State's atty investigates NU journalism project

October 20, 2009 4:29:44 AM PDT
Some journalism students at Northwestern University claim they've uncovered new evidence that could prove a convicted man's innocence. But instead of getting a pat on the back, they're feeling heat from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. VIDEO: State's atty investigates NU journalism project

For the past 10 years, the Medill Innocence Project has worked to get men like Anthony Porter, who spent years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, freed from jail.

Northwestern University professor David Protess leads a team of journalism students who have investigated many cases of people who say they have been wrongfully convicted.

For several years, they have worked to uncover new information about Anthony McKinney, in jail since 1978 for the murder of a Harvey security guard. But now, the students find themselves the focus of the investigation.

"The professor and his students can turn over their work, which makes the job of the prosecutors far easier, and I think it points out to the public that everybody in a democratic society has a stake in the judicial system," said John Lavine, dean, Medill School of Journalism.

The students' investigative materials have been subpoenaed by the Cook County state's attorney as well as their grades, evaluations of their performance, emails, and class syllabus.

Northwestern's journalism school dean says the school has already turned over documentation of witness interviews but says the request for grade reports is an attempt to undermine the work the students have done.

"Verify these witnesses and this guilty person for yourself. Let's get on with that and stop talking about my students. That's not where the attention should be. It should be on a man who is in jail who shouldn't be there," said Lavine.

Cook County state's attorney Anita Alvarez said Monday that the school information is needed to help prosecutors determine whether the students gathered the information fairly.

"When detectives interview people, and take notes on those interviews, they have to turn that over and so if students are in that position we believe that whatever they've done is information that is relevant," said Alvarez.

The states attorney's office did determine that McKinney should have a new trial, but a date has not been set.


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