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Prosecutors Free Inmate in Pivotal Illinois Death Penalty Case - Chicago Tribune

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  11/2/2014Prosecutors free inmate in pivotal Illinois death penalty case - Chicago Tribunehttp://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-anthony-porter-murder-investigation-met-1031-2-20141030-story.html#page=21/21 Prosecutors free inmate in pivotal Illinois death penalty case By Steve Mills , Steve Schmadeke , Dan Hinkel , Chicago Tribune OCTOBER 30, 2014, 8:37 PM R  ewriting a key chapter in Illinois' death penalty history, Cook County prosecutors Thursday threw out themurder and manslaughter conviction of Alstory Simon, whose videotaped confession unraveled one of thestate's most pivotal wrongful convictions, sparking reform and ultimately the end of capital punishment in Illinois.Paul Biebel, presiding judge at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, ordered Simon released from prison afteragreeing with prosecutors to dismiss his conviction. A few hours later, Simon, 64, who spent close to 15 years behind bars, approached the prison exit carrying acardboard box with all of his belongings and fighting back tears as he talked about how he had missed the death of his mother while locked up. He then walked out of the Jacksonville Correctional Center in central Illinois into acold, steady rain. I'm not angry at the system, Simon said before getting into a black Mercedes sport utility vehicle with adocumentary filmmaker for the drive to Chicago. I'm angry at the people that did what they did to me. State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's decision forever alters the narrative arc of Illinois' history with capitalpunishment. Death row inmate Anthony Porter's case was taken up by an unlikely coalition that included a college Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez talks about the reasons why Alstory Simon's double-murder conviction wasthrown out. The 64-year-old Simon was released Thursday from Jacksonville Correctional Center in central Illinois.  11/2/2014Prosecutors free inmate in pivotal Illinois death penalty case - Chicago Tribunehttp://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-anthony-porter-murder-investigation-met-1031-2-20141030-story.html#page=22/21  journalism professor, his students and a rough-hewn private investigator who together helped win Porter'sfreedom.Shaken by the sight of Porter coming within 48 hours of execution, then-Gov. George Ryan, a longtime supporterof the death penalty, halted executions less than a year after Porter's exoneration. Later, Ryan emptied death row,saying the state's capital punishment system simply could not be trusted. Ultimately, Porter's exonerationcontributed to the momentum that led to the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois in 2011. Alvarez said her office's yearlong review concluded without being able to determine who committed the 1982murders of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard in Washington Park on the city's South Side. The passage of time andinconsistent statements from possible witnesses made a resolution impossible, she said.Instead, the investigation by Alvarez's Conviction Integrity Unit raised serious doubts about the conduct of the key players in Simon's stunning video confession and eventual guilty plea. At a news conference, Alvarez questioned the integrity of David Protess, then a Northwestern University  journalism professor whose students initially investigated the murders. She also criticized the private investigator,Paul Ciolino, who obtained Simon's videotaped confession using an actor to falsely implicate Simon, saying thathis tactics were coercive and unacceptable by law enforcement standards. She also raised questions about theindependence of attorney Jack Rimland, who agreed to represent Simon at the suggestion of Ciolino, whom heknew. The bottom line is the investigation conducted by Protess and private investigator Ciolino as well as thesubsequent legal representation of Mr. Simon were so flawed that it's clear the constitutional rights of Mr. Simon were not scrupulously protected as our law requires, said Alvarez, who indicated she would have consideredobstruction of justice or witness intimidation charges if the statute of limitations hadn't run out. Alvarez largely accepted Simon's claim that he agreed to plead guilty to a double murder because he had beenpromised money from a book or movie deal even though no solid corroboration has ever emerged that an offerhad been made.Ryan, in an interview Thursday, said the image of Porter leaving prison was burned into my memory but that hehad no issue with Alvarez releasing Simon if her investigation concluded the case against him was flawed. He saidPorter's case was just one example of the death penalty system's frailties, especially in Cook County. If this is an improvement in the operations there, then that's terrific, Ryan said.The inquiry, launched after Simon's lawyers sent a nine-page letter seeking a re-examination, raised thefrightening prospect that a sound conviction was improperly discredited, a guilty man was wrongly freed and aninnocent man took his place in prison. Alvarez said prosecutors interviewed more than 100 people, includingSimon, who denied guilt, according to his attorneys. Alvarez's conclusion mirrored much of what Simon's