By: Mark Fitzgerald
The byline on the investigative story splashed across the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times Thursday is familiar, out of place, and nostalgic all at the same time.
The byline belonged to Maurice Possley, who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism for the Chicago Tribune — before resigning this summer with a letter decrying the “stunning dismantling of our newspaper” under the new Tribune ownership headed by Sam Zell.
Possley’s name on the front page of the tabloid Sun-Times was in some ways a homecoming. Possley worked at the Sun-Times from 1978 to 1984, when he joined the wave of journalists who defected to the Tribune as Rupert Murdoch became its owner.
Possley and his investigative partners at the Tribune are best known for their investigations into the wrongful convictions of several men on Death Row in Illinois, and prosecutorial misconduct in cases across the nation. In 2000, Illinois’ then-governor, George Ryan, suspended the death penalty, and commuted some convicts. No one has been executed in the state since.
Thursday’s story is also about an alleged wrongful conviction, with the hook that the convict’s alibi may be the length of the televised boxing match of Muhammad Ali’s comeback championship against Leon Spinks in 1978.
The story came like most, through a tip, Possley told E&P: “Just because I left didn’t mean I stopped getting tips.”
In addition to his years at the Sun-Times, Possley?s wife, Cathleen Falsani, is the paper?s religion columnist and had been the full-time religion writer for several years. ?As you might expect, as a result, my path crossed that of (Sun-Times Editor in Chief) Michael Cooke many times over the years,? Possley said, so he offered the story as a freelancer.
This as actually the second piece Possley has done for the Sun-Times. ?I would pitch them to the Tribune, but I am told they have no money in the magazine budget for that sort of thing,? Possley said.
In the Sun-Times story, Possley reported on the investigation into the conviction of Anthony McKinney, for the murder of a security guard during a robbery, by a class of Northwestern University journalism students. Lawyers at Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions are seeking a new trial based on new evidence they say shows that McKinney is innocent. The evidence, Possley reports, was uncovered by journalism students working under the direction of David Protess, director of the Medill School of Journalism Innocence Project.
Possley won the 2008 Pulitzer for the “Hidden Hazards” series about cribs, car seats, and other defective products that was also reported by Trish Callahan, Sam Roe, Ted Gregory, Mike Oneal and Evan Osnos.