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Judge Denies Freed Illinois Man Certificate of Innocence

CHICAGO ― A Cook County judge on Thursday denied a certificate of innocence to a man whose murder conviction was overturned, saying the man’s own actions led to a finding of his guilt—including a confession that helped free a death row inmate in a case key to ending capital punishment in Illinois.

Circuit Judge Thomas Byrne said Alstory Simon met the burden of proof that he did not shoot to death two people as they sat in a Chicago park in 1982. However, Byrne noted that Simon’s actions, including a guilty plea and a public apology, gave credence to the effort led by a Northwestern University professor and journalism students to free Anthony Porter, who had been convicted of the murders.

“Petitioner’s statements during his plea of guilty and prior to sentencing are indicative of willful participation in the plan,” Byrne wrote.

The judge noted that the court asked at the time if Simon’s plea was obtained by threat or promise, other than the plea agreement, to make him plead guilty. He said Simon lied to the court and engaged in a “measure of creative deception” by offering the family of one victim, Marilyn Green, “a seemingly heart-felt apology” during his sentencing hearing.

Byrne also noted that Simon has sued Northwestern University and former journalism professor David Protess, claiming that they conspired to frame him, but “he alleges no wrongdoing on the part of the state.”

Simon’s attorney Terry Ekl says he will appeal Thursday’s ruling.

Porter had spent 16 years on death row for slayings he and his supporters maintained he did not commit. Simon’s videotaped confession led authorities to free Porter less than 48 hours before his scheduled execution in 1999.

The Porter case helped prompt then-Gov. George Ryan to declare a moratorium on executions in 2003. In 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn then abolished the death penalty. Simon spent nearly 15 years in prison before he was cleared by prosecutors in October.

In his lawsuit filed earlier this year, Simon, 64, says Protess “instructed his students to investigate Porter’s case and develop evidence of Porter’s innocence, rather than to search for the truth.” Simon 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.

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 deceitful and unethical conduct because the university wanted the prestige and financial gain it brought.

A Northwestern spokesman has denied any wrongdoing, adding the university would be vindicated in court. Protess retired from Northwestern in 2011 amid questions about his investigative methods. Protess has denied wrongdoing, calling the allegations “completely ludicrous.”

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