two attorneys, James Sotos and Terry Ekl, alleged when they asked her to review the case. Their one difference concerned how Alvarez's predecessor as state's attorney, Dick Devine, handled the case — Alvarez found no fault with him, even though Devine set Porter free a day afterSimon's confession became public and then accepted Simon's guilty plea. Simon's lawyers criticized Devine forgiving more weight to Simon's confession than the witnesses who implicated Porter.Simon's attorneys were especially critical of Ciolino and Rimland, both of whom Alvarez took to task.  11/2/2014Prosecutors free inmate in pivotal Illinois death penalty case - Chicago Tribunehttp://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-anthony-porter-murder-investigation-met-1031-2-20141030-story.html#page=23/21 In my 28 years as a prosecutor, I've never seen a detective take a confession from someone and then say, 'Hey,and then I got a lawyer for you,' Alvarez told reporters. This relationship raises very serious questions about alegal conflict of interest. Ciolino has admitted that he showed Simon a video in which an actor posing as a witness implicated Simon as thegunman. But he has said that as a private citizen he was allowed more leeway than police. He issued a statementThursday noting that Simon had confessed to a Milwaukee TV reporter and his own lawyer after confessing tohim. I believe Anthony Porter was innocent, but no one can deny the state fell far short of meeting the standard of  beyond a reasonable doubt in securing a death sentence for him, Ciolino wrote. But for the work we did together with David Protess and his students, Porter's life would have been taken. Rimland, who Sotos and Ekl accused of being too cozy with Ciolino and coaxing Simon to plead guilty, also camein for criticism from Alvarez. But Rimland said Simon never said he was innocent. In fact, Rimland said, Simonrepeatedly acknowledged committing the murders before he pleaded guilty and he continued to do so after he began his prison sentence.Rimland insisted, too, that he represented Simon vigorously, pointing to Simon's 37-year prison sentence for acrime that sent Porter to death row. Simon had been scheduled to be released in 2017. He consistently maintained that he shot the two people and never deviated from that once, Rimland said of Simon.Ciolino and Rimland have said the notion someone would go to prison for murder because of the promise of apayday was absurd.Porter's supporters, while acknowledging that the case rested largely on Simon's confession, pointed to Simon'slengthy in-court apology to the victims' families and to his continued admissions of guilt even from prison.Protess, who was so visible at Porter's release in 1999, did not return repeated phone calls Thursday. But hecooperated with Alvarez's investigation and has said prosecutors seemed to be seeking only the truth.Critics, though, suggested the case allowed Alvarez an opportunity to undercut Protess' work. In 2009, Alvareztangled with Protess in another wrongful conviction case, drawing criticism for targeting students by seeking theirgrades and other materials connected to their work with Protess. Eventually, though, Protess left Northwestern ina dispute with the university and now is president of the Chicago Innocence Project.Porter was reached Thursday at his home on the South Side, carrying a newspaper article about his case thatincluded a photo of him with Ryan. He declined to comment on Simon's release from prison or Alvarez'sconclusions.Ekl, who said he could not sleep Wednesday night after learning from prosecutors they would drop the case, saidafter the court hearing that he still felt numb that a moment he once thought would never happen had finally come. The system did work to free an innocent man, but he should never have been there in the first place, Ekl said.He blasted Rimland and Protess, saying they essentially framed Alstory Simon to get Anthony Porter out of jail sothey had that poster boy (for the anti-death penalty movement), and that should never occur.   11/2/2014Prosecutors free inmate in pivotal Illinois death penalty case - Chicago Tribunehttp://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-anthony-porter-murder-investigation-met-1031-2-20141030-story.html#page=24/21 Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune One interesting aspect of Alvarez's decision is that, in deciding to free Simon, Alvarez ultimately came to theconclusion his confession, guilty plea and later admissions were not credible. As state's attorney, Alvarez has givengreat weight to confessions, often refusing to throw out convictions because defendants had confessed, even in theface of compelling evidence undercutting the confessions.She has said, though, that like many prosecutors she has come to believe in the potential frailties of confessions. Tribune reporter Kate Thayer contributed.smmills@tribune.comsschmadeke@tribune.comdhinkel@tribune.com LATEST LOCAL NEWS BREAKING NEWS   7:08 AM Hazel Crest man released after questioning inChicago cop beating Hazel Crest man describes fight with off-duty cop  A south suburban man was released Sunday after turning himself in to police the day beforein connection with the beating and robbing of an off-duty Chicago police sergeant in the Loopon Thursday. › BREAKING NEWS   6:40 PM Live blog: Nik Wallenda's Chicago high-wire walks
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