A former Northwestern professor, a private investigator and a lawyer are accused of conspiring to frame Alstory Simon, who spent 15 years in prison, for a 1982 double-homicide in Chicago. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Simon, and seeks $40 million dollars in damages, alleging unethical conduct on the part of Northwestern University and professor David Protess. Protess founded both the Medill Innocence Project and the Chicago Innocence project, which are organizations that investigate what they believe to be wrongful convictions.
The suit alleges that Simon was framed in order to free Anthony Porter, who was on death row for the murders. Manufacturing evidence, coercing false statements from witnesses and intimidating Simon into confessing are among the allegations. The suit claims that students working with Protess gave witnesses money for drugs, lied about their identities and flirted with witnesses. Also alleged is that Simon was set up with a lawyer who coached him to plead guilty. The lawsuit claims that Simon was under duress and the influence of narcotics when he confessed.
Investigator Paul Ciolino who is implicated in the case said in a written statement that Porter was indeed unjustly convicted and denied a coerced confession by Simon. The suit accuses Ciolino of impersonating a police officer, confronting Simon while armed and showing Simon a video of an actor falsely claiming to have witnessed the killing. The lawsuit also alleges that Ciolino told Simon he could avoid the death penalty if confessed that the victims were shot in self-defense and promised Simon legal representation and large sums of money from book and movie deals if he gave the statement.
In late October, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced Simon would go free. While she said she was unable to determine who committed the murders, she said she had serious doubts regarding the tactics used in the case.
Porter’s release played a significant role in former Governor George Ryan’s decision to halt executions, which were eventually abolished in Illinois in 2011.
Northwestern declined to comment on the case, other than to say they were investigating the lawsuit. Protess could not be reached for comment.
Suit: Northwestern allowed unethical acts, leading to wrongful conviction, www.chicagotribune.com, February 17, 2015