An Illinois man who has spent more than 30 years in prison on a murder charge will receive a new trial — but his attorneys won’t use some of the strongest evidence that supports his innocence because of a controversy that pitted prosecutors against the student journalists who uncovered it.
Northwestern students working with the Medill Innocence Project cast doubt on the conviction of Anthony McKinney, who was convicted of killing a security guard, by obtaining evidence that included statements from two witnesses who suggested others were responsible for the crime.
McKinney’s defense attorneys withdrew the statements in question during a hearing on Wednesday with Cook County Judge Diane Cannon’s permission. Last month, the attorneys filed a motion to exclude the evidence in an effort to persuade prosecutors to drop a subpoena for the students’ notes, grades and other information.
The excluded evidence included information about potential alternative suspects in the crime. The evidence defense attorneys will now use at trial will include eyewitnesses who say police coerced them into giving incriminating statements about McKinney, The Daily Northwestern reported.
A spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office told the Chicago Sun-Times that two men’s exculpatory statements were the "foundation" of the defendant’s claim. According to the prosecution, the two witnesses who gave the excluded evidence later claimed that the former Northwestern journalism students had paid them for the interviews, a claim the Innocence Project has vehemently denied.
Northwestern has argued that the Illinois’ Reporters Privilege Act protects student journalists’ news-gathering materials from compelled disclosure. Newspapers, news agencies and journalism groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs in January that support the Medill Innocence Project’s argument.