They aren't cops, victims or prosecutors. But Gary Marx and David Jackson are on a crusade for justice none-the-less. The two veteran reporters for the Chicago Tribune have spent the past year investigating dozens of cases where people charged with violent crimes in Illinois fled the country to avoid prosecution. What they found were flaws in the justice system and the extradition process that were allowing fugitives to stay on the lam -- often hiding in plain sight across the border in Mexico, or overseas.
Their series, "Across the Border, Beyond the Law" has put a spotlight on the issue and captured the attention of lawmakers in Washington.
"Journalists have a unique role in this kind of a story," Jackson said. "We're not cops. We don't wear guns and badges. And the real purpose of journalism is to bear witness to large problems like this."
Marx and Jackson weren't content to just write about the problem. They went on a manhunt to see just how difficult -- or easy -- it might be to find the fugitives. The pair -- armed with little more than photos, wanted posters and notebooks -- ventured across the border to look for nine fugitives believed to have fled to their hometowns in central Mexico. They found eight.
"Most of the fugitives we found... they went back to their hometowns," Marx said. "They're continuing their lives. They've gotten married. And here they are essentially getting away with murder." That's because even if they're located, communications and resource issues often prevent their extradition back to the United States. "People should be outraged by this," Marx contends. "The system can't remain as it is. It has to be made a priority -- in both law enforcement and in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. has to hold these other countries accountable for working with them to bring these fugitives back."
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) agrees. The Tribune series inspired him to take action to reform the system and update the 30 year old extradition treaty with Mexico. He's even introduced a bill called the "Bringing Fugitives to Justice Act" that would take the bond money forfeited when someone flees the country -- and apply those funds toward the cost of going after them and bringing them back to the U.S. "When I crafted this legislation... it really was a goal of making certain that these victims and their families have the peace of mind in knowing that we are doing everything we can humanly possible to make certain the person who is accused of this crime actually stands before a court, before a jury, and ultimately justice is served."