Questions Raised About Innocence of Death Row Inmate Anthony Porter

Darrin Klimek/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) — A man serving a 37-year double murder sentence in an Illinois prison may be doing so despite his innocence, according to a new complaint that alleges his lawyer helped put his own client behind bars in order to release the real killer from death row just hours before his execution.

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Bill Crawford filed a formal complaint Wednesday claiming lawyer Jack Rimland was part of a complicated conspiracy to release Anthony Porter — who was originally convicted of the 1982 double homicide — and imprison his own client, Alstory Simon, for the same crime. And a new eyewitness says he saw Porter commit the crime.

“I have no doubt that Alstory Simon is innocent,” said Crawford, whose complaint was first reported by ABC News’ Chicago affiliate, WLS-TV. “He was absolutely coerced through an unbelievably brilliant charade.”

Simon is now serving his sentence in Illinois’ Danville State Penitentiary for the double murder in Chicago’s Washington Park, while Porter, who had served 17 years on death row before his release just two days before his scheduled execution in 1999, is a free man.

But Crawford says this is all wrong — and is at least partially due to Rimland’s failure to disclose information during Simon’s sentencing that would have proven his client was forced into confessing to the crime he didn’t commit.

Porter’s high-profile 1999 exoneration and release was one of the lynchpin cases cited by then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan when he enacted a moratorium on the state death penalty in 2000, citing systemic problems with the state’s capital punishment program. Illinois later abolished the death penalty.

According to Crawford’s complaint, filed to the Illinois Supreme Court’s attorney disciplinary body, Rimland’s representation of Simon “amounted to a wanton derelicition of his sworn obligations and duties.”

Rimland did not immediately return repeated requests by ABC News for comment for this story.

Crawford claims that Rimland was working in conjunction with private detectives associated with then-Northwestern professor David Protess, who headed the university’s Medill Innocence Project, which investigated cases of people suspected of being wrongly convicted. 

Protess was let go by the university earlier this year after questions were raised by Illinois’ Cook County state’s attorney into his and his students’ conduct while investigating another suspected wrongful conviction.

According to the complaint, Rimland was aware that armed private investigators working for Protess coerced Simon into confessing, but he never mentioned it to the judge presiding over the case.

Following Simon’s conviction, Crawford says Rimland went as far as to present an award to Protess for “their help in freeing Porter and their help in convicting Simon.”

Also included in the complaint is sworn testimony by Ray Brown, an eyewitness to the 1982 murders who says he saw Porter shoot the victims and then run away.

Brown told WLS that he never came forward at the time of the crime because Porter was sent to prison. It wasn’t until Porter’s release that he began thinking about telling his story.

“The police locked him up for it so I thought it was a done deal till I seen him on the news getting out and I’m like, ‘How’d he get out when he killed them?’ And they showed another guy’s face and that wasn’t the guy who killed him,” said Brown.

WLS also caught up with Porter, who is currently living on Chicago’s southside and is unemployed.

“I’m just tired of this stuff, ya know, that I’m innocent, and these people just keep coming and bringing this stuff up like a ransom, putting my life in danger, my family in danger, ya know like saying people don’t know nothing about the case. People know that I’m innocent,” said Porter.

Crawford claims that Rimland was motivated by the desire to cash in on some of what he believed would be Porter’s multi-million dollar payout from a civil case lodged against the state after his release. Porter ended up losing the case, and was never given any money.

Protess did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story but told WLS-TV in a statement, “These are the same bogus claims that were twice brought before a criminal courts judge and the Illinois court of appeals — and twice rejected. Having lost before every judge who has reviewed this matter, Alstory Simon’s advocates are now reduced to file a bar complaint against an honorable lawyer who got Simon 37 years for a crime that had landed Anthony Porter on death row.”

Regarding the allegations about the armed private investigators, Protess wrote, “Further, the brief passage about me is factually inaccurate. [The investigator] was not ‘working’ for me when he went to Milwaukee to interview Simon, and Simon’s advocates incorrectly identified the other person who accompanied him.”

Jim Grogan, deputy administrator and chief counsel of the Illinois ARDC, declined to comment on the request for an investigation against Rimland and would only say that a response to the filing could be expected within a few days.

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