if the recount of the eyewitness is correct and if he shot him in the back from 35 feet away, that's a crime. There's no justification to that.

"If it turns out that [Brown] was rushing the car, and he's a very big guy, and he was grabbing the gun, it's a very different case.''

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