CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago man whose confession helped free a death row inmate in a case that was instrumental to ending capital punishment in Illinois before he recanted filed a $40 million lawsuit Tuesday against Northwestern University and a professor he alleges conspired to frame him.
Alstory Simon says shoddy oversight by Northwestern allowed former journalism professor David Protess, private investigator Paul Ciolino and defense attorney Jack Rimland to conspire to frame him for a 1982 double slaying in which two people were shot as they sat in a park on Chicago's South Side. Simon was released from prison last year after the Cook County State's Attorney's Office said it found evidence that the other man was responsible.
Simon's videotaped confession had led authorities to free Anthony Porter less than 48 hours before his scheduled execution in 1999. Porter had spent 16 years on death row for slayings he and his supporters maintained he did not commit. The Porter case helped prompt then-Gov. George Ryan to declare a moratorium on executions in 2003. Then-Gov. Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty in 2011.
Northwestern spokesman Alan K. Cubbage denied any wrongdoing, adding the university would be vindicated in court.
Ciolino called the lawsuit frivolous.
"Northwestern University, Dave Protess and I saved (Porter) from an unjust conviction and execution that would have never passed muster today," he said in a statement. "Last I checked, none of us had the ability to charge a suspect, plea bargain, take a case to trial or convict an inmate."
Protess and Rimland did not return calls seeking comment. Protess retired from Northwestern in 2011 amid questions about his investigative methods.
Simon, 64, says he was coerced into making the confession with promises of an early release and a share of the profits from book and movie deals. He was convicted and sentenced to 37 years in prison. He spent nearly 15 years there before being released in October.
His lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, says Protess "instructed his students to investigate Porter's case and develop evidence of Porter's innocence, rather than to search for the truth."
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has said Simon was tricked by a private investigator who stormed into his home and showed him a videotape of a man who said he had seen Simon pull the trigger. The man turned out to be an actor.
The lawsuit claims "Northwestern knowingly approved, encouraged and ratified Protess' and Ciolino's deceitful and unethical conduct" because the university wanted the prestige and financial gain it brought.