Jim Dey | ‘Poster boy’ for innocence has been terribly misinterpreted | Columns

The headlines were right on one point.

“Anthony Porter, whose case helped end the death penalty in Illinois, dies. “

there is no doubt. The 66-year-old from Chicago was a crucial ingredient in the potent mix of politics, corruption and morality / amorality that resulted in the death penalty in Illinois.

“Porter was exonerated in 1999 and released from prison after another man confessed to killing two people on August 15, 1982 while they were sitting in a park on the south side of Chicago.”

This is also true, but devoid of the detail necessary to reveal the scam to the public.

In fact, two people were shot dead: Terry Hillard and Marilyn Green, a young couple. Porter was arrested, convicted, sentenced to death, but later released from prison after controversial Northwestern University journalism professor David Protess obtained a confession – later declared by prosecutors to be tainted and suspect – from another man.

Arriving at some point a few hours after the execution, Porter became overnight, as one media reported, the “poster boy” of the movement against the death penalty.

The poster of innocence, as subsequent events would show, was hardly that.

After Porter was “exonerated,” the then governor. George Ryan has declared a moratorium on executions. He later commuted the death sentences of 156 death row inmates to death and granted Porter a pardon based on innocence.

Ryan’s moratorium has been maintained by governors. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn until 2011, when the General Assembly abolished the death penalty.

This story dates back to Protess’ decision to champion Porter’s cause.

The professor has supervised journalism students whose re-investigation of crimes purported to prove wrongful convictions. It was a great story – children on the crusade outperform incompetent cops and prosecutors – but terribly misleading.

It was Protess and an investigator he hired who pushed Porter. They did so by targeting a peripheral character from the initial investigation – Alstory Simon – and getting a recorded confession from him.

News of the confession stormed Chicago and prompted Cook County State Attorney Richard Devine to immediately press for Porter’s release and charge Simon with murder.

Simon then pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 37 years in prison.

Why did Simon plead guilty? There is no other good explanation than the fact that Simon was surprised to be confronted, made to confess and pushed by his lawyer to plead guilty.

While behind bars, Simon retained the services of Chicago-area attorney Terry Ekl, who argued that Simon had been the victim of coercive circumstances who had been promised he would serve a brief sentence and that he would then get a large sum in cash.

Hey, that’s a weird story.

Ekl later persuaded Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez, successor to Devine, to review the evidence in the case.

She concluded that there was no evidence to link Simon to the double murder other than Protess’s recorded confession secured by what she called “alarming tactics” which were “coercive” and “absolutely unacceptable by standards. of law enforcement ”.

After Simon was released from prison in 2014, he sued Northwestern and Protess, among others. In 2018, Northwestern settled the case out of court, the terms were never disclosed. He also got rid of the protest.

William Crawford, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Tribune reporter, delved into the Porter / Simon controversy and went on to write a book – “Justice Perverted” – which told how “The Innocence Project of the Medill School of Journalism in Northwestern University prison. “

This innocent man, Crawford wrote, was Simon. Relying on the grand jury testimony, Crawford convincingly argued that Porter was, in fact, the shooter and that there was ample evidence, including eyewitnesses, to support the jury’s guilty verdict against Porter and none involving Simon.

The prospect is supported by the outcome of Porter’s civil lawsuit alleging he was wrongly convicted. The city of Chicago refused to settle the case and, instead, argued that Porter was not entitled to anything because he was the killer.

The jury ruled against Porter, a decision that surprised many due to the widespread, but mistaken, perception that Porter had been the victim of a monstrous injustice.

So, yeah, Porter was sort of a poster, reaching footnote status in Illinois history. His death was well worth making the news, even if the most salient details were not included.


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