Anthony McKinney died last week, alone in an Illinois prison cell where he didn’t belong.

He was an innocent man. Our justice system failed him.

Yes, but once a man’s been convicted of murder it doesn’t matter nearly as much whether he actually did it. Not to our justice system it doesn’t. At that point American justice becomes more interested in protecting its own dignity than in righting a wrong done some stiff who got a fair trial even if the jury reached the wrong verdict.

A few days ago I wrote about the death of Anthony McKinney, 53, who’d been in prison since 1978 for the murder of a security guard named Donald Lundahl. In 2008 McKinney petitioned the courts for a hearing on new evidence that he was innocent; he died five years later still waiting for that hearing. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez had decided it was less urgent to examine the case for McKinney than to examine the conduct of the team that had been putting it together since 2003—students of the Medill Innocence Project and their professor, David Protess.

Now one of those Medill students has had his own say. Evan Benn’s story for the Miami Herald, “A reporter’s search for truth and justice ends with one man’s death,” starts with the lines this post began with. Here’s a link to the complete story.

Benn describes videotaping a “violent ex-con” named Tony Drake the students tracked down near East Saint Louis “after several people told us on the record that they heard Drake admit to the Lundahl murder after McKinney’s conviction. . . . With our camera rolling, Drake made an astonishing confession: He was there when Lundahl was gunned down, and McKinney was not present. . . .

“Videotape in hand, giddily driving back to Northwestern with my team, I figured it would be a matter of days before McKinney walked out of prison a free man.

“That was in 2004. He never got out.”

That’s not a typo—2004, four years before McKinney’s lawyers filed his petition. Justice creeps.