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Anthony spent 35 years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.He died while awaiting on a decision that would have freed him.

The family of an inmate who died in prison awaiting a hearing to prove his innocence is considering having a private autopsy to determine how he died.

Anthony McKinney, convicted of a 1978 murder in Harvey, was scheduled to go to before a judge Friday and make his case for a new trial.

McKinney, 53, died Tuesday after he was found unresponsive in his cell at Dixon Correctional Center, officials said.

A spokeswoman for the Lee County Coroner said she didn’t anticipate having results of an autopsy and follow-up toxicology tests for two months.

The Department of Corrections said no foul play was suspected. But McKinney’s brother, Michael, said he found the timing of the death suspicious. He said a prison official told him his brother was found with food in his mouth and apparently choked.

“He’s been there 35 years and he has a [hearing] coming up in a couple of months and he all of a sudden drops dead? That doesn’t sound right,” Michael McKinney said.

McKinney said his family is making arrangements to have his brother’s body transported to Grand Rapids, Mich., where relatives live. The family is financially strapped, but is trying to find a way to have an independent autopsy conducted, he said.

“We want to make sure we know what happened,” he said.

McKinney was 18 when he confessed to the shotgun murder of a security guard in south suburban Harvey. He claimed police beat him with a pipe to coerce his statement.

In 2008, attorneys for McKinney sought a new trial based on evidence that included witness recantations obtained by Northwestern University journalism students.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office sought to learn how the students gathered their new evidence. Controversially, prosecutors subpoenaed the students’ grades, their notes of interviews, and hundreds of emails between the students and their professor. The university fought the subpoena and lost. But the case is now over because McKinney is dead, said a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office.
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