Prosecutor Wants To Know Journalism Students' Grades


So you're a prosecutor in a county that has seen well more than its fair share of wrongful convictions over the years, including in several capital cases. Many of those innocence cases were uncovered by a journalism class at a nearby university. That class has just uncovered yet another possible wrongful conviction. What do you do?

If you're Cook County, Illinois State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, you harrass the journalism students.

After spending three years investigating the conviction of a Harvey man accused of killing a security guard with a shotgun blast in 1978, journalism students at Northwestern University say they have uncovered new evidence that proves his innocence.

Their efforts helped win a new day in court for Anthony McKinney, who has spent 31 years in prison for the slaying. But as they prepare for that crucial hearing, prosecutors seem to have focused on the students and teacher who led the investigation for the school'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 of the university's Medill School of Journalism.

Alvarez says she needs to know the students' grades and snoop in their email in order to assess the credibility of the witnesses the students interviewed as part of their investigation. Her chief of staff defended the action by arguing Alvarez's office needs to know if the students are biased in their work.

Given the number of wrongful convictions in Cook County over the years, Alvarez should probably be more concerned about policing bias among the county's prosecutors.