The Atavist Magazine, No. 52

Matthew Shaer’s previous story for The Atavist Magazine, “The Sinking of the Bounty,” was a finalist for the 2014 National Magazine Award for Reporting. A contributing editor at Smithsonian Magazine, he has written for GQHarper’sThe New York Times Magazine, and Men’s Journal, among other publications.

Editor: Katia Bachko
Designer: Gray Beltran
Producer: Megan Detrie
Researchers: Cara McGoogan and Katie Nodjimbad
Copy Editor: Sean Cooper
Fact Checker: Kyla Jones
Photography: Jonathan Lurie, Chicago Sun-TimesChicago Tribune, AP Photo, Courtesy of Paul Ciolino

Published in September 2015. Design updated in 2021.

Listen to the audiobook


This is the account of a 1982 double murder and the two men separately accused, convicted, and exonerated of the crime. It is based on thousands of pages of court documents and interviews with almost a hundred people close to the case, most of whom agreed to speak on the record, some of whom requested anonymity, and a few of whom were speaking to a journalist for the first time.

When I started the reporting process, 11 months ago, I assumed that every new interview would bring me, in a straight line, one step closer to solving the case. But more often than not, as the red light on my recorder went dim, I encountered new alleys, new questions, new ways of interpreting the available evidence.

Undoubtedly, the uncertainty was a product of the remarkable duration of the case and the confessions, retractions, and reverse retractions that have accumulated, like so many sedimentary layers, atop the first police report filed on the sweltering morning of August 15, 1982. But other cases have lasted decades. What made this one particularly confounding was the way it had been used as a vehicle for a dizzying constellation of agendas, with each party framing his or her truth as the only truth.

In the end, I found myself faced with a surprisingly complex story—a story of ruined reputations and failed memory, of courage and corruption, of a pair of poor black men who became pawns in a bitter political war, and of the inability of a broken system to render justice in a 33-year-old murder.

What follows is my investigation into how that came to be.

Part I


On a mild day in the fall of 1998, sixteen students filed into a classroom in Fisk Hall, on the Evanston campus of Northwestern University, for the first session of a seminar called the News Media and Capital Punishment. From the tall windows, the students could see out across Sheridan Road and toward the verdant canopy of Centennial Park. They arranged themselves around a U-shaped set of tables and waited for the professor to begin his lecture.

At 52 years old, with silver hair and a face that crinkled into a baby’s fist when he smiled, David Protess was the closest thing Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism had to a genuine celebrity—a profanity-slinging, old-school muckraker who sped around town in a Mustang and encouraged his students to “shed their objectivity and get their hands dirty,” as he once told an interviewer. Unlike most of his colleagues, Protess trained as an academic, specializing in public policy and community organizing. After earning a doctorate from the University of Chicago, he moved on to a job as research director for the Better Government Association, a nonprofit watchdog group. In 1981, Medill, looking to bolster the number of investigative courses it offered, came calling.

Initially, Protess taught classes on the same kind of topics he had covered at BGA: racketeering, payola schemes, the workings of the infamous Chicago Machine. But in the early 1990s, he shifted his attention to the Illinois criminal courts and the then burgeoning wrongful-conviction movement. His first success came with the case of David Dowaliby, an Illinois man convicted of killing his seven-year-old adopted daughter. Protess published a series of influential articles in the Chicago Tribune exposing serious errors in the prosecution’s narrative; a year later, Dowaliby’s conviction was overturned. “I was there when [Dowaliby] walked back to the arms of his wife and family, and I saw the power of investigative reporting—not just to expose injustice, to right a wrong, but also to restore a family,” Protess later told a student newspaper in Chicago.

He began assigning old murder convictions to his classes, focusing on cases notable for their lack of evidence or for allegations of police or prosecutorial misconduct. At the start of the semester, he’d split the students, by case, into investigative teams. The students reviewed court transcripts and affidavits, interviewed witnesses and alternate suspects, and, by the end of the quarter, compiled dossiers summarizing what they’d learned.

In his lectures, Protess stressed the need to view every conviction in context: The arresting cops, judges, and prosecutors were typically white and part of the entrenched power structure that controlled Chicago; the defendants were poor and black—members of the city’s trampled underclass. All too easily, they could slip through the cracks.

In the fall of 1998, Protess was coming off the biggest victory of his career. Three years earlier, he and three undergraduates had investigated the convictions of four black men jailed for raping a young white woman and then killing her and her boyfriend in Ford Heights, a suburb of Chicago. The convictions were based on the recollections of a bystander, who claimed to have seen the defendants in the vicinity of the crimes, and the testimony of the girlfriend of one of the accused assailants, who told police she’d been present for the rape. Protess’s friend Rob Warden had taken a critical view of the prosecution’s case in Chicago Lawyer magazine. Building on Warden’s reporting, Protess and his students called the bystander’s testimony into question and elicited confessions from the real killers. The exonerees were dubbed the Ford Heights Four.

