Hearing date set in NU journalism case

February 22, 2010 11:41:39 AM PST
A judge questioned attorneys in a case of a possible wrongful conviction involving Northwestern University journalism students.The students' e-mails and grades were subpoenaed after their investigation of a 1978 murder in which Anthony McKinney was convicted in 1981. Students say they have proof McKinney is innocent, but prosecutors said students made up the evidence for good grades and allege they bribed witnesses.

"The goal of the Innocence Project is to free wrongly convicted people. We've had a good relationship with Northwestern. But this is the first case where the evidence that's going to be reviewed in a courtroom has been totally created by students. And they were not creating evidence for newspaper reporting. They were creating evidence for court," said Cook County Prosecutor Celeste Stack.

At Monday's hearing, Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Cannon wanted clarification from defense attorneys for McKinney, who are trying to overturn his conviction. McKinney's attorneys have removed several of the witnesses connected to the students, so legal experts said they may go forward. Judge Cannon set a hearing date for March 10.

The Cook County state's attorney's office subpoenaed Northwestern professor David Protess seeking his syllabus, grades and e-mails. His classes say they uncovered evidence that McKinney was wrongfully convicted for a 1978 murder of a security guard.

Prosecutors claim students may have been under pressure to prove McKinney's innocence for good grades. But Protess and the students have denied that.

"We deny any sort of wrongdoing...or bribing of witnesses. There's just no truth to that whatsoever," said Dick O'Brien, attorney for Northwestern students.