There's a line at the bottom of Friday's Tribune story on the freeing of Michael Tillman that says, "Freelance reporter Jessica Pupovac contributed to this report."
Pupovac's contribution to Tillman's story was much larger than you might guess from this reference.
Tillman had always insisted that he was tortured by detectives led by the notorious Jon Burge into confessing to the rape and murder of a Chicago woman in a south-side apartment in 1986. On Thursday, Assistant Special Cook County State's Attorney Myles O'Rourke acknowledged that this was so: he asked Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan to dismiss the case because "coerced statements" had led to Tillman's conviction.
The acknowledgment was a milestone. Attorney Flint Taylor, an old hand at defending Burge victims, was quoted by the Tribune as saying,"In 35 years -- starting with Richard Daley, Richard Devine, Lisa Madigan -- no prosecutor in charge of these cases has ever conceded that a man was tortured or abused at Area 2."
Tillman's case attracted little attention until July of 2008, when Pupovac examined it in a long article written for San-Francisco-based AlterNet.org, which describes itself as an "online community" that creates original journalism and amplifies the best of hundreds of other independent media sources." Like so much new media, it's collaborative, and social justice and civil liberties issues are particular concerns.
On Friday, AlterNet staff writer Liliana Seguro posted a story patting Pupovac (and AlterNet) on the back. Seguro had Flint Taylor telling AlterNet:
"If it weren't for the publicity that was brought to the case in the early stages, being only a couple of years ago, by AlterNet… he might still be in prison now. The first news organization that showed interest was AlterNet, and Jessica Pupovac (whose name I can never pronounce). She not only wrote a very exhaustive article that brought a lot of local and national attention to the case, but she herself stayed in touch with Mr. Tillman."
Thanks to Tracy Van Slyke, who's a pal of Pupovic's and also project director of the Chicago-based Media Consortium, and who e-mailed me to see to it I knew the media backstory to Tillman's release.