Official Michael Brown Autopsy Shows He Was Shot in the Hand at Close Range [Updated]

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ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 19:  People raise their arms while chanting, "Hands up, Don't Shoot", as they stand nearby to where St. Louis police say officers shot and killed a 23-year-old man who was wielding a knife and refused to drop it on August 19, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. Violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Photo: Joe Raedle/2014 Getty Images

The slow process of investigating Michael Brown’s death has included long stretches of official silence punctuated with occasional bits of leaked information that seem to bolster one side or the other as we await a grand jury decision. Here’s one for officer Darren Wilson’s version of events: According to experts not directly involved in the case, Brown’s official autopsy, as obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “does support that there was a significant altercation at the car,” and Brown may have had his hand near Wilson’s gun.

From St. Louis medical examiner Dr. Michael Graham, who is not working on the case:

Graham said the examination indicated a shot traveled from the tip of Brown’s right thumb toward his wrist. The official report notes an absence of stippling, powder burns around a wound that indicate a shot fired at relatively short range.

But Graham said, “Sometimes when it’s really close, such as within an inch or so, there is no stipple, just smoke.”

An independent autopsy performed at the request of the Brown family found that the 18-year-old was shot six times in all, but a forensic pathologist said none of the shots appeared to have been fired at close range.

The official report, however, showed matter “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm” in a microscopic exam of tissue from Brown’s thumb wound:

Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco, said the autopsy “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound.” She added, “If he has his hand near the gun when it goes off, he’s going for the officer’s gun.”

While Wilson’s account and witnesses have both said there was a struggle at the officer’s car during which Brown was hit, the fatal shots came after Brown ran away. Witnesses have said he was surrendering, while Wilson claims the teenager came charging back. The autopsy, according to one of the experts, may back Wilson:

Melinek also said the autopsy did not support witnesses who have claimed Brown was shot while running away from Wilson, or with his hands up.

She said Brown was facing Wilson when Brown took a shot to the forehead, two shots to the chest and a shot to the upper right arm. The wound to the top of Brown’s head would indicate he was falling forward or in a lunging position toward the shooter; the shot was instantly fatal.

A sixth shot that hit the forearm traveled from the back of the arm to the inner arm, which means Brown’s palms could not have been facing Wilson, as some witnesses have said, Melinek said. That trajectory shows Brown probably was not taking a standard surrender position with arms above the shoulders and palms out when he was hit, she said.

The autopsy also confirmed reports that Brown had marijuana in his system, although that part doesn’t matter. Federal officials ordered a third autopsy; those results are still private. A St. Louis County grand jury has until January 7 — five months after Brown was killed — to recommend criminal charges against Wilson.

Update: According to the Washington Post, “more than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury that largely supports Wilson’s account of events of Aug. 9, according to several people familiar with the investigation.”

Some of the physical evidence — including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests — also supports Wilson’s account of the shooting, the Post sources said, which cast Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer’s life.

The family has not believed anything the police or this medical examiner has said,” said an attorney for the Brown family. “They have their witnesses. We have seven witnesses that we know about that say the opposite.”

Additionally, “The Post sources said the [THC] levels in Brown’s body may have been high enough to trigger hallucinations,” which may indicate where the Post’s sources are coming from.

"I think it’s good to get some accurate information out there," said former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch of the leaks. "That way on game day, it’s not a surprise to people." This much is clear: These sources, at least, want it to sound like Wilson will not face charges.

This post was originally published at 9:29 a.m. It has been updated throughout.