Today we take a look at the grand jury testimony of Northwestern Medill Journalism student Syandene Rhodes-Pitts, who was one of the students working with Professor David Protess in investigating the Anthony Porter case.
Her testimony was on February 22, 1999. Here are some points of interest:
* She and other met with Anthony Porter in jail on January 11
* Porter did not furnish them with any helpful information
* Nobody asked Porter any questions about his alibi at trial
* She denied her meeting with Porter was an "interview"
* Nobody asked Porter about his whereabouts:
Q: While you were there with him for that hour, did anybody ever ask him where he was on the early morning hours of August 15, 1982?
* She did not ask Porter if he knew Eugene Beckwith, Michael Woodfork, Kenneth Edwards or Mark Senior
* She did not even know who these people were:
Q: Do you know who those people are?
[HOW COULD SHE NOT KNOW THAT? THEY WERE KEY WITNESSES WHO SAID THEY SAW PORTER IN THE PARK THAT NIGHT, AND EDWARDS SAID HE SAW PORTER PULL THE TRIGGER]
*This was the only time she spoke to Porter prior to his release
* She has had a few conversations with Porter since his release
* She never asked Porter about his alibi on August 15, 1982
* She never discussed with Porter his whereabouts on August 15, 1982
* She never asked Porter whether he was in the pool area of Washington Park at the time that Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard were shot
* At the time she spoke to Porter in jail, she already believed he was innocent:
GRAND JUROR: You weren’t really looking to see if he was guilty or innocent of this crime at that point as much as you were interested in seeing whether he was mentally competent at the time of his trial, to stand trial, or to understand his rights and so on?
A: I actually – I believed he was already innocent at that time, so I wasn’t there to make my final decision.
GRAND JUROR: You believe he was innocent at that time?
[THE GRAND JUROR SEEMS SKEPTICAL]
[BEAR IN MIND, SHE ADMITTED SHE DIDN'T KNOW EDWARDS, SENIOR, WOODFORK AND BECKWITH WERE. PERHAPS SHE THOUGHT PORTER WAS INNOCENT BECAUSE SHE WAS IGNORING ALL OF THE EVIDENCE IMPLICATING PORTER. JUST A THOUGHT]
* Again, she admits to not knowing about the key witnesses against Porter:
Q: Did anyone direct you to interview Beckwith, Senior, Woodfork or Edwards?
Q: Did you read the police reports?
A: I scanned them early on.
[SCANNED THEM? EARLY ON? WEREN'T THE POLICE REPORTS CRUCIAL DOCUMENTS TO LOOK AT? IF YOU WERE SEEKING THE TRUTH, WOULDN'T THE POLICE REPORTS BE A GOOD STARTING POINT?]
Q: Did those four names that I just mentioned, do they mean anything to you?
A: I really don’t recall like where or who – where they might fall in or who they might be.
[REALLY? YOU DON'T KNOW WHO THEY MIGHT BE? HMM. . . ]
* A Grand Juror expressed concern that perhaps the students were just pawns:
GRAND JUROR: Hearing your story, hearing the Professor’s story, hearing other witnesses’ stories gives me the impression that it’s entirely possible at times that you might be a pawn?
A: Who might be?
GRAND JUROR: You
A: Me, myself?
GRAND JUROR: You and other students possibly a pawn, and so we are trying to find out. It’s not a – you know, we need to know the truth. We need to know the facts. All we can know. If there is – is there any television connection to all of this, is there a big story, a book, is there – what is motivating the move towards this direction where there is a lot of evidence that you have admitted that you have seen but passed over blindly perhaps without giving it a second look, it’s not being investigated and -
A: I don’t think I understand.
GRAND JUROR: I’m sure you don’t, because you don’t know – you’ve been asked and you’ve indicated that you don’t know, and yet you should.
A: Are you saying is there a movie motivating what, like television -
GRAND JUROR: Could be anything. An innocent man being railroaded. A guilty man being let loose. It makes a great story.
[I THINK THIS GRAND JUROR MIGHT BE ON TO SOMETHING? WHAT DO YOU THINK?]
A: What are you saying?
GRAND JUROR: I am saying it’s a lot of money
A: And your question is?
GRAND JUROR: I am saying that you are a part of it and you don’t know anything about it.
A: Know anything about?
GRAND JUROR: About what’s behind -
A: I know what I’ve been doing for the past month and that has been investigating Anthony Porter’s innocence.
GRAND JUROR: Or guilt. He might be guilty?
[EXCELLENT QUESTION. DID ANY OF THE JOURNALISM STUDENTS LOOK AT THE "GUILTY" SIDE OF THE STORY??]
A: The class I am taking is investigative journalism and we were given the case because there was no evidence linking him -
[WHAT?? WHAT ABOUT THE TESTIMONY OF EDWARDS, SENIOR, WOODFORK AND BECKWITH, THE GUYS SHE DID NOT KNOW??]
GRAND JUROR: You left out
A: – - to the crime.
GRAND JUROR: What would you say is your objective of the assignment you were given?
A: I believe the objective would be to find any evidence, interview anyone you could that would lead to freeing this man.
[NOW WE'RE GETTING SOMEWHERE! SHE ADMITS HER MISSION WAS NOT THE TRUTH. HER MISSION WAS TO SPARE PORTER FROM THE DEATH PENALTY. SOUNDS LIKE SHE AND THE STUDENTS - AT PROFESSOR PROTESS' INSTRUCTION - WERE NOT INTERESTED IN THE "BAD FACTS" ONLY THE POTENTIALLY GOOD FACTS. THIS IS JOURNALISM???]
GRAND JUROR: Your objective is freeing him not just investigating all of the facts?
[THE GRAND JUROR READ MY MIND]
A: Right, investigating the facts, and as the facts – as we had read the facts, there was no physical crime, physical evidence linking him to the crime, therefore, we proceeded with innocence.
[BUT WHAT ABOUT EDWARDS, SENIOR, WOODFORK AND BECKWITH??? WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT PORTER'S ALIBI DID NOT JIVE? AND WHAT ABOUT THE POLICE OFFICER WHO STOPPED AND FRISKED PORTER AT THE PARK RIGHT AFTER THE SHOOTING??]
* She was also unaware of key testimony from witness William Taylor:
Q: Are you also aware that William Taylor told Professor Protess on the day this affidavit was signed that he believed he saw Anthony Porter in the pool that night when he passed him, are you aware of that?
A: Are you saying is that in the affidavit?
Q: No, I am not asking you if it’s in the affidavit. What I am asking is are you aware that William Taylor said to Professor Protess that he believed Anthony Porter was in the pool that night and ran past him?
A: No, I am not aware of that.
[HOW IS SHE NOT AWARE OF THIS EITHER?]
Q: I think that’s what you are getting at.
GRAND JUROR: I guess what I am suggesting is we have different stories about the objective of your course, whether it’s about investigative journalism, whether it’s about trying to get someone who has in a court of law been found guilty to be -
A: I am sure you have been provided with a syllabus which would probably outline Professor Protess verbatim, but as far as where I was coming from, that’s what I gave you, you know, that was my objective.
[PRETTY INTERESTING STUFF. SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK? WHAT WAS THE TRUE MISSION OF DAVID PROTESS AND HIS STUDENTS? THE TRUTH? OR THE FIND A WAY, ANY WAY, TO SPARE ANTHONY PORTER FROM THE DEATH PENALTY?]