Media Black Out in Key Wrongful Conviction Case?
A bombshell federal court ruling that a former Cook County State’s Attorney and one of his former top assistants will be deposed in a key landmark wrongful conviction case gone wrong has been virtually ignored by press throughout the Chicago area.
The news media, once generating near-hysteria at the release of Anthony Porter from death row in 1999, has blacked out the story, including an announcement last week that former Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine and prosecutor Tom Gainer, a former top Devine prosecutor who is now an associated Cook County Criminal Court Judge, will be deposed in connection with a civil trial that claims Porter was wrongfully exonerated of the murders and an innocent man was framed for them.
Attorneys for the man who claims he was framed, Alstory Simon, argue in a $40 million federal lawsuit that former Northwestern Professor David Protess and his private investigator Paul Ciolino coerced a false confession from Simon in an attempt to free Porter and end the death penalty in Illinois. The Porter exoneration, based in part on claims of police misconduct, initiated a flood of similar wrongful conviction claims.
Nevertheless, only one news outlet, a downstate newspaper, and the FOP 7 blog covered the announcement from Simon's attorneys that Devine and Gainer, as well as four students who worked with Protess on the case in 1999, will be deposed.
The news blackout on such key developments in the case is unprecedented. At one time, journalists like Steve Mills and Eric Zorn from the Tribune ran regular favorable articles about the Porter case and other exonerations that took shape because of it.
The Tribune’s current federal court reporter, Jason Meisner, has completely ignored the developments in the Porter saga, as has The Chicago Reader, both of whom ran regular stories about Protess and his wrongful conviction claims when Protess and Porter were turned into virtual media darlings.
One possible reason for the blackout may be the legal theory posited by Simon’s lawyers in the federal lawsuit now pending before Judge Robert M. Dow. The attorneys allege that not only was Simon coerced into confessing, in part by being bribed with promises of future wealth and a short prison sentence if he admitted to the killings, but also a pattern of generating false statements from witnesses over a long period of time spanning several cases. This evidence, if it bears out in Simon’s lawsuit, would be a devastating comment on the quality and integrity of Chicago’s media in reporting on these cases.
As the Chicago media ignored the pivotal developments in Simon’s lawsuit, President Donald Trump spurned a White House correspondents’ dinner and in a Pennsylvania campaign rally laid into the media, calling them “incompetent, dishonest people.”
“If the media’s job is to be honest and tell the truth, then I think we would all agree the media deserves a very, very big fat failing grade,” he said.
Attorneys for Simon allege misconduct in the Ford Heights Four case in which a couple was brutally murdered, the Madison Hobley case, in which seven people were killed in an arson, the Charles McKinney case, in which a security guard was murdered, and Armando Serrano for the killing of a Humboldt Park man.
Northwestern issued the following statement after they suspended Protess from teaching at the school:
“In sum, Protess knowingly misrepresented the facts and his actions to the University, its attorneys and the dean of Medill on many documented occasions. He also misrepresented the facts about these matters to students, alumni, the media and the public. He caused the University to take on what turned out to be an unsupportable case and unwittingly misrepresent the situation both to the Court and to the State.”
Incredibly, wrongful conviction bids tied to Protess investigations are still winding their way through the courts, cases the media also refuses to review.