Loyola University Chicago

School of Communication


Writing the Wrongs: How research and proactive journalism has overturned wrongful convictions and advanced equity

Writing the Wrongs: How research and proactive journalism has overturned wrongful convictions and advanced equity

By Destiny Woods

Endless is the multitude of passionate producers, digital disciples, and media mavens that have ascended from the very halls of Loyola Chicago’s School of Communication (SOC). “Setting the world on fire” like the media mavens they are called to be, one alumnus stands out of the crowd, bringing revolutionary change and social equity through the power of ethical investigation and research. His name is Maurice Possley, a Senior Researcher at the University of California Irvine, and he has been forging change for prison reform and more since graduating with his B.A. in Communication Studies in 1972. 


His journey as an ethical investigator began while working on staff at Loyola’s award-winning newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. “The School of Communication was a pathway to learning how to speak in public and view and assess the world around me,” Possley shared during an interview. “While there were few journalism courses at that time, courses which promoted public speaking were key to me being able to become a communicator as a journalist and to be able to communicate with the subjects of my articles. They were people who had little voice and needed someone like myself to help them be heard.” 


From there, he became a reporter in 1972 and worked for Chicago’s City News Bureau, the Rock Island Argus, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2008. Committed to excellence in journalism and amplifying the cause of the unheard and wrongfully accused, Possley shared in an interview that working with other reporters, the newspaper’s investigative reporting helped free more than a dozen wrongfully convicted people from prison and led to the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois.” In the past decade alone, he has written more than 2,500 summaries of wrongful convictions. 


Dedicated to the need for change, he has authored five non-fiction books, including a memoir of Illinois Governor George Ryan and how Ryan stopped the death penalty. As an advocate for equity and social justice, he holds an ongoing passion for reforming the justice system to prevent wrongful convictions. “My interest in this arose from covering the trial of Rolando Cruz in DuPage County in 1995”, Possley shared. “He had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. He was granted a new trial and was acquitted based on new evidence of innocence. That case sparked an interest in trying to unravel other wrongful convictions and in documenting why people were wrongfully convicted.” Possley has also served as the senior researcher for the National Registry of Exonerations, an online database of wrongful convictions in the U.S., since 2012. In a nutshell, Maurice Possley has been righting the wrongs and furthering social change the SOC way: ethically and compassionately, one story at a time. 


Without a doubt, Possley’s unwavering commitment to advocacy has had an effect on the criminal justice system as we know it today. “The criminal justice system has evolved, slowly, to make some changes designed to prevent wrongful convictions. These include the recording of interrogations, formalizing best practices in eyewitness identification procedures, and broader post-conviction testing laws.” His advice to those who aspire to walk in his shoes as "a person for and with others" to advocate social reform speaks to the heart of what it means to be a media maven from SOC: “Change comes slowly, and it is not uniform in all states--even among counties in the same state. Find a path that sparks your interest and passion. Be open to ideas, learn what the problems are so that you can propose and pursue meaningful solutions and change. Fight through discouragement. Stop to have a good cry, then resume where you left off.”