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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is prosecutor unfairly targeting the Innocence Project?

Northwestern University's Innocence Project has helped free 11 men who were wrongly convicted. It's actually a class in the journalism school there. Students reinvestigate cases where they believe someone might have been sent to prison for something they didn't do, then present their results. The project's work has been very influential. Back in 2000, Illinois' then-Gov. George Ryan put a hold on the state's executions based largely on their reporting.

But they've hit a snag with their latest investigation. Cook County's prosecutor has agree to reopen the case against a convicted murderer, but he's seeking notes and information about the Innocence Project that goes beyond what they post online. He wants the students' grades, off-the-record interviews, emails, etc. The school is fighting the subpoena, and because Illinois has a shield law for journalists, they have a fighting chance of succeeding.

The prosecutor says he wants all of this background to make sure the students didn't have a bias -- that they weren't simply trying to prove the man innocent, even if he wasn't, because they simply wanted a good grade. Their instructor says that's beyond the point -- he says the project's findings are merely a starting point. The prosecutor still has to go back and interview the same people they did.

Hat Tip: Many thanks, Keith G in PV!

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