In A Promise of Justice: The Eighteen-Year Fight to Save Four Innocent Men, a 1998 book Protess and Rob Warden cowrote about the Ford Heights Four case, the investigation is recounted as a cautionary tale of the dangers of overreliance on eyewitness testimony and interrogation-room confessions. (The book also revealed practices that seemed at odds with Medill’s commitment to journalistic ethics: In one scene, several of Protess’s young female students agree to pose for photos with a convicted killer in the visitors room of an Illinois prison in an effort to persuade the man to change his story.) Protess and his students were greeted as heroes: They’d gone up against the corrupt Chicago criminal-justice system and won. Disney bought the film rights to the story; Protess and Warden both donated part of the money to the freed men. The students appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “I’m thinking now,” she said to the students, “all over Hollywood they’re looking at you, and they’re thinking of the series they can start. You’ll have, like, the Mod Squad of the nineties, Charlie’s Angels—Stephanie, Stacey, Laura. You’ll be [a] weekly series. You’ll be breaking men out of jail every week.” (The Disney film was never made, but the story of Dowaliby’s exoneration became a television miniseries called Gone in the Night, starring Shannen Doherty as Dowaliby’s wife.)

At Northwestern, Protess cut a dashing figure. His classes filled up far in advance; students schemed to make it onto the roster. For the 16 undergraduates on hand that afternoon in September of 1998, mere enrollment in the News Media and Capital Punishment was an achievement—never mind the possibility that they, too, could be involved in a case as meaningful as the Ford Heights Four. “I remember being really excited,” one of the students recalled. “In other classes, you might not have a chance to actually make a difference, to work on something important. Here you did.”

Protess wasted no time: He explained that the students could choose from four cases, two of which had carried over from a previous academic quarter. (Protess often kept cases open from one class to the next.) Each represented an instance of potential wrongful conviction; each was interesting in its own way.

But there was one, Protess confessed, that he found particularly fascinating: It was the newest case, and possibly the most dangerous for the team that took it on. It contained all the elements that had preoccupied the professor over the course of his career: alleged police corruption, apparently incompetent lawyering, a callous media, shoddy evidence, and a young black man wasting away on death row for a crime that he denied committing.

Protess could hardly think of a better learning opportunity, a better window into the limitations of the criminal-justice system. What he failed to anticipate was how completely the case would come to swallow his life and the lives of his students in the decades to come. How 17 years later, it would still be yielding unforeseen lessons: about the limitations of memory, about the dangers of challenging institutional power, about the perils of bending the rules for a higher purpose.

But at the time, the weather was fine, the school year was new, and Protess was on top of his game, still in what he called “troublemaker” mode. He looked out at the class. Who wanted the case? Four undergraduates raised their hands: Shawn Armbrust, Lori D’Angelo, Tom McCann, and Cara Rubinsky. Protess gave the students a handful of documents and some phone numbers and wished them luck.


The case was a gruesome and tragic thing: Sixteen years earlier, on the evening of August 14, 1982, a pair of young lovers, Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard, had hopped the fence to the pool area at Washington Park, on the South Side of Chicago, and climbed to the top of the adjoining bleachers. At around one in the morning on the 15th, a gunman approached the couple and fired a series of shots, at close range, with a .38-caliber revolver. Hillard was hit in the head by two bullets; Green was shot twice through the neck and once through the hand, likely as she raised an arm to shield herself. Bleeding heavily, she staggered out of the park. A nearby patrol car rushed her to a hospital, but she died before dawn.

August 14 had been the day of the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic, the largest African-American parade in the country. Tens of thousands of revelers, many of them residents of the nearby project houses, had flooded the streets of the South Side; at one in the morning on the 15th, Washington Park was still bustling. The first detectives arriving on the scene, Geraldine Perry and Dennis Dwyer, quickly zeroed in on two potential witnesses: William Taylor, 39, and Henry Williams, 29, who said they’d come to the park for a late-night swim and to drink beer and vodka. The detectives sent the two men to the Area 1 precinct for further questioning, but not before Taylor and Williams were recruited to help carry Jerry Hillard to an ambulance.

Detectives in Chicago’s Area 1 worked in shifts, with the first team manning the desk from early morning through the afternoon and the second arriving at around 4:30 p.m. On the afternoon of the 15th, the casework was handed over to detective Charles Salvatore and his longtime partner, detective Dennis Gray. Salvatore and Gray separated their two witnesses, who had spent the past 17 hours in the precinct house.

