Trio of Angels |
Three students help free four death row inmates.
Three recent graduates of the Medill School of Journalism
share a bonding experience they may not list on their résumés but
that made more of an impact than any academic achievement: They
helped to save four lives.
As seniors in professor David Protess' investigative journalism
course, Laura Sullivan, Stephanie Goldstein and Stacey Delo (all
J96) volunteered to investigate the case of four African American men
wrongfully convicted of killing a young, white couple in 1978.
Dubbed the Ford Heights Four, Kenneth Adams, Verneal Jimerson,
Willie Rainge and Dennis Williams spent almost two decades
in prison in Illinois, including time on death row for two of them.
They were exonerated because the three students - with Protess, a
band of lawyers and private investigators - proved that the four
men were innocent.
Not only did the three receive accolades from Protess for their
work, they were featured in a book documenting the case, A Promise
of Justice, which Protess co-authored with journalist Rob Warden
last year. There is talk of the story being filmed.
Goldstein is now studying public-interest law at Georgetown
University. The Ford Heights Four case augmented her decision to
study law and continues to do so. "In times of doubt [in law school],
when I wonder
if I'm doing the right thing," she says, "it keeps me going."
Sullivan, now a reporter with the Baltimore Sun, says
working on the case opened her eyes to the criminal justice system.
"When you see something like that from the inside, you realize
these men were freed not because the death penalty [legal process]
works, as many people believe, but because of the efforts of many
people - and sheer luck," she says.
The Ford Heights Four experience helped Delo gain a new
respect for the fragility of life. "You've got four guys who had 18
years ripped away from under their feet,"she says. "This taught me
that you should enjoy every day. You never know what could happen
Delo now works for an investment firm in St. Louis and plans
to enter business school. "I definitely am someone who believes an
individual can make a difference," Delo says. "Sometimes,
I think [the concept is] hard to grasp when society is so large."
Regardless of where their career paths end, the three say
participating in the Ford Heights Four case will always stay with
is not any aspect of my life that working on this case hasn't affected,"
says Sullivan. "You learn that you really can effect change. ... Anyone
can." - L.A.