Judge rules Northwestern students to turn over emails to prosecutors

September 7, 2011

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A Cook County judge has ordered Northwestern University journalism students to give more than 500 emails to prosecutors. The emails detail efforts by students to free a man they believe was wrongfully convicted.

Northwestern has argued the information gathered by students is protected under the Illinois Reporter's Privilege Act. But Judge Diane Cannon ruled students were acting as investigators in a criminal proceeding and that makes the emails "subject to the rules of discovery."  Prosecutors are looking for emails between former journalism professor David Protess and students discussing the conviction of Anthony McKinney, who is currently serving a life sentence.

Evan Benn is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was one of the Northwestern students working on the project. He says he's disappointed in the ruling.

"But if it means the case will move forward and we can get past this subpoena issue and finally dig toward the innocence of Anthony McKinney," Benn said, "then I welcome today's ruling, and hope that it moves forward." 

In a statement, Protess says his students were investigating the case for two years before any attorneys got involved. He says all decisions were made at the school without the influence of lawyers.

Northwestern has 10 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling. A statement from the school says it will review a written statement from the judge and will evaluate its options.