MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper has the story.
DAVID SCHAPER: Evan Benn, now a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, took Protess's class in 2004.
EVAN BENN: Our main thing was we identified some alternative suspects and we came down, actually, down here where I am now to East St. Louis and spoke to one of them, confronted one and he confessed on videotape to us that he was present at the time of this crime and Anthony McKinney wasn't even there.
SCHAPER: At the time, undergrad Benn thought he had a big journalistic scoop.
BENN: And I really thought, at that point, that once we got that tape in the hands of prosecutors, that it would be a number of days until Anthony McKinney walked out of prison a free man.
SCHAPER: Attorneys there petitioned the Cook County courts for a new trial for McKinney in 2008. But as prosecutors reinvestigated the case, they raised questions about the students' methods. Cook County state's attorney, Anita Alvarez.
ANITA ALVAREZ: When we went out and interviewed these people, we were finding that they were telling us, you know - no, that's not what I said to them. Or, this is what they said to me. This is how that statement came about.
SCHAPER: Protess and Northwestern University objected. They argue that journalism students are protected by Illinois Reporters' Privilege Act, which shields journalists from revealing their notes and sources. Alvarez disagrees.
ALVAREZ: These students, albeit students and journalism students, were really acting in the role of a criminal investigator.
SCHAPER: Northwestern journalism grad Evan Benn disagrees with that ruling.
BENN: We were only acting under the direction of our professor, David Protess.
SCHAPER: Beth Konrad teaches journalism at Loyola University of Chicago. She fears the ruling will have a chilling effect on investigative journalism students.
BETH KONRAD: People will walk away. Students, journalism programs - they'll walk away saying, wow, watch out what you do here because if you're part of this, you can be subpoenaed for your notes, for your grades, for your emails, for all of your materials, your tapes, anything that you have, because that's what happened at Medill.
SCHAPER: Northwestern has until September 21st to appeal. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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