The Medill Innocence Project’s methods are under scrutiny by Northwestern University and Cook County prosecutors, who allege that student journalists crossed legal and ethical lines while investigating a decades-old murder. The Chicago Tribune notes that Northwestern journalism professor David Protess and his students have shifted the course of Illinois legal history, helping to rescue innocent men from death row and influence a former governor’s decision to halt executions. Prosecutors – so often the antagonists in the Innocence Project’s story – said in court Wednesday that students working on the investigation secretly recorded a witness, a practice prohibited under most circumstances in Illinois.
Northwestern has hired a former U.S. attorney to look into the project’s investigation of the hotly contested case as well as other potential ethical violations by Protess and his students. Protess confirmed that there had been a secret recording made, but he denied that the investigation by high-powered attorney Anton Valukas is focusing on ethical violations. A Northwestern spokesman said the university will review all the program’s policies and procedures, including any use of a recording device. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a written statement that the recording revelation raises “serious legal and ethical questions about the methods that the professor and his students employed during their investigation.”