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. Taylor at first said he had not seen the person who committed the crime. Later, at the station, he said he had seen Anthony Porter run by right after he heard the shots. After another 17 hours of interrogation, Taylor told police that he actually had seen 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 had 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 based 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 intent 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 had been 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. Eight months later Simon pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of 37½ years. In 2000, Porter received a $145,875.29 award from the Illinois Court of Claims.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions