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Northwestern Student Journalists Fight Subpoenas

Date: 10/29/2009 03:53 pm

Students with  Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project are battling with the Cook County state’s attorney office over a subpoena for off-the-record interviews in their investigation of the conviction of Anthony Kinney. The Medill Project lawyers are using the Illinois Reporter’s Privilege Act to defend the students, arguing that while the interviews were part of a class project, the students were nonetheless acting as journalists.  The students were investigating the case of Anthony Kinney, a man convicted of killing a security guard in Harvey, Illinois in 1978.
The students’ research was substantial enough to grab the attention of the state’s attorney office, which is reexamining the Kinney case as well. The Innocence Project made all on-the-record audio, videotapes, and documents available to both the state’s attorney office and the Center of Wrongful Conviction at the NU law school’s Bluhm legal clinic in 2006, but has not released off-the record interviews.

The state’s attorney office is arguing that the students were not acting as journalists and that the interviews are needed to ensure justice. "All information is relevant," state’s attorney Anita Alvarez said. "There are more notes that have not been turned over. We want to make sure cases are secure and that we don't have the wrong person convicted."

According to attorney Richard O’Brien, "the fact that [these students] are investigating does not mean that they were not also journalists," he said. "They're not mutually exclusive."

Professor Protess, the professor for the investigative journalism class the students were working through, set his students to work on the project in 2003, and there have since been a total of nine investigating student teams over three years. According to the “Daily Northwestern,” students’ work for Protess’s class has a history of overturning convictions.

Oral argument is scheduled for Nov. 10, but the judge could take additional time to rule on the case.

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