Unjustly accused: Dogged journalism can make a difference
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Today we write in defense of journalism. That's no surprise coming from a newspaper, but the topic is not journalism as an information provider or as a public forum. This is about a case where journalism made the difference between prison and freedom.
The case involves David J. Munchinski, who spent 25 years in prison for the 1977 killing of two Fayette County men on the basis of what an appellate court panel this week said was "a badly tainted and highly suspect conviction." Getting someone to pay attention to questionable evidence used against Mr. Munchinski became the quest of his daughter, Raina M. Tousey.
Bill Moushey, a former Post-Gazette reporter and founder of the Innocence Institute of Western Pennsylvania, listened. Then he went to work, leading a group of his students at Point Park University, where he is a journalism professor, on a search for the truth.
Their reporting substantiated what the daughter had found and more, including: The star witness against her father admitted lying on the stand and said he had been coached by police on what to say. Prosecutors hid a police report that discredited the witness's claims. His co-defendant said it was not Mr. Munchinski but another man who had been his accomplice.
Through the efforts of Ms. Tousey, the journalists and attorney Noah Geary, Mr. Munchinski left prison a year ago and now lives in Florida. Mr. Geary won't be happy until the latest legal step is ended; prosecutors have four months to decide if they'll attempt a retrial. Mr. Geary also intends to refile a malicious prosecution case.
At Point Park, the institute reviewed thousands of cases and was involved in at least 16 others that were reversed. Terrell Johnson, who had repeatedly declared his innocence in a 1994 Hazelwood killing and who was the focus of an institute project, was found not guilty on Wednesday during a retrial.
The institute exposed flaws in the justice system including unreliable eyewitness identifications, false confessions and errors in forensic science. Mr. Moushey continues to teach investigative reporting methods, but in the spring, the institute stopped accepting new cases.
Even so, the tortured case of David J. Munchinski and others like it should spur the enthusiasm of young journalists in the quest for justice through sound reporting.
First Published September 15, 2012 12:00 am