Three eyewitnesses claimed that they saw Anthony Porter shoot Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard to death in a park on the south side of Chicago on August 15, 1982. 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.
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. During the trial, Gursel once fell asleep. When the prosecution rested, Gursel called only two alibi witnesses.
Based on the eyewitness accounts, the jury found Porter guilty. 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. On February 3, 1999, they established that Green’s mother had been right — Alstory Simon confessed on video-tape to Ciolino that he had committed the crime. Apparently Simon had seen his ex-wife on a television newscast stating that he had committed the murders, so Simon wanted to make a videotaped statement that he shot Hillard in self-defense and accidently killed Green during a dispute over drug money.
Two days later, 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