Why Is Cook County AG Looking Into Students Studying the Wrongly Convicted?

The work of the Medill Innocence Project has already led to the exoneration of 11 inmates in Illinois. In 2000 Governor George Ryan cited the Medill Innocence Project of Northwestern University as one of the reasons he suspended the death penalty in the Land of Lincoln. It has yet to be fully reinstated.

The Medill Innocence Project has recently set its sites on the case of Anthony McKinney, convicted of murdering a security officer in 1978. The students of the Project feel that they have successfully proved that McKinney was wrongly convicted and have also succeeded in getting a judge to review the case.

One might think that thanks and accolades should be the student’s reward for their efforts to repair justice in Illinois. But for some reason Cook County prosecutors have subpoenaed the grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mails of the students of the Project. You heard that right. Prosecutors seem to be investigating the students!

The state’s attorney’s office claim that they need “every pertinent piece of information” in reassessing McKinney’s case, but what the students and their class have to do with the case is hard to grasp. One would think that all the state’s attorney’s office would need is the Project’s research on McKinney. What purpose would the prosecutors have with the student’s e-mails and class syllabus?

Prosecutors claim that they are worried that the school could be forcing students to believe they might receive better grades if they find that an inmate was wrongly convicted. But, even if that were true, shouldn’t the evidence the students present speak for itself?

The claim from the state AGs office just doesn’t wash as far as I am concerned. It just seems like harassment of the students and the school to me. Naturally the school agrees with me on this.

Northwestern University and David Protess, the professor who leads the students and directs the Medill Innocence Project, say the demands are ridiculously overreaching, irrelevant to Mr. McKinney’92s case, in violation of the state’92s protections for journalists and a breach of federal privacy statutes ’97 not to mention insulting.

I hate to agree with a University professor on much of anything (can’t tell you how many times I’ve railed against our degraded system of education in this country) but this guy is right. Investigating the students is unrelated to the McKinney case. As I said, the student’s evidence exonerating McKinney is all that is relevant to Cook County prosecutors. The student’92s lives and class organization have nothing at all to do with any of the criminal cases that might need to be reexamined.

This seems like harassment and little else.

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