According to the detectives, Henry Williams told them that shortly before Hillard and Green were shot, Williams had been mugged by a man he recognized as Anthony Porter. Porter, a member of a local gang called the Cobra Stones, had a reputation as a stickup man—he’d recently served time for robbery. Williams alleged that Porter had shoved a pistol in his face and pulled two dollars from his pocket. Then Williams watched Porter climb the bleachers. He hadn’t seen the actual shootings.

But his friend William Taylor had, he said. The only problem: Taylor wasn’t talking. According to Salvatore, Taylor was scared of Anthony Porter. Salvatore and Gray drove the two witnesses to Harold’s, a nearby fried-chicken joint. Over dinner, the detectives would later testify, Taylor identified Porter as the killer.

In Illinois, a warrant for a felony crime cannot be issued without the sign-off of a state’s attorney prosecutor, who must conduct what’s known as a felony review—a measure intended to ensure that investigators have probable cause for the arrest. The prosecutor on call that night was David Kerstein. Kerstein didn’t think Williams’s and Taylor’s statements were enough to justify a warrant, but he did agree to accompany Salvatore and Gray and their witnesses to the scene of the crime. If Williams and Taylor separately told their stories in a way that persuaded Kerstein, he might change his mind.

While Williams and Taylor were talking to the prosecutor, Dennis Gray climbed the bleachers to canvass for additional witnesses. Salvatore would later recall that Gray returned with two men, Kenneth Edwards and Michael Woodfork, who claimed to have seen Anthony Porter at the pool on the morning of August 15. Those two witnesses gave Salvatore and Gray the names of two more friends, Mark Senior and Eugene Beckwith, who had been with them that night; the detectives collected their statements.

Kerstein asked a judge to issue a warrant; accompanied by his family, Porter turned himself in. He was innocent, he said, and could prove it. The cops had the wrong man.

The case went to trial in the fall of 1983. There were no fingerprints linking Porter to the crime, no blood evidence; the state’s case rested entirely on witness testimony. The head prosecutor, Paul Szigetvari, called 14 witnesses in all, including a medical examiner who testified that the shots had decimated Green’s voice box, so she couldn’t speak to the EMTs.

Henry Williams told the jury his story of being robbed by Porter, and Taylor repeated his account of seeing Porter shoot Hillard. (Taylor said he never saw Porter kill Green.)

Under questioning from Szigetvari, a patrolman named Anthony Liace said he’d responded to a shots-fired call at Washington Park and stopped a young black man fleeing the scene. Liace told the court that he later realized the man was Anthony Porter, although he acknowledged that he’d never filed a report about the incident. Nor had he found a gun on the man he claimed was Anthony Porter, meaning that if the person he stopped had killed Hillard and Green, that person had managed to ditch the pistol somewhere in the pool area, and the police had failed to locate it.

During cross-examination, Porter’s attorney, Akim Gursel, pressed Dennis Dwyer on how Anthony Porter initially became a suspect in the case. Dwyer responded that he’d “overheard” Williams or Taylor mention Porter, but he testified that neither witness had immediately identified the shooter, leaving Gursel free to suggest that the two men had subsequently been pressured into implicating Porter. To the Northwestern students, who had been warned about the strong-arm tactics of the cops assigned to the projects, coercion seemed a likely factor.

When it was his turn to present his case, Gursel called three witnesses. The first was a professional photographer named Eric Werner. Gursel had hired Werner to take pictures of the pool area from William Taylor’s alleged perspective, with Gursel standing in for the shooter. Gursel asserted that it was difficult to make out his own face in the photographs. (Szigetvari countered that the weather and lighting conditions might have been different in the pictures than on the morning of the killings.)

Stronger was the testimony of Georgia Moody, a longtime girlfriend of one of Porter’s brothers. Moody was able to put Porter at his mother’s apartment all day on August 14, 1982; Moody said Porter hadn’t left until around two in the morning on the 15th. A second defense witness, Porter’s friend Kenneth Doyle, confirmed Porter’s presence at the apartment and testified that he’d later accompanied Porter to the playground of a nearby project house, where the men had continued drinking until dawn. Doyle added that he, Hillard, and Porter were all members of the Cobra Stones gang. Why, he implied, would one member kill another?

In his closing statement, Gursel did not ignore Porter’s reputation. “Many times people are disadvantaged,” he said, “they have problems, but this country offers you an opportunity to overcome it…. So I don’t condone Anthony Porter’s past acts or the nature of his lifestyle, and I say to you it’s wrong, and I have told Anthony it’s wrong.”

Still, Gursel went on, Porter was innocent of the killings of Green and Hillard. The prosecution’s case was thin, he argued, and the testimony of Williams and Taylor unreliable. “I don’t know what happened out there that night, but I’ll you tell you one thing,” Gursel said, “both those men [Williams and Taylor] were lying through their teeth.”

