A scandal at a university’s innocence project led to a defamation suit by one of the project’s former employees against a writer of a book and documentary filmmakers who accused the employee of engaging in criminal behavior in pursuit of a false murder confession. The employee’s defamation claims were initially found to be untimely by the trial court, but the Illinois appellate court reversed the decision. The Illinois Supreme Court took up the appeal of the filmmaker’s and affirmed the decision of the appellate court, finding that each new showing of the documentary film to a limited audience retriggered the statute of limitations, making the claims timely.
Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism (Innocence Project) sought to exonerate Anthony Porter for the 1982 murders of Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green. Those working at the project suspected that a different individual, Alstory Simon, had committed the murders. Paul Ciolino, a private investigator, worked at the Innocence Project. Ciolino obtained a videotaped confession from Simon after allegedly promising Simon that he would be represented by an attorney whom Ciolino knew.
Porter’s conviction was vacated and, after being pressured by his attorney, Simon pled guilty to the murders and was sentenced to 37 years in prison. Some people remained unconvinced that Simon had actually committed the murders. Simon unsuccessfully filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief. After obtaining representation, a second petition was filed on Simon’s behalf asserting actual innocence. That petition contained new evidence that two witnesses who had implicated Simon had recanted their statements. The witnesses stated that their earlier statements implicating Simon were induced by promises to them made by David Protess of the Innocence Project. Continue reading ›