1st Amendment at its best!- -Leave Northwestern University Journalism students alone!
By Sheryl McCollum
I have followed with great interest a group of Northwestern investigative journalism students who through their class have un-covered some of the most high-profile wrongful convictions in the city of Chicago. To date these students have worked to secure the release of 11 innocent prisoners, five of whom were scheduled to be executed.
Not a bad way to spend college days, huh? These students are doing good work -- honest, ethical, and difficult work. They want nothing more than to discover the truth about what truly happened in each case.
Very impressive, right? Well, here is what has happened…..
“Presented with evidence in a new case, the state attorney's office is questioning the motivations of the messenger -- the class itself. The students have raised questions about the murder conviction of Anthony McKinney. In response, the state attorney's office issued a subpoena for the students' grades, grading criteria, expense reports, syllabi and e-mail messages.”
To subpoena these students is ridiculous and obscene! They have put in the time that others in authority have not. They have “lived” the cases and spoken with everyone that they could track down. Again, others, with the authority to change the status of the case, have not! These students went into bars, prisons and other dangerous places simply seeking the truth.
Each day, I too sit with students full of hope and eager to start investigative work on a “real case”. I am often asked why they do it for no credit, no grade and no pay. The answer is simple – they want to! They are capable, smart, tireless and fair. They have a desire to learn the truth! How many in our judicial system can say that?
Does the fact that these Northwestern students received grades change the facts of the case? Does the syllabus alter the truth? Of course not!
I believe that there are clear signs when I am on the right track of a case. Hate mail, and/ or vandalism are sure signs that I am close to the truth. I never thought that I would have to add subpoena to my list!
Call me crazy, but I can’t help but think that a subpoena would better be served to the EMS that responded to the jail where the accused stated police beat him, or to an eye witness who re-canted his story on video tape.
In general, once there is a conviction, a case is not re-visited. Re-opening a closed case has always been deemed too cumbersome and labor intensive. However, with new forensic advances and technologies, today, it would be easier and faster to re-examine a case especially where the evidence may be suspect or someone is sentenced to death. No one wants criminals walking the streets and innocent people in prison! Is the system prefect – no? So why fear the second look at a case?
To these journalism students at Northwestern - - When your only agenda is the truth, stand tall and firm in the belief that the truth will not only set you free but innocent people as well! There are numerous people counting on you and the good works you do!
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