Now that the grand jury in the Michael Brown case has reached its decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson, it's worth asking: how did they get there?
A grand jury is nothing like what you see on "Law & Order."
Forget about those juries you see on TV shows: A grand jury is not gathered to figure out the guilt or innocence of a defendant. Think of it as the step before that happens, when the panelists weigh the evidence to decide if a criminal charge should be brought to trial at all.
After meetings -- often for months at a time -- they can hand up an indictment, which indicates there is probable cause that a crime occurred. Or, they can turn down a prosecutor's request for an indictment, as the grand jury in the Ferguson case did on Monday night (November 24).
Who actually served on the grand jury in the Michael Brown case?
The grand jury jury in this case was made up of 12 local citizens -- six white men, three white women, two black women and one black man. Though St. Louis County is around 70 percent white, the suburb of Ferguson is nearly two-thirds black, which led to some contention about the jury's profile.
They were responsible for looking into why unarmed Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed on August 9 by officer Wilson after a confrontation in the street.
How long did the grand jury work on the case and what evidence did they get to hear and see?
The grand jurors began meeting on August 20 and they sifted through a lot of information and reports, yet very little of their deliberations have leaked despite the intense scrutiny on the case.
It's a secret process, but we did hear that over the past few months the grand jurors heard from eyewitnesses, the medical examiner in the case as well as the officer at the center of the incident, Wilson, who testified for four hours.
The grand jury listened to 70 hours of testimony and sifted through lots of evidence.
In announcing the decision not to charge Wilson, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch listed on Monday night some of the evidence the grand juror's pored over. Describing them as "extremely engaged," he said they asked for specific witnesses, information and pieces of evidence, listened to 70 hours of testimony and reviewed hours of recordings of media and law enforcement interviews.
He said they also heard from three medical examiners -- who all came to similar conclusions -- as well as experts on blood, DNA, toxicology, firearms and drug analysis and looked at hundreds of photographs.
McCulloch also said that many witness statements conflicted with the physical evidence as well as their own previous testimony, with some saying they had repeated stories they'd heard from others or spoke of what they assumed had happened.
In a highly unusual move, Wilson also testified.
What charges could Officer Wilson have faced if he had been indicted?
The grand jury not only had to decide if there was enough evidence to charge Wilson, but also what the charge should be. After two days of deliberation, McCulloch said they found no probable cause to file any charges.
The range of options they could have considered included the most serious, first-degree murder, which would have required that prosecutors prove Wilson killed Brown after thinking or planning his actions. If convicted at trial on that charge, Wilson could have gotten life in prison without parole or the death penalty. They could have also opted for second-degree murder (life in prison without the possibility of parole) or lesser manslaughter charges that could have brought prison sentences of 5-15 years.
Unlike other juries, a grand jury decision does not have to be unanimous. In Missouri, votes from nine jurors is enough to go forward with charging. McCulloch said the law does not allow anyone to ask what the vote count was or what opinions were expressed in the grand jury room.
Will we ever know what evidence the grand jury heard?
McCulloch stayed true to his vow to take the unusual step of releasing the transcripts and audio recordings of the grand jury investigation immediately after Monday's announcement in order to offer complete transparency in the grand jury process.
Is this the end of the road for this case?
On top of the grand jury's decision, the Justice Department is in the midst of its own investigations, including one looking into whether Wilson may have violated Brown's civil rights.
According to NPR, it's likely that the Justice Department would reach an agreement with the Ferguson Police Department that would require changes in the way the department goes about its work in the future, as well as a possible shake-up in personnel; the FBI is also conducting its own review of the case.