Wednesday, November 18, 2009

David Protess: Reaction to State's Filing

The following was sent out over a Northwestern University listserve. David Protess is responding the the Cook County DA's subpoena for grades and similar records of his journalism students who investigated Anthony McKinney's innocence claims.

Reaction to the state's filing
David Protess
November 16, 2009

On October 10, the State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) filed a 54-page document alleging my students paid witnesses in their investigation of the Anthony McKinney case. Breathless accounts by journalists rapidly appeared in print, broadcast and on-line publications across the country. Unfortunately, reporters focused almost entirely on the prosecutors’ allegations in the first part of the document and ignored the actual interviews with the witnesses, which were recounted as exhibits at the end of the court filing.

Here’s what we know from those exhibits — the SAO’s own investigative reports:

1. Two alleged witnesses — and no others — claimed my students and our private detective paid them money. One is convicted killer and armed robber Tony Drake, who, after murdering a disabled man in 1985, has been re-incarcerated twice for aggravated domestic battery. The other is a Wisconsin drug dealer, Michael Lane.

2. Tony Drake was interviewed, in prison, by two prosecutors and a state's attorney's investigator, and questioned about the videotaped interview with my students in which he confessed to being present for the murder of Donald Lundahl. It is not surprising that, under the circumstances, Drake recanted.

3. Even though he stated on the videotape that he had not received any compensation for talking with my students, Drake told the trio from the SAO that he'd been paid $100. Yet, the state's evidence of the alleged payment was a $60 cab fare given to the driver, for which we have a receipt. When prosecutors asked Drake about being paid for the interview, here's how he responded, according to their own report: ". . . the students told him they could not give him money for an interview." (emphasis added.)

4. Anthony McKinney's lawyers have filed seven affidavits from our sources indicating that Drake confessed the Lundahl murder to them. There is no reference to this corroborative evidence in the SAO report.

5. The second witness, Michael Lane, told a state's attorney's investigator that my students had paid him "a couple hundred dollars." The investigator was openly dubious of this claim. According to his report, he said that "it seemed unlikely the students gave him a couple hundred dollars."

6. Lane described the investigator who accompanied the students as "a male black with a ponytail maybe in his late forties." Sergio Serritella, the only investigator I have worked with since 2000, is a male white with short wavy hair and (at the time) was in his mid-twenties. Since the SAO investigator knows Serritella, he must have wondered who Lane was talking about.

7. The SAO investigator gave Lane $10 "as a travel expense," according to his report. The reason: "[Lane] was driving a Denali and it was costly to operate."

8. The SAO interview with Lane took place on June 22, 2009 — one month after the state issued a subpoena for grades because prosecutors purportedly had hard evidence that questioned Medill students’ "motivation." But the sole pre-subpoena evidence regarding motivation was their interview with Tony Drake.

9. The only other source to raise the issue of money was Robert McGruder, who was named by Tony Drake as an alternative suspect in the crime. In response to questioning by a SAO investigator, McGruder did not claim that Medill students paid him at any point for their two interviews. However, McGruder did report that the lead detectives in the McKinney case paid him “30.00 to 40.00 dollars.” When asked to explain, McGruder said it was their way of apologizing “for hitting him in the police station.”

In sum, except for Tony Drake’s claims, no witness offered any evidence that my student-journalists paid for interviews, while two witnesses said they were paid by law enforcement. And, in the case of Tony Drake, SAO investigators acknowledged Drake was specifically told by the students that “they could not give him money for an interview.”

Why would law enforcement officers believe a convicted killer's account over my student-journalists — unless their motivation was to discredit the students and to direct attention away from the powerful evidence of Anthony McKinney's innocence?

Moreover, in view of the filing, it seems the state has undermined its own legal position on the subpoena by acknowledging they have live witnesses who are available to impeach the evidence we tendered to them. So why do they need our notes and grades? Let their witnesses take the stand, and let the truth be known.

David Protess
Northwestern University

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