A private investigator involved in a controversial investigation of a wrongful conviction, who was later alleged to have employed improper investigative techniques in a book and a documentary, sued several defendants for defamation and false light. The appellate panel reversed the trial court in part, finding that the investigator’s claims were not time-barred.
In 1982, Jerry HIllard and Marilyn Green were murdered in Washington Park in Chicago. Anthony Porter was convicted for the murders and was sentenced to the death penalty. Professor David Protess and other members of Northwestern University’s Innocence Project investigated the case and identified another suspect, Alstory Simon. At some point, members of the Innocence Project came to believe that Simon and not Porter had really committed the murders.
Paul Ciolino was employed as a private investigator and did work for the Innocence Project. Ciolino and another investigator traveled to Milwaukee to meet with Simon. Simon claims that Ciolino pretended to be a police officer from Illinois, and that Ciolino was armed with a handgun at the time of their meeting. Ciolino told Simon that the Innocence Project had sworn statements from Simon’s ex-wife, Inez Jackson, and from an eyewitness to the murders. Ciolino also showed Simon a video that the Innocence Project had made with a paid actor pretending to be the eyewitness. Simon also alleged that Ciolino persuaded him to confess to the murders by promising him that he would receive a sentence of only a few years in prison, and that he would receive money from book and movie deals because of the intense publicity of the case.
The Innocence Project eventually succeeded in freeing Porter from prison, using Simon’s videotaped confession as well as statements from Simon’s ex-wife and her nephew, Walter Jackson. The Cook County State’s Attorney then indicted Simon for the murders. Simon eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to 37 years in prison. Still, many people felt that Simon was not actually responsible for the murders and began investigations of their own to determine whether he was innocent of the crimes.
Inez Jackson and Walter Jackson eventually recanted their statements. The two explained they had implicated Simon in their statements based on promises from Protess. They alleged that Protess and his team had given them food, cash, alcohol, and other things of value to induce them to make statements. Northwestern University later conducted an internal investigation into the journalistic and investigative practices of the Innocence Project under Protess, and he was separated from the University as a result. The Cook County State’s Attorney then investigated Simon’s case and determined that, due to the misconduct on the parts of Protess and Ciolino, the conviction was so tainted that it could not stand. Simon was eventually released from prison after serving 15 years. Continue reading ›