The Watch

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$40 Million Civil Suit Against Northwestern and Two Others Gets Huge Boost

Chicago, IL (April 26, 2017)—A $40 million federal lawsuit against Northwestern University, a former professor there, and a private eye ground forward Monday with the approval of a subpoena to depose Anthony Porter, a man whose high-profile exoneration from death row in 1999 transformed the Illinois criminal justice system.

The deposition arises in a lawsuit brought by attorneys representing Alstory Simon, who claim he was coerced into confessing to a double murder as part of a plot to free Porter and undermine the Illinois death penalty.

The deposition of Porter marks a stark transformation of Porter and the Northwestern investigators who freed him, as the case once garnered international attention for all that was wrong with the criminal justice system. Now it is Northwestern and the investigators who are facing accusations of wrongdoing by lawyers representing Simon.

In an equally explosive move, U.S. District Court Magistrate David Weisman also allowed attorneys for Simon to depose Richard Devine, the Cook County State’s Attorney when Simon was sentenced to prison in 1999, and Thomas A. Gainer, a top assistant prosecutor.

Moreover, sources close to the court proceedings also acknowledged that the Northwestern students who were enrolled in Protess’ Northwestern University journalism class in 1998-1999 when Porter was freed from death row could also be subpoenaed by Simon’s attorneys.

The former students are Thomas McCann, now a Chicago attorney, Shawn Armbrust, head of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project in Washington D.C., Sayandene Rhodes-Pitts, once an intern for a Midwest television station, and Cara Rubinsky who works for the Associated Press in Europe.

Magistrate Weisman’s approval of the depositions are among more than three dozen depositions Terry Ekl and James Sotos—Alstory Simon’s attorneys—are intending to seek as the Alstory Simon federal case continues to unfold before U.S. District Court Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. with an assist from Magistrate Weisman.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez Announcing the Release of Alstory Simon in 2014

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez Announcing the Release of Alstory Simon in 2014

The deposition of Porter, scheduled for May 1, could prove illuminating. During his 1983 trial on charges he fatally shot Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard in the pool area of Washington Park early on Aug. 15, 1982 as the couple sat in the bleachers, he declined to testify. Instead, he put on an alibi witness by the name of “Fat Luke,” who told a criminal court jury that he was a gang member, that he would kill if ordered to do so by higher ups and at the time of the 1982 shooting he and Porter were smoking weed and drinking wine in a playlot at the Robert Taylor Homes. 

Since his release from prison in 1999, and his pardon by then Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Porter has changed his alibi about where he was at the time of the killings at least three times. In a $24 million wrongful incarceration lawsuit Porter filed against the City and police in 2005, Porter made no mention of being in the playlot at the time of the shootings. The jury declined to award any damages to Porter.

The Weisman order, strenuously opposed by attorneys for Northwestern and the other two defendants, was a huge green light for Simon, who alleges in a fifty-page lawsuit that the University, Protess, a former NU journalism professor who was severed from the University in 2011 in connection with alleged wrongdoing he committed in an unrelated “wrongful conviction” case, and Ciolino, the private eye who worked closely with Protess, engineered the conspiracy to jail Simon and free Porter—once was 50 hours away from execution—as part of a larger goal to end the death penalty in Illinois.