The jury did not agree, and in September of 1983, Porter was found guilty. A month later, a judge sentenced him to death. He was sent downstate to Menard Correctional Center. The serial killer John Wayne Gacy was housed in an adjacent cell. Porter would later claim that the guards abused him physically and mentally: He found ground-up cockroaches in his food. “They just like stomped Anthony all the way down,” Porter said. “Boom, boom, boom.”


Kenneth Flaxman, the veteran litigator hired to represent Porter on appeal, saw plenty of issues with the original conviction: no hard evidence, no murder weapon, a defendant who had consistently maintained his innocence, eyewitness testimony that was at best flimsy and at worst showed signs of having been coached or coerced.

Flaxman developed a theory: The police wanted Porter put away and had seized on this case to do it. Over the course of a decade, he filed a fleet of motions—direct appeal, writ of habeas corpus, petition for post-conviction relief. All were denied. By 1998, Porter had seemingly exhausted his options. The state scheduled his execution for September 23.

In desperation, Porter’s mother and sisters turned to a young attorney named Daniel Sanders. A former engineer, Sanders had graduated from law school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign four years earlier and had wandered his way through a series of unglamorous gigs—freelancing for a company that created trial exhibits, picking up the odd case from a personal-injury attorney in Skokie. He’d gravitated to appeals work because the demand was high and had focused on death-row appeals because they paid well. He agreed to represent Porter for a fee of $25,000.

Sanders was relatively inexperienced with death-penalty law; for help he leaned on the expertise of Chicago’s sizable community of anti-death-penalty advocates, among them the lawyer Aviva Futorian. Futorian encouraged Sanders to have Porter’s mental capacity evaluated: If Sanders could prove that Porter was mentally disabled, and thus legally unable to fully comprehend the role he may or may not have played in the shooting, his life might be spared. (Flaxman says this strategy did not occur to him. “I was focusing on [Porter’s] innocence,” he told me recently in an email. “I thought that the difficulties he had in expressing himself were caused by being on death row for a crime he had not committed, rather than by a severely-low IQ.”)

A subsequent psychiatric test confirmed Futorian’s suspicions: Porter’s IQ came in at 51, a level defined by the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as reflecting “moderate mental retardation.”

Late in August of 1998, with weeks left until Porter’s scheduled execution, Futorian reached out to David Protess, whom she knew from work on previous wrongful-conviction cases. Maybe Protess would be interested in assigning the case to his students?

But Protess declined: it appeared that Anthony Porter would be executed before fall classes got under way. He was sorry, but he wouldn’t be able to help.

Then Porter received some good news: The Illinois Supreme Court agreed to a mental-competency hearing, based on the results of the IQ test. Porter’s execution would be stayed for four months while Sanders and the prosecutors made their preparations. Futorian updated Protess with the developments, and Protess penciled the case into the calendar for his next seminar, the News Media and Capital Punishment.

Before heading into the field, the students in the News Media and Capital Punishment course attended a series of lectures on investigative journalism. The most memorable was delivered by Paul Ciolino, a private detective and a good friend of Protess’s. Ciolino was a native Chicagoan; he’d been raised on the South Side, the son of a car salesman and a homemaker. As a teenager with a teenage wife and two young kids he needed to support, he’d enlisted in the Army and spent seven years conducting investigations for the military police in Germany and the U.S. In the 1980s, he’d hung out his own shingle.

Heavy browed and dark haired, Ciolino had a fighter’s nose, a chewy Chicago accent, and a broad-shouldered bulk he wielded like a weapon—to the students he was a throwback, like something out of a hard-boiled detective novel. Ciolino schooled the students on interview techniques, and in a lecture he’d nicknamed “Ghetto 101,” he shared advice for working in primarily poor and African-American communities: Don’t dress ostentatiously. Bring a cell phone and pepper spray. Make sure you’ve got enough gas in your car. Conduct your interviews in the mornings, when people are “groggy” and “not on top of their game.”

As Ciolino explains in his self-published book, In the Company of Giants: The Ultimate Investigation Guide for Legal Professionals, Journalists and the Wrongly Convicted, all investigators, amateur or not, should expect potential witnesses to ask for money. Tread carefully, Ciolino advised:

It is acceptable to take a witness to a fast food restaurant or diner for a burger and fries. It’s not OK to take them down to the local tavern and buy them eight or nine beers. If it feels inappropriate it generally is inappropriate. Remember at some point all of your actions will be closely examined by the state. If you do anything that could be considered illegal, unethical or immoral they will hold you accountable. You do not want to become the lightning rod in this manner.

The four students on the Porter case listened carefully to Ciolino’s lecture, as patronizing as it might have seemed. In the African-American section of the South Side—the overgrown tenement yards and the hulking mass of the Robert Taylor Homes—the only white faces often belonged to police officers, and they needed to be prepared to encounter distrust and hostility.

