Ripped From Which Headline? "Innocence"

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
March 16 2010 12:39 PM

Ripped From Which Headline? "Innocence"

We all know that Law & Order rips its stories from the headlines—but which headlines? Every week, Brow Beat matches L&O 's plot points to the events that inspired them.

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March 15, 2010, "Innocence"

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These Are Their Stories
After Cedric Stuber is found guilty of murdering a gay man in a hate crime, the Hudson University Innocence Coalition challenges the conviction. The coalition has found a new witness, drug dealer Ricardo Diaz, who claims the victim's husband asked about finding a hit man to kill him. When ADA Cutter and the rest of the team investigate, they discover that Diaz only agreed to testify after a student from the coalition gave him booze, $100 in cash, and offered to help find him a lawyer. When Cutter notices that students who helped to secure exonerations for coalition clients received better grades, he subpoenas their academic records and e-mail archives.

This Is the Real Story
In October 2009, according to the New York Times , prosecutors subpoenaed "the grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages" of journalism students involved in Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project ." Among the issues the prosecutors need to understand better ... is whether students believed they would receive better grades if witnesses they nterviewed provided evidence to exonerate [Anthony] McKinney." The Chicago Tribune reported that prosecutors "questioned the quality of the students' investigation, saying some witnesses either recanted what they told the Medill Innocence Project or said they were improperly influenced for their statements to students investigating the crime." Last week, a judge agreed to dismiss evidence uncovered by the Medill students.

A hat tip to the Chicago Tribune , which ran its own "ripped from the headlines" story before Brow Beat had digested its breakfast.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section.