Monday, October 19, 2009

Innocence Project Locks Horns with Prosecutors

The Innocence Project of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University was founded in 1999 and "gives undergraduate students firsthand experience in investigating wrongful convictions under ... Professor David Protess, the Project's director." This description comes from the Project's website. The Project has an impressive record--Professor Protess and his students have helped to free eleven innocent men based on new evidence they uncovered. Five of the men were on death row at the time of their release. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan cited the Project's work when he put a moratorium on the death penalty in January 2000 and later granted clemency to all death row inmates in 2003. The Project's successes must have embarrassed Illinois prosecutors, who are now striking out at the students and their teacher.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Cook County State's Attorney is now focusing on Professor Protess and his students as they prepare for an important trial in the case of Anthony McKinney. McKinney has been in prison since 1978 for the murder of a security guard; the students say they have found new evidence that proves his innocence.

Their efforts helped win a new day in court for Anthony McKinney ... But as they prepare for that crucial hearing, prosecutors seem to have focused on the students and teacher who led the investigation for the schoool's internationally acclaimed Medill Innocence Project.

The Cook County state's attorney subpoenaed the students' grades, notes and recordings of witness interviews, the class syllabus and even e-mails they sent to each other and to professor David Protess ...

Northwestern has turned over documents related to on-the-record interviews with witnesses that students conducted, as well as copies of audio and videotapes, Protess said.

But the school is fighting the effort to get grades and grading criteria, evaluations of student performance, expenses incurred during the inquiry, the syllabus, e-mails, unpublished student memos, and interviews not conducted on the record, or where witnesses weren't willing to be recorded.

I can understand why the prosecution would want access to some of these materials--they are undoubtedly seeking to discredit the new testimony the students gathered, and the request is valid. However, seeking materials relating to the students and their academic performance strikes me as a not particularly subtle attempt to attempt to intimidate the staff and students of the Project--these materials have nothing to do with Mr. McKinney's innocence or guilt.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

This is disturbing; prosecutorial ethics is the phrase I want here.