According to the court documents, Tony Drakes, one of the witnesses the students believe was involved in the 1978 murder of security guard Donald Lundahl, told state investigators that he "gave the students a video statement for money" and recanted the videotaped statement.The prosecutors admitted they also paid Drake $10 for gas money in exchange for meeting with them, but that, obviously, is completely different, right? They assure us, harrumph harrumph, that it undoubtedly is.
In the prosecutors' documents, Drakes alleges that Sergio Serritella, the private investigator working with the students, gave a taxi driver $60 for what was estimated to be a $6 cab ride home to a bus station near where the 2004 interview took place.
Drakes says the the cab driver gave him "the change" -- about $40 -- which Drakes says he later spent on crack cocaine.
I find these charges utterly laughable given the day-to-day practices of police and prosecutors regarding so-called "confidential informants." In Dallas, the snitch at the center of the fake drug scandal was paid about $200,000 in fees by police for helping set up two dozen innocent people based solely on snitch testimony and faked field tests for drugs by police. (With what appeared to be overwhelming evidence, nearly all the defendants, mostly non-English speaking legal and illegal residents, took pleas that included deportation.)
Informants get paid cash all the time. But even more than that, they're often granted massive reductions in their own sentences in exchange for testimony - an invaluable commodity that's routinely exchanged for testimony in American courts. entering into a so-called "5-K" snitch agreement with the US Attorney is the only method on the books for securing a downward departure from federal sentencing guidelines (though after a series of recent cases judges now have discretion for downward departure if they explain their reasons). And snitching is also the only ways federal prisoners already locked up can get out sooner than their day for day sentence.
As far as this example goes, the investigator gave the $60 to the cab driver, not the informant. But even if it was intended that the witness would benefit, that kind of thing happens every day when police are making cases. Money in drug stings falls inadvertently (wink, wink) into informants' hands all the time. (See this petty but typical example.) Indeed, one wonders what if any inducement prosecutors gave this fellow, who is now sitting in jail, to change his story, and whether they taped their interview with the witness the way the Innocence Project students did?
Indeed, if $40 could buy false testimony, as these prosecutors allege, then a large amount of testimony in criminal courts should be similarly called into question. I don't know what Illinois' open records laws are like, but it'd be interesting if somebody asked for how much was spent in recent years by the DA and police departments in their jurisdiction for informant payments. I'll bet it's a bloody helluva lot more than $40.
Judging from afar, with no inside knowledge, these don't appear to be serious allegations so much as a trumped up harassment and PR campaign by a District Attorney who's tired of seeing his old cases unraveled by Northwestern students.