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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Exonerated Man Pins Frame-Up on Professor

CHICAGO (CN) - A former Northwestern journalism professor renowned for clearing the names of the wrongly convicted framed an innocent man to stay in the limelight, the newly vindicated man claims in a $40 million federal action.

Alstory Simon, 64, says in the complaint filed Tuesday that he was exonerated this past Oct. 30, after spending more than 15 years in prison for "a double-murder he did not commit."

"The horrific injustice that befell Simon occurred when defendants, Northwestern University professor David Protess, Northwestern University private investigator Paul Ciolino, and attorney Jack Rimland, conspired to frame Simon for the murders in order to secure the release of the real killer, Anthony Porter," the complaint states.

While Northwestern has not returned a request for comment, Courthouse News is still trying to ascertain contact information for Protess, the former star professor at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism who became famous for having reversed a dozen wrongful convictions.

Gov. George Ryan cited the academic's work when the state announced a moratorium on the death penalty in 2003, and Gov. Pat Quinn tipped his hat to Protess as well when he abolished capital punishment in 2011.

Protess first came to prominence in working to overturn the conviction of David Dowaliby, who had been convicted of murdering his 7-year-old adopted daughter.

CBS made the professor's book on that case, "Gone in the Night," into a movie.

Protess in 1996 began working with investigator Paul Ciolino to investigate the case of four men known as the "Ford Heights Four" who were accused of abducting a newly engaged couple, raping the woman, and murdering both. These men were exonerated after spending 18 years in prison, and won a $36 million settlement from Cook County.

The 1998 book Protess published about that case, "A Promise of Justice," describes the professor's use of what Simon calls "deceitful and unethical techniques," such as paying witnesses for their story, and using female students to flirt with witnesses to get them to say what Protess wanted to hear. Northwestern approved and encouraged these techniques, according to the complaint.

Simon found himself on Protess' radar in the professor's 1998 investigation of Anthony Porter, who had been convicted in 1983 of a double murder.

"During that investigation, Northwestern, through its employees and/or agents Protess and Ciolino, intentionally manufactured false witness statements against Simon and then used the fabricated evidence, along with terrifying threats and other illegal and deceitful tactics, to coerce a knowingly false confession from Simon," according to the complaint.

An affidavit Ciolino allegedly prepared for eyewitness William Taylor to sign deliberately omitted Taylor's statements that he saw Porter run past him out of the bleachers where the murders occurred immediately after hearing shots.

Instead of interviewing other eyewitnesses, Protess induced Simon's estranged wife, Inez, to give a false statement claiming she was with Simon when he shot the victims, according to the complaint. In exchange, Protess allegedly promised Inez money and the release of her nephew and son from jail. Inez recanted her statement in 2005.

No witness ever mentioned Simon's name to the police or at Porter's trial, according to the complaint, but Protess needed an alternate suspect and allegedly picked Simon's name out of affidavits filed during Porter's post-conviction proceedings.

Simon claims his defense attorney Jack Rimland, whom Protess and Ciolino hired, coerced him to plead guilty by lying to him about the strength of the evidence against him.

"Defendant Ciolino has since boasted publicly about forcing Simon to confess," the complaint states. "Specifically, Ciolino stated publicly that 'we bull-rushed him, and mentally he couldn't recover,' and that 'I don't have any rules, the Supreme Court says that I can lie, cheat, do anything I can to get him to say what I gotta get him to say.'"

Simon says Ciolino impersonated a police officer, entering Simon's home with gun drawn, and showed Simon a videotape of an actor falsely claiming that he saw Simon commit the murders. Ciolino also promised Simon he would get money from book and movie deals about the case if he confessed, according to the complaint.

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office exonerated Simon in October 2014 "after finding that Northwestern's conduct and purported investigation was 'deeply corroded and corrupted,' and beset by 'alarming' and illegal investigative tactics which may also have been criminal in nature," Simon says.

Protess left Northwestern in 2010 after the university discovered he had deliberately tried to hide the fact that he had given students' work product to defense attorneys in a subsequent case.

Simon claims that Protess "improperly used the journalism students, in this case and others, as pawns to deflect public scrutiny from the blatantly illegal and unethical investigative techniques routinely employed by Northwestern's employees and/or agents to generate statements from witnesses without regard to the truth or falsity of those statements."

The double murder for which Simon was incarcerated remains unsolved.

Simon seeks punitive damages for malicious prosecution, negligent supervision, negligent retention, conspiracy, and emotional distress.

He is represented by Terry Ekl with Ekl, Williams & Provenzale in Lisle, Ill.

Courthouse News has reached out to various organizations affiliated with the defendants in hopes of getting a comment on the lawsuit.

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