They should also be prepared for disappointment, Protess warned them over a subsequent lunch. There was no guarantee they’d be able to save Porter from death. But the students were undeterred. After reading the police reports and court transcripts, they came away convinced that Anthony Porter deserved a new trial.

Their first stop was the office of Dan Sanders, Porter’s attorney, who had been conducting an inquiry of his own in recent weeks, reviewing thousands of pages of transcripts from Anthony Porter’s previous appeals and speaking to some of the witnesses to the 1982 murders.

One set of documents stood out. Ken Flaxman, Porter’s appellate attorney prior to Sanders, had collected several affidavits from people close to Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard. Although a judge had ruled in 1995 that the affidavits did not counteract what he described as the “overwhelming” evidence of Porter’s guilt, the contents contrasted with the case presented by the state in 1983.

Carl Morrow, a friend of Hillard’s, had sworn that shortly before the shooting he had watched Hillard argue with a “tall” man with “brown skin”—not Porter, whom Morrow would have recognized from around the neighborhood. And Tanya Mardis, another of Hillard’s friends, recalled that on the night of the murders, she’d seen Hillard and Green in the presence of a woman named Inez Jackson and Jackson’s boyfriend.

But the most damning allegation came from the mothers of the victims, Allie Hillard and Offie Green. Both women indicated that Marilyn Green had recently cashed a welfare check—a fact that had not escaped the attention of Inez Jackson, who had been present when Marilyn bought Jerry a ring and fresh fish to cook for dinner. (Salvatore told me he did not talk to Offie Green.)

“I told the officers that I didn’t think that Tony Porter was shot [sic] Marilyn and Jerry,” Offie Green swore. “Each time I asked about Inez, the officers told me I should not worry about the investigation and that the police were sure Tony Porter was guilty.”

In an affidavit, Offie Green outlined her theory of what had occurred on the night of August 14, 1982:

I suggested to the police that Inez had lured Marilyn to Washington Park to set her up to be robbed, and I told the police that I believed that Inez’s boyfriend had shot Marilyn and Jerry Hillard…. Before Marilyn was shot, Inez lived with her four children in the building located at 5323 South Federal [Street] in Chicago. The day after Marilyn was killed, Inez moved from the housing project. I do not know where she is now, or if she is still alive.

The identity of Inez Jackson’s boyfriend does not appear anywhere in the affidavits collected by Ken Flaxman. Still, the students found it easily: His name was Alstory Simon, and like Jackson, he had apparently left Chicago after the murders.

In October, the students visited Anthony Porter at Cook County Jail, in downtown Chicago, where he was awaiting his competency hearing. If a court found him mentally deficient, his death sentence would likely be commuted to life in prison. If he was found competent, the state would set a new execution date.

The undergraduates and the inmate seated themselves at a table in the brick-walled visiting room. Porter told the students that he was innocent. “I heard people say that before, but he was more convincing,” Shawn Armbrust later recalled.

The Northwestern team was moved by the meeting. Soon after, the students visited the Washington Park neighborhood, looking for new witnesses, and staged a reenactment at the swimming pool, with one student acting as the shooter and another as William Taylor, who testified at the 1983 trial that he could see Porter fire the shots from the poolside. They came away convinced that it would have been impossible for Taylor to recognize Porter from his position, the same conclusion drawn by Akim Gursel, Porter’s first attorney.

Henry Williams, the man who testified that Anthony Porter robbed him at the park on the night of the killings, had died not long after the trial. But Taylor was still living on the South Side. Paul Ciolino and Tom McCann went to visit him.

As McCann would later recount, Taylor stood by his testimony, telling them, “I know beyond a doubt that Anthony Porter is guilty. I just wish he were executed and I can get on with my life.” But Ciolino and McCann were persistent, and in a signed affidavit they obtained in December, Taylor retracted his original testimony. His new statement said that he didn’t know who shot Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard—and that the two Area 1 detectives, Charles Salvatore and Dennis Gray, had forced him into fingering Porter for the shooting. “Who are you more afraid of, Porter or us?” Taylor claimed the detectives had said during the interrogation.

It was a major development: The only eyewitness to testify at Porter’s criminal trial had just walked back his testimony. (Williams had testified to being robbed by Porter but had not actually seen Porter pull the trigger.) Yet the affidavit alone wouldn’t be enough to get the conviction overturned. Protess and the students gathered at Fisk Hall to discuss strategy for the months ahead. The team decided that their best bet was to try to track down Alstory Simon’s girlfriend. If she had seen the shooting, she might be persuaded to testify against Simon.

In a second interview at the Cook County Jail, Porter told the students that while he was at Danville, he’d crossed paths with an inmate who had been locked up with Inez’s nephew Walter Jackson. At the time, Jackson was in prison for a murder conviction of his own and had mentioned knowing something about the 1982 killings. Protess wrote Jackson a letter, and in December, Jackson phoned Protess at his home. Yes, he told the professor, he knew who killed Green and Hillard, and it sure as hell wasn’t Anthony Porter.

