On August 15, 1982, Marilyn Green, 19, and Jerry Hillard, 18, were shot to death in a park on the south side of Chicago. Immediately after the shooting, police interviewed William Taylor, who had been swimming in the park pool when the murders occurred. At first, Taylor said he did not see the person who committed the crime. Later, at the station, he said he did see Anthony Porter run by right after he heard the shots. After another 17 hours of interrogation, Taylor told police that he actually saw Porter shoot the victims.
Green’s mother, however, told police that she thought the murders had been committed by a man named Alstory Simon
, who had been in a heated dispute with Hillard over drug money. Green said she saw Simon and his wife, Inez Jackson, with the victims not long before the shooting.
Police did interview Simon and Jackson, but according to statements later obtained by defense investigators, the police just showed them a photograph of Porter and asked if they had any information about the crime. Simon and Jackson responded that they had not been in the park that night. They said they were asked nothing further and never heard from the police again. A few days later, Simon and Jackson moved to Milwaukee.
After hearing that his name had been mentioned in connection with the double murders, Anthony Porter went to the police station. Despite his protestations of innocence and the lack of physical evidence connecting him with the murders, he was arrested and charged with the two murders, one count of armed robbery, one count of unlawful restraint, and two counts of unlawful use of weapons.
Although Porter qualified for a public defender, his family thought he would be better off with a private lawyer. They retained Akim Gursel. The family agreed to pay him $10,000, but paid only $3,000 by the time Porter went to trial before Judge Robert L. Sklodowski and a jury.
The prosecution structured its case around Taylor's testimony. During the trial, Gursel once fell asleep, and he called only two alibi witnesses and a photographer who had taken pictures of the park.
The jury found Porter guilty, and Sklodowski sentenced him to death. Porter had exhausted his appeals, his execution date was set, his family had made funeral arrangements, and he was just 50 hours from execution when he won a reprieve from the Illinois Supreme Court in late 1998. The reprieve was not granted out of concern that Porter might be innocent but solely because he had scored so low on an IQ test. The court’s only purpose was to determine whether he was able to comprehend the nature of his ultimate punishment.
That delay gave Medill School of Journalism Professor David Protess, a team of his Northwestern University journalism students, and a private investigator, Paul Ciolino, time to reinvestigate the case.
In December of 1998, William Taylor recanted his testimony to Ciolino and one of the students. He said in an affidavit that police had pressured him to name Porter as the shooter. On January 29, 1999, Alstory Simon's now-estranged wife, Inez Jackson, told Protess, Ciolino, and two of the students that she was present when Simon shot Green and Hillard. She said she did not know Anthony Porter, but that he most certainly had nothing to do with the crime. Four days later, on February 3, Alstory Simon confessed on videotape to Ciolino, asserting that he had killed Hillard in self-defense after the two argued over drug money. Simon claimed the shooting of Marilyn Green had been accidental.
In February 1999, after prosecutors satisfied themselves of the veracity of the confession, Porter was freed, having spent 17 years on death row, and the charges against him were dismissed the following month. In September 1999, Simon pled guilty to second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in an emotional hearing during which he apologized to the families of the victims. Simon was sentenced to 37 years in prison. Governor George H. Ryan granted Porter a pardon based on innocence and in 2000 Porter received a $145,875.29 award from the Illinois Court of Claims.
In December 2005, lawyers for Simon filed a post-conviction petition seeking to vacate his conviction. Simon claimed he was coerced by Ciolino to falsely confess to the murders. Ciolino denied the accusation. The petition said that Inez Jackson had recanted her statement that she was present when Simon shot green and Hillard. Walter Jackson, Inez Jackson’s nephew, who told the Northwestern students that he saw Simon commit the murders, also recanted and said that his statement was false.
Simon contended that his lawyer, Jack Rimland, pressured him to plead guilty even though he was innocent. In 2014, Rimland said that Simon had admitted to him that he committed the murders and that Simon had confessed to another attorney as well.
In May 2006, Simon’s lawyers obtained a statement from Raymond Brown, who was 13 at the time of the murders, that Porter was the gunman. Brown said he was in the park, heard gunshots, saw Porter fire a gun and Hillard lying in the bleachers. Brown said he saw Porter run past him with a gun in his hand.
Cook County Circuit Judge Evelyn Clay denied Simon’s petition in September 2006 and the ruling was upheld by the Illinois Court of Appeals. The Illinois Supreme Court declined to review the ruling in May 2008.
In October 2013, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez agreed to review Simon’s case and referred it to her Conviction Integrity Unit. On October 30, 2014, Alvarez filed a motion to vacate Simon’s conviction. The motion was granted, the charges against Simon were dismissed, and Simon was released. Alvarez said that Simon falsely confessed because of tactics employed by journalism professor Protess and private investigator Ciolino, who created a video using an actor posing as an eyewitness to the murders. On the video the actor said he saw Simon commit the crime. The video was shown to Simon immediately before he gave his confession.
“This investigation by David Protess and his team involved a series of alarming tactics that were not only coercive and absolutely unacceptable by law enforcement standards, they were potentially in violation of Mr. Simon’s constitutionally protected rights,” Alvarez said.
“I can’t definitely tell you if it was Porter or Simon,” Alvarez said. “I’m just saying that based on the totality of the circumstances and the way I think Simon was coerced, in the interest of justice, this is the right thing to do.”
– Maurice Possley and Center on Wrongful Convictions