Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Illinois's Death Row, Part One

If not for an investigative journalism's class project, at Northwestern University, the state of Illinois would have executed Anthony Porter, an innocent man, who spent 16 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. (Two years earlier, evidence uncovered by students in this course had freed four men falsely accused of killing a suburban couple.)

Porter, with a measured IQ of 51, was arrested two days after the August 1982 shooting deaths of two people, Jerry Hillard, 18, and Marilyn Green, 19. Based on the identification testimony of William Taylor, Porter was then convicted and sentenced to death. When Taylor was first questioned by police at the scene, he said he did not see the perpetrator. In later questioning at the police station, he claimed he saw Porter running by right after shots were fired. After 17 more hours of questioning, Taylor said he saw Porter shoot the two victims.

In early 1999, while Porter’s mental fitness was still under investigation, William Taylor recanted his trial testimony to volunteer private investigator Paul Ciolino and a student of David Protess, a professor of journalism at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. Taylor said in an affidavit that police had pressured him to name Porter as the shooter.

A few weeks later, Protess, Ciolino, and two students obtained a signed affidavit and videotaped statement from a woman named Inez Jackson admitting that her husband, Alstory Simon, had in fact killed the couple. Alstory Simon's now-estranged wife, 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. Simon pleaded guilty to the double murder and was sentenced to 37 years in prison.

Two days later, Porter was released from prison on a recognizance bond and the murder charges against him were officially dropped the next month. Porter thus became the tenth person sentenced to death in Illinois under the present capital punishment law to be released based on innocence.

"It's like a heavy load just lift up, like something came up out my whole body. Like release. Cause I been for so long saying that I was innocent and nobody weren't listening to what I was saying." -- Anthony Porter


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