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troung
12 Nov 14,, 04:33
Wow

Duped by Medill Innocence Project, Milwaukee man now free
Former Milwaukee resident Alstory Simon was freed last week from Jacksonville Correctional Center in Illinois. He served nearly 15 years in prison after he was coerced into confessing to a double murder in Illinois.
Brandon Kimber
Former Milwaukee resident Alstory Simon was freed last week from Jacksonville Correctional Center in Illinois. He served nearly 15 years in prison after he was coerced into confessing to a double murder in Illinois.
Nov. 6, 2014

The first time I wrote about Alstory Simon, then a Milwaukee north sider, was in 1999, right after he confessed to a double murder in Chicago.

Simon's shocking admission not to police but to an investigator working for Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project led to the release and pardon of a man on death row for the crime, and ultimately to the death penalty being abolished in Illinois.

Two years later, I wrote about Simon again. This time he had reached out to me from prison to say the confession and subsequent guilty plea were involuntary. He insisted he was innocent, as do most inmates who send letters to reporters from prison.

My column was not sympathetic. His confession was right there on videotape for everyone to see, including the detail that he had "busted off about six rounds."

Last week, Simon walked out of prison a free man after Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that her office, after a yearlong investigation, was vacating the charges against him and ending his 37-year sentence.

The investigation by the Medill Innocence Project, she said, "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."

The truth took 15 years to come out. That's 15 years that Simon, now 64, spent behind bars.

"Believe me, it is mentally painful to walk around every day, locked up for something that you know you didn't do," Simon told Shawn Rech, whose film about the case, "A Murder in the Park," now has an ending. It premieres at a film festival in New York on Nov. 17.

Simon, who moved to Milwaukee from Chicago in the 1980s to find work, is not granting interviews, his attorney, Terry Ekl, told me. But Ekl echoed Alvarez's criticism of former Northwestern journalism professor David Protess, who led the Medill Innocence Project, and the investigator on the team, Paul Ciolino.

"In my opinion, Northwestern, Protess and Ciolino framed Simon so that they could secure the release of (Anthony) Porter and make him into the poster boy for the anti-death penalty movement," he said.

Identified by several eye witnesses, Porter was sentenced to death for the fatal shooting of Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green at a south side Chicago park in 1982. He was just two days from a lethal chemical injection when he was freed in February 1999 following Simon's confession.

Then-Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000, and Illinois abolished capital punishment in 2011.

But that neat and clean narrative unraveled with the discovery of how the confession by Simon was obtained. Protess discovered that Green's mother had mentioned Simon was with Green and Hillard at the park the day of the murders, so Protess went after Simon in an effort to clear Porter.

Protess and two of his journalism students came to Simon's home in the 200 block of E. Wright St. in Milwaukee and told him they were working on a book about unsolved murders. According to Simon, Protess told him, "We know you did it."

Then Simon received a visit from Ciolino and another man. They had guns and badges and claimed to be Chicago police officers. They said they knew he had killed Green and Hillard, so he better confess if he hoped to avoid the death penalty.

They showed him a video of his ex-wife, Inez Jackson, implicating him for the crime a claim she recanted on her death bed in 2005 and another video of a supposed witness to the crime who turned out to be an actor.

They coached Simon through a videotaped confession, promising him a light sentence and money from book and movie deals on the case. Simon, admittedly on a three-day crack cocaine bender, struggled to understand what was going on.

Perhaps worst of all, they hooked up Simon with a free lawyer to represent him, Jack Rimland, without telling him that Rimland was a friend of Ciolino and Protess and in on their plan to free Porter.

At Rimland's urging, Simon pleaded guilty to the crime and even offered what sounded like a sincere apology to Green's family in court. As added leverage to make him cooperate, Rimland had told Simon he was suspected in a Milwaukee murder, though nothing ever came of it.

"Bob told me to get rid of this attorney. ... I should have listened to him," Simon says in the film, referring to Bob Braun, a West Allis man best known around here for protesting against abortion, same-sex marriage, pornography and other issues. The two men are friends.

Braun said he never doubted Simon's innocence. The two men wrote back and forth regularly during Simon's incarceration, and Braun visited him there twice. After 15 years in prison, Simon told Braun, the most noticeable change is that everyone carries a phone, and there are no more pay phones.

When his abuses came to light, Protess was suspended by Northwestern and has since retired from there. The Medill Innocence Project has been renamed The Medill Justice Project. Protess isn't talking, but he is now president of the Chicago Innocence Project, which investigates wrongful convictions. Ciolino put out a statement saying Simon also had confessed to a Milwaukee TV reporter, his lawyer and others.

"You explain that," he said.

We know now that the explanation was that Simon was snared in a trap set by people who wanted to end the death penalty, no matter what the cost. Once they convinced Simon it was for his own good, he was all in.

And now, finally, he's out and back in Chicago. Simon enjoyed a lobster dinner on his first day of freedom. Ekl said he doesn't think Simon has family still in Milwaukee and is not planning to return here. Too many painful memories.

Simon's mother died while he was in prison. He told the filmmaker he's eager to reconnect with his daughter and see his grandchild for the first time.

"I thank God," he said, "that he shined down on me."

Call Jim Stingl at (414) 224-2017 or email at jstingl@jrn.com

Bigfella
12 Nov 14,, 07:57
So, should they get the same treatment as police & DAs who coerce false confessions, or should they actually be punished?

Monash
12 Nov 14,, 11:40
So, should they get the same treatment as police & DAs who coerce false confessions, or should they actually be punished?

There must be a pervert the course of justice or 'conspiracy charge in there somewhere, if the relevant authorities can be bothered. In the meant time it should perhaps be presented as a case study in 'how not to' to the various innocence projects that exist around the country. For the most part they do good work but that work is not a 'mission from God' but rather an exercise in the cool and clinical examination of the facts as they apply to a particular case.

Bigfella
12 Nov 14,, 20:47
There must be a pervert the course of justice or 'conspiracy charge in there somewhere, if the relevant authorities can be bothered. In the meant time it should perhaps be presented as a case study in 'how not to' to the various innocence projects that exist around the country. For the most part they do good work but that work is not a 'mission from God' but rather an exercise in the cool and clinical examination of the facts as they apply to a particular case.

I imagine you are correct. What they did was terrible. Unfortunately police & DAs have been caught doing it time & again and worse (withholding & fabricating evidence). VERY few of them ever saw a day in jail. If the folk from the innocence project do it raises questions about a whopping double standard. I'm fine if they do get banged up, but I'd like to see every cop or DA who has done the same get jail time too.

troung
13 Nov 14,, 04:58
So was the first guy actually guilty :confused:

Monash
13 Nov 14,, 08:25
I imagine you are correct. What they did was terrible. Unfortunately police & DAs have been caught doing it time & again and worse (withholding & fabricating evidence). VERY few of them ever saw a day in jail. If the folk from the innocence project do it raises questions about a whopping double standard. I'm fine if they do get banged up, but I'd like to see every cop or DA who has done the same get jail time too.

That's what happens when you have elected officials in the positions of Sheriff and D.A. You get 'politicians' who always have one eye on the next election instead of professionals who are just paid to do a job and (hopefully) exercise their best judgment in the process. This doesn't guarantee independent and impartial decision making of course but it does seem to reduce the number of egregious errors of justice.

Bigfella
13 Nov 14,, 14:12
That's what happens when you have elected officials in the positions of Sheriff and D.A. You get 'politicians' who always have one eye on the next election instead of professionals who are just paid to do a job and (hopefully) exercise their best judgment in the process. This doesn't guarantee independent and impartial decision making of course but it does seem to reduce the number of egregious errors of justice.

Do we have quantitative data on that? You may be right, but I can think of some appalling miscarriages of justice in Australia & the UK resulting from the exact same behaviour. I know things have improved, but there have certainly been extended periods of time when a sort of groupthink allowed a 'whatever it takes' attitude to exist among police & even some judges.

Once again the constant here is that the people who obtain the wrongful convictions are rarely punished, even when they break the law.

Parihaka
13 Nov 14,, 19:09
Yup, the law is indeed an ass. I can't recall a case of successful prosecution of corrupt police, prosecutors or judges here in NZ. The three branches are a closed system, none will investigate or go against the other in any way.

Bigfella
13 Nov 14,, 23:42
Yup, the law is indeed an ass. I can't recall a case of successful prosecution of corrupt police, prosecutors or judges here in NZ. The three branches are a closed system, none will investigate or go against the other in any way.

We've had numerous successful prosecutions of corrupt police & even judges (I think), but I don't recall any for this sort of thing. We have standing independent anti-corruption bodies with teeth (in some states). Even police forces have become a lot better at dealing with 'bad apples'. It just doesn't seem to extend to banging up the wrong people. Monash may be able to correct me on the last point, but I don't recall any such prosecutions.

Monash
17 Nov 14,, 12:39
Sorry for the delay in responding - been a bit busy. To answer your question BF that is probably because the number of 'pervert the course of justice' cases that come to light in Australia each year is exceedingly small. That's not to say they aren't occurring just that deliberate attempts to frame innocent parties for crimes they didn't commit is a hard gig to pull off in the context of the modern justice system, at least for serious charges. Please note I am making a distinction here between malicious acts and incompetence or unintentional error.

For a start look at the process. A brief of evidence has to be prepared. This will almost always involve several Police officers and other independence (civilian) witnesses providing statements. Once complete it is normally reviewed by a senior officer who was not involved in the case just to see if their are any gaps in the evidence. Then the brief brief of evidence is subject to independent review by both the criminal prosecutor and a defense lawyer and a jury. Assuming one officer is even inclined to try and deliberately manipulate the brief of evidence he or she risks if not outright discovery then at least the risk that significant inconsistencies will become apparent at some point in this chain. You can perhaps avoid the involvement of crown prosecutors if matter is non indictable (non-custodial or less that 2 years maximum penalty depending on the jurisdiction) but not on anything more serious. You certainly can't avoid scrutiny albeit cursory by the defense.

The above doesn't mean it couldn't be done but it does mean the officer or officers concerned would be taking one hell of a personal risk. One thing I am certain of is that ex-police do not do jail time easy and that is what will happen of it can be proven they deliberately set out to pervert the course of justice. These days there are simply to many people involved. (Of course lawyers doing the same thing are another story.)

So if Police are going to come unstuck its generally for other things e.g. corruption offenses, unlawful use of or release of information, criminal assault etc. In other words offenses they believe they can get away with at the time because their actions at the time will not (they think) be subject to independent review. Which is exactly the opposite of what happens with any brief they submit - it is reviewed.