Alstory Simon spent 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit — a double-murder in Chicago in 1982. Now, he’s suing the people who helped put him behinds bars.
Wrongfully convicted in 1999, Simon, 64, filed a $US40 million lawsuit on Tuesday accusing Northwestern University, a former journalism professor there, a private investigator, and an attorney of framing him for a double murder to get another man released.
Simon claims in the lawsuit that he was the victim of unethical tactics by a team focused on freeing another man in what became a celebrated Illinois wrongful conviction case.
After confessing to the two murders, Simon was imprisoned in 1999 and spent more than 15 years behind bars. On Oct. 30, 2014, however, prosecutors decided his confession was coerced, and he was exonerated.
Simon “has endured and will continue to endure immense and immeasurable, emotional and physical, pain and suffering, all of which was proximately caused by defendants’ misconduct,” said the lawsuit filed in US District Court in the Northern District of Illinois.
Another man, Anthony Porter, was originally convicted of the murders and sentenced to death. He spent 16 years in prison and came within 48 hours of execution but was released after Simon’s confession.
Porter’s release was an early victory for Innocence Project programs that work to overturn wrongful convictions. His and other cases eventually spurred Illinois to abolish the death penalty.
“Northwestern denies all wrongdoing in this matter and looks forward to being vindicated in a court of law,” said a statement from the university in Evanston, Illinois.
As part of a Northwestern University investigative journalism class he taught in 1998, then-professor David Protess instructed his students to investigate Porter’s case. “Rather than to search for the truth,” the lawsuit claims, Protess instructed his class to find evidence of the prisoner’s innocence.
The lawsuit alleges that Northwestern, through Protess and private investigator Paul Ciolino, intentionally manufactured false witness statements against Simon. Specifically, Ciolino allegedly recorded an actor posing as a witness who identified Simon as the gunman.
Other fabricated evidence, threats, and illegal and deceitful tactics were used to coerce a false confession from Simon, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also said that attorney Jack Rimland was hired by Northwestern, through Protess and Ciolino, to represent Simon. Rimland allegedly coerced Simon to plead guilty, lied about the strength of the evidence against Simon, withheld witness testimony implicating Porter, and threatened Simon.
Although the university won’t comment now, Protess retired from the university in 2011 under questionable circumstances after 29 years and 12 exonerations. A press release from the university accused him of “numerous examples of … knowingly making false and misleading statements to the dean, University attorneys, and to others.”
Rimland said he had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment. Protess and Ciolino could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Reuters reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Reuters editing by Fiona Ortiz and Sandra Maler)