Anthony Porter. Photo: Chicago Tribune 
David Protess and his students, from left, Shawn Armbrust, Cara Rubinsky, Tom McCann, and Erica LeBorgne. Photo: AP Photo


In early January, Protess convened the first session of his winter seminar, Investigative Journalism. Armbrust, Rubinsky, and McCann had enrolled in that class so they could stay involved in the Porter case, but Lori D’Angelo was replaced by two new undergrads, Syandene Rhodes-Pitts and Erica LaBorgne. The team brought Rhodes-Pitts and LaBorgne up to speed and scheduled a visit with Walter Jackson at Danville.

Jackson told the students that in the summer of 1982, he had been living with his aunt Inez Jackson and her boyfriend, Alstory Simon. On the evening of the murders, Inez and Simon had gone out with two of their friends, Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green. Later that night, Inez and Simon had returned to the apartment, and Simon told Walter that he just “took care” of Hillard and Green. Hillard was apparently dealing drugs for Simon and owed him some money. He needed to get out of town for a while. Maybe to Milwaukee.

Walter Jackson signed an affidavit swearing that the information was correct, and a few weeks later, Armbrust, using real estate records, managed to track down a niece of Inez’s—Inez was in Milwaukee, the niece said, living under the name Inez Simon. She and Alstory had gotten married, although the two were now separated.

In late January, David Protess and Paul Ciolino accompanied McCann, Armbrust, Rhodes-Pitts, and LaBorgne on a trip to Wisconsin. Inez was living with her children in an apartment in Milwaukee. The team extended an invitation: Come eat some food at a local pub. Inez, according to Ciolino and one of the students, was clearly terrified. She said that if she talked, Simon would track her down and kill her. He’d hit her before, she said.

Still, she assented to lunch, as well as a videotaped interview, conducted at Armbrust’s parents’ home nearby. Speaking into the camera with assurance, Inez recalled the events of August 14, 1982. Yes, she’d gone to the park with Green, Hillard, and Simon. Simon was drinking and smoking weed, as he often did. An argument had broken out between Hillard and Simon, and Simon had opened fire on Green and Hillard. Simon and Inez had fled together, with Simon holding her biceps with a painful grip. “He said [to] shut up,” Inez recalled. “He said [if] I said anything … he’d do the same thing to me”—shoot her dead.

Ciolino made a copy of the tape and delivered it to CBS News, where he had a contract as an investigator. The producers promised to get the footage on the air as soon as possible. He also called Protess and told the professor that he was worried for Inez: He did not think Alstory Simon was the kind of person to make idle threats. And the best way to keep Inez safe was to have Simon .

And the quickest way to get Alstory Simon arrested, Ciolino believed, was to obtain a confession from Simon himself.

Ciolino already had Simon’s address in Milwaukee: Back in November, Protess and two of the students had showed up unannounced. Simon had shooed them away. But that was before Walter Jackson’s affidavit, before Inez’s confession. Ciolino prepared to try his luck. The night before he left for Milwaukee, he stashed a secret weapon in his bag: a videotaped interview with a 20-year-old process server from his office. On the tape, the process server poses as a witness to the 1982 murders and says he saw Alstory Simon fleeing the scene. (In actuality, the kid would have been a toddler in 1982.) It was the kind of trick that wouldn’t pass muster in a journalism class. But as Ciolino would explain in a 2005 interview, for an investigator it was a legally permissible tactic: “The Supreme Court says I can lie, cheat, do anything I can to get him to say whatever I gotta get him to say.”

Cops did it all the time, he added. Why shouldn’t he?

On a bitterly cold morning in February of 1999, Ciolino pulled his bright red Mercedes-Benz coupe to a halt in front of a sagging bungalow on Wright Street in South Milwaukee. Beside him, in the passenger seat, sat his most trusted employee, a former security guard named Arnold Reed. At just under six feet tall and weighing close to 300 pounds, Reed was there as both witness and additional muscle. “Quite frankly,” Ciolino told me recently, “I’d asked Arnold to come along in case things got ugly.”

Ciolino and Reed stepped out of the Mercedes and, bracing themselves against the winter wind, walked to the porch. According to Ciolino, Alstory Simon answered the door, and the two men explained that they were working with Northwestern. “You’ve got two minutes,” Simon told them.

Ciolino recounted the substantial evidence against Simon: the accusations from Walter Jackson and Inez Simon. Simon shook his head. “What else you got?” Ciolino remembers him asking.

“A recording with a young man who was in the park that night,” Ciolino said.

Using the flip screen on his Panasonic camcorder, he played Simon the staged interview he’d recorded the night before. Simon watched the 20-year-old process server recite the lines that Ciolino had written for him.

“Man, that motherfucker wasn’t there,” Simon said.  

“Al, the only way you know that is because you were there,” Ciolino shot back. But Simon was unmoved. The gambit had failed, Ciolino remembers thinking: “He’s not shook up, he’s not fucking rattled, he’s not upset.”

The investigator was pulling on his coat when he saw Reed frantically flapping his arms. An old TV set in the living room was carrying the news out of Chicago, and the news out of Chicago that morning was Inez’s taped confession recorded in late January by Ciolino and the Northwestern students. Simon turned toward the set.

“Inez, in all her fucking glory, is fucking nailing [Simon] to the cross, and he’s standing there with his hands in his pockets and he’s hunched over and he’s kind of rocking,” Ciolino told me. “Arnold’s looking at me going, ‘You lucky motherfucker.’”

Simon was visibly spooked. “It’s all coming to an end,” Ciolino told him. “This is the only chance you have to get in front of this thing and man up and do the right thing.”

A few minutes later, Simon was sitting on the living room couch, delivering his confession into the lens of the Panasonic. Yes, he admitted, he’d been in the park with Inez, Hillard, and Green. There’d been an argument. Hillard had pissed Simon off. But it was self-defense, Simon swore: “I was thinking of trying to live. I had fear [for] my life,” he said, adding, “Before I knew anything … I just pulled it up and started shooting.” In the video of the confession, he looks calm if resigned, his voice quiet and steady.

Simon asked Ciolino what would happen next. Ciolino told him the truth: He would be arrested. He’d need a lawyer. Ciolino wrote down the names and of two experienced attorneys. One was Jerry Boyle, a seasoned criminal defender in Milwaukee. The other was Jack Rimland, a veteran defense attorney, whom Ciolino knew from previous cases.

It was a decision that would come back to haunt him.

Alstory Simon’s confession. Video: Courtesy of Paul Ciolino
The pool at Washington Park. Photo: Chicago Sun-Times


Back in Chicago, Ciolino handed over a copy of Simon’s confession tape to the office of Richard Devine, the Cook County state’s attorney. “After seeing the video and discussing it,” Devine later recalled in an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune last year, “I concluded that our office should undertake an immediate reinvestigation of the Washington Park murders and that we should allow Porter an opportunity to be out on bail while the investigation took place. No one was prepared to conclude that Porter was innocent and Simon guilty based on the video, but there clearly were questions about Porter’s guilt that had to be resolved.”

Under normal circumstances, an inmate whose murder conviction was under review would remain incarcerated until a new trial could be arranged. Capital cases are notoriously hard to overturn; successful appeals are extremely rare. But these were not normal times: The Ford Heights Four case had rattled the public’s faith in the Illinois criminal-justice system, and statewide, support for the death penalty was fast eroding. Devine asked a judge to free Porter on bail in light of the new developments, and the judge released Porter on his own recognizance. (Devine, now an attorney in private practice, did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this article.)

On February 5, after 16 years on death row, Anthony Porter walked out the gates of Cook County Jail. Protess and the Northwestern students were waiting for him; Protess took a running start and leaped into Porter’s arms, burying the newly freed man in a bear hug. Porter, his black Atlanta Falcons hat now crooked on his head, was dazed but triumphant. “It feels marvelous to be outside!” he shouted to a nearby reporter.

After Paul Ciolino left Simon’s home, Simon placed a call to Jack Rimland, one of the attorneys Ciolino had recommended. Rimland drove to Milwaukee and told Simon he’d take on the case pro bono. In the following days, he negotiated the terms of Simon’s surrender.

Meanwhile, Inez Simon had arranged to turn herself into the police. By delivering the videotaped statement to Ciolino and the students, she had left herself open to charges of obstruction of justice. An attorney named Martin Abrams picked her up in Milwaukee and drove her to a station house on 51st and Wentworth in Chicago. Inside the station house, Abrams told me recently, he and Inez ran into Alstory Simon. “What the fuck are you doing here?” Simon asked, in Abrams’s recollection.

“I’m here to tell them you did it,” Inez said. “What are you here for?”

“To tell them the same thing,” Simon responded.

Abrams whisked Inez away from Simon and took her down the hall to give her statement. He told me prosecutors later agreed to waive any charges against Inez in exchange for her cooperation.

Devine, the Cook County state’s attorney, assigned oversight of the case to Thomas Epach, the head of his criminal division. Epach empaneled two grand juries. The first was an investigative grand jury, a tool sometimes used by prosecutors to evaluate evidence, gather information, and interview witnesses—without cross-examination from a defense attorney. Prosecutors called Ciolino, the Northwestern students, and David Protess, who said that neither he nor Ciolino had ever offered Simon anything in exchange for his statement. As far as Protess was concerned, Simon was telling the truth about killing Green and Hillard.

The first grand jury also heard the first sworn testimony from several people whom police interviewed during the original murder investigation. In August of 1982, hoping to convince the state’s attorney to authorize an arrest warrant for Porter, detectives Salvatore and Gray had turned up four witnesses who could put Porter in the park’s pool area: Eugene Beckwith, Mark Senior, Michael Woodfork, and Kenneth Edwards.

Thomas Gainer, the assistant state’s attorney tasked with presenting evidence to the jurors, called Beckwith, Senior, Woodfork, and Edwards to the stand.

Beckwith testified that he saw Porter and another man with the victims in the bleachers and recognized Porter, even though he recalled that the area was dark. Senior testified that he also saw Porter in Washington Park but couldn’t finger him as the shooter from 80 yards away. “I couldn’t see who that was who pulled the trigger,” he said. Woodfork said that he had heard shots and had seen people running. When Gainer asked him if he could remember the day in question, he responded, “Vaguely.”

The most definitive testimony came from Kenneth Edwards, who recalled observing Marilyn Green come tumbling down the bleacher seats and hearing shots. Edwards and his friends fled:

Gainer: And how did you do that?

Edwards: We had to climb back over the way that we climbed in.

Gainer: So you went over the wrought-iron fence, right?

Edwards: Correct.

Gainer: And then you went into the tennis courts?

Edwards: Yes. We went across the tennis courts to King Drive, and then we sat on 57th and King Drive.

Gainer: OK. And how long after you heard that last shot did it take you to get out of there?

Edwards: Not long.

Gainer: As you sit here today … can you tell this grand jury who it was that fired those shots?

Edwards: I sure can.

Gainer: And who was it?

Edwards: It was Tony Porter.

The jury was disbanded without being asked to decide whether the evidence warranted an indictment. The second grand jury met in March and heard from a smaller pool of witnesses: Ciolino; Celeste Stack, an assistant state’s attorney; and Allen Szudarski, a violent-crimes detective assigned to reinvestigate the murders. In his testimony, Szudarski told jurors that he’d reinterviewed Inez and she’d stood by her previous allegations that Simon had shot Green and Hillard over drug money. Stack testified that she had spoken with Walter Jackson, who had confirmed what he had said to the Northwestern team: Simon had told him that he’d shot Hillard in the head. The jury returned an indictment for murder.

In the weeks after his arrest, Simon greatly expanded on his original confession, copping so many more times to the murders, at such impressive length, and in so many different venues—in letters from his cell, in interviews with TV news reporters, in the courtroom—that it appeared obvious to anyone following the case that Simon was desperate to unburden himself: that, like Rodion Raskolnikov, the tormented murderer in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, he had belatedly found catharsis in the truth.

Simon confessed to his attorney, Jack Rimland. He confessed on camera to a reporter from WISN, an ABC affiliate in Milwaukee. He confessed to David Thomas, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, to whom he had written asking for counsel. (“I was only defending myself from a young man who was trying to kill me and another person was killed by accident,” Simon wrote to Thomas.)

And in a document that has never been made public but was provided to me by someone close to the case, he wrote a confession letter to Porter himself. Simon begins the note by hoping he “finds [Porter] in an open frame of mind” before describing what happened when Arnold Reed and Paul Ciolino arrived at his Milwaukee bungalow:

What I’m about to express is deep from the reservoir of my heart. I never knew that someone had been blamed for the double-slaying. As I sat in the privacy of my home watching TV you appeared on the network, and the clock was ticking. I knew then that it was true. It was no thing of conscious, nor pity or trickery by the investigators. When I saw you I could not let that happen to you. Despite the long time…, I’m glad I could be there, when it really counted the most. I was willing to sacrifice my life and freedom to save a life. I don’t know why this monstrosity of a tragedy had to happen to us. Man I am so sorry that you had to live like that. Some people feel I’m a damn fool to confess and some say I should have let you dies. But I don’t care what they think. That’s what wrong with our people. They show no compassion for their fellow man.

In early 1999, Simon was under investigation by Milwaukee police for his connection to a pair of local murders committed around the time he arrived in Milwaukee. Rimland worked out a deal with Gainer, the assistant state’s attorney, and a prosecutor from Milwaukee: If Simon pled guilty to the Chicago killings, he’d receive immunity from prosecution in the Wisconsin case.

In September of 1999, Alstory Simon stood in front of Cook County judge Thomas R. Fitzgerald, and with his bespectacled attorney, Jack Rimland, at his side, he pled guilty to killing Green and Hillard. (Soon after, Simon would write an effusive letter to Rimland, thanking him for his service on the case.) Fitzgerald asked Simon if he was making the plea of his own volition; Simon answered in the affirmative. There would be no criminal trial. Before Fitzgerald imposed a sentence, Simