There's a very important editorial in The Nation this
week that I hope everyone will take the time to read.
It's about the wrongful conviction of Anthony McKinney,
who's been in prison for thirty-one years for a murder
he did not commit. I'm posting the relevant portions below.
On the evening of September 15, 1978, a white
security guard named Donald Lundahl was murdered in
a robbery gone awry in a racially fraught southern
an 18-year-old African-American with no criminal
record, as the killer. The prosecution sought death
by lethal injection; the judge sentenced
life in prison.
newly uncovered evidence, there's strong reason to
believe that he has spent thirty-one years in prison
for a crime he did not commit.
...In 2000 the
governor, George Ryan, issued a moratorium on the
death penalty, and in 2003 he granted clemency to
all death-row inmates. Ryan announced his decision
Northwestern journalism professor David Protess and
his students at the
had uncovered evidence that helped free five wrongly
convicted men from death row.
In 2003 Protess and his students began examining
reporting, they unearthed startling new evidence:
the prosecution's two main witnesses, 15 and 18 at
the time of the trial, recanted their testimony
during interviews with the students, claiming they
were beaten by the police and intimidated into
doctoring the facts;
beaten with a pipe by a detective with a history of
police brutality before signing a sham confession;
TV logs proved that both witnesses were watching a
boxing match at the time of the shooting and thus
could not have seen the murder; an ex-gang member,
Anthony Drake, confessed on tape to being at the
murder scene, named two perpetrators and said
residents of the neighborhood confirmed they heard
Drake and two other suspects confess to Lundahl's murder.
In 2006 the Medill Innocence Project turned over its
findings to the Center on Wrongful Convictions at
Northwestern's law school. The center shared the
evidence with the
Office, which began an internal investigation the
following year. After more than a year of delay by
the state, the center filed a postconviction
petition on behalf of
calling for a new trial or his immediate release.
Following her election that November as
State's Attorney, hardline career prosecutor Anita
Alvarez fought the discovery of new evidence, and in
May she issued a sweeping, unprecedented subpoena
ordering Protess to hand over all material related
memos and grades. Alvarez insultingly suggested that
students might receive better grades for uncovering
exculpatory evidence and claimed that Protess and
his students were "investigators," not journalists,
and thus not subject to the
law...Apparently Alvarez has never heard of
...The state's subpoena, wielded to stall justice
and intimidate those who seek it, sets a terrible
precedent. Lawyer Barry Scheck says that in his
seventeen years at the Innocence Project in New
directed at journalists or lawyers. Concludes
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at
George Washington University, "It creates an
enormous chilling effect that's positively glacial."
Judge Cannon will soon rule on the validity of the
state's subpoena. We urge her to throw it out and
order a prompt evidentiary hearing. The kind of
difficult reporting undertaken by the Medill
Innocence Project should be celebrated, not
undermined. It's shocking that the state would
rather keep an innocent man behind bars than admit a mistake.
Nine groups of student journalists from Medill have
he's a fragile and gentle man who's battled severe
depression during three decades of wrongful
incarceration. "If the state had gotten its way,"
Protess notes, "he would have been executed long ago."
I was one of those students. I took Protess's class in
the spring of 2004 and worked on
experience became the highlight of my time at Medill. My
team and I were just twenty-one and twenty-two at the
time, thrust into unfamiliar environs on the South Side
of a murder that occurred before any of us were born.
David's class, more than any other, taught me how to be
a reporter, how to make make difficult decisions in a
quick and decisive manner and how to always strive for
justice and empathy in my work. (CNN anchor and
alum Nicole Lapin has also posted a great piece about
her own experiences.)
Find out the truth, David told us. That was his only
mandate. Our work on the
convinced me of his innocence. The facts were startling
and overwhelming. We hoped that after the Center on
Wrongful Convictions shared our evidence with the Cook
things from our vantage point, treat the facts with
respect and come to a serious conclusion about
McKinney's innocence, granting him a new trial or full
release. That hasn't happened. Instead, the state has
stalled its own investigation and hit Protess and his
students with an unprecedented subpoena that has far-
It's impossible to describe what it's like to work on a
wrongful convictions case until you've actually done it.
The work eats at you and wrenches at your heart. This
case is not over. Justice can still be done. David
taught us to believe, perhaps naively, that the truth is
powerful enough to set someone free.