Wednesday, August 10, 2011

State's attorney: Law shielding reporters doesn't protect Medill students

State says Innocence Project emails could prove collaboration with convict's lawyers

More than 500 emails between beleaguered Northwestern University journalism professor David Protess and his students detailing their effort to free a man serving a life sentence should not be protected under state law that shields journalists from revealing unpublished work, Cook County prosecutors argued Tuesday.

In seeking the release of the communications, Assistant State's Attorney Celeste Stack said the student journalists investigating the alleged innocence of Anthony McKinney were essentially "generating evidence" at the behest of Northwestern's Center on Wrongful Convictions, not acting as working reporters.

"There was no business of collecting news for publication," Stack told Criminal Courts Judge Diane Cannon. "They collected evidence to present in court. … It's clear that the lawyers were running the show."

Lawyers for the Medill School of Journalism argued that the state's law shielding reporters is broad and covers not only mainstream news media but also "advocacy journalism" that crusades for a cause or takes a certain point of view.

"Even yellow journalism is still journalism," said attorney Gabriel Fuentes.

It has been almost three years since Northwestern lawyers petitioned for a new trial for McKinney — convicted of a 1978 shotgun slaying in Harvey — based on the investigation by the Medill Innocence Project that included recanted testimony, new alibi witnesses and interviews with dozens of people involved with the case.

In response to a 2009 subpoena from the state's attorney's office, the university turned over reams of student memos, emails and other class materials that had been shared with attorneys for the Center on Wrongful Convictions, but it has fought the release of internal emails based on the reporter privilege law.

Meanwhile, the university launched its own investigation and concluded that Protess had lied about what information was shared with McKinney's attorneys, a charge Protess denied. The falling-out eventually led to Protess announcing in June he was leaving Northwestern to found his own innocence project. He is set to retire from the university on Aug. 31.

On Tuesday, Stack revealed that within the last two months, Protess found a binder containing 98 pages of documents on the McKinney investigation while he was cleaning out his office, in spite of the university's earlier assurances that it had turned over all the relevant evidence. The binder included a two-page memo from a former student detailing a meeting between Protess' students and McKinney's lawyers that further shows evidence of their collaboration, Stack said.

Prosecutors have also contended that in many cases verbatim notes and transcripts were never turned over to them and they were given only edited versions of some videotaped interviews.

Cannon said she will rule on Sept. 7

By Chicago Tribune

Source: Chicago Tribune

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