Saturday, November 01, 2014

Illinois releases prisoner, bringing wrongful conviction full circle

A celebrated Illinois wrongful conviction case went full circle on Thursday when authorities freed a man sentenced for a 1982 double murder and said they believe another man exonerated 15 years ago is probably the murderer after all.

Prisoner Alstory Simon, who in 1999 confessed to shooting and killing teenagers Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard on Chicago's South Side, was released from the Jacksonville Correctional Center in Central Illinois.

Simon's confession 15 years ago led to the release and pardon of former death row inmate Anthony Porter, who was originally convicted as the murderer. Porter's freedom was an important victory for innocence projects that work to overturn wrongful convictions. The Porter case and others eventually spurred Illinois to abolish the death penalty.

After he confessed, Simon, now 64, pleaded guilty in 1999 and was sentenced to 37 years, of which he served 15.

But prosecutors reversed course again and said on Thursday a former journalism professor at Northwestern University, students at the university's Medill Justice Project and a private investigator coerced Simon into making a video taped confession, threatened him with the death penalty, pretended to have a witness to him committing the crime and promised him lucrative book deals.

"We're talking about the antics of a rogue investigator and a professor who went to all lengths," Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez told a news conference.

Alvarez said Porter cannot be retried because of double jeopardy, but she said: "There are compelling facts, eyewitnesses there at the scene who maintain to today that it was Anthony Porter who did the shooting."

Alvarez said the reinvestigation was the toughest her office has done, because some witnesses have changed their testimony multiple times over three decades.

She said that in the years that have passed since Simon made his videotaped confession, prosecutors have learned to be much more skeptical of that sort of evidence.

Alvarez said the Conviction Integrity Unit she created two years ago would continue to re-investigate cases of alleged wrongful conviction. The unit has so far vacated 10 convictions.

Alvarez strongly criticized former Northwestern University Professor David Protess and private investigator Paul Ciolino.

In a statement, Ciolino said he believes Porter was innocent and noted that Simon confessed to lawyers and reporters as well as to him. "But for the work we did together with Nothwestern and the students, Porter's life would have been taken," he said.

The Medill Justice Project and Protess, who now works for the Chicago Innocence Project, did not immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment.

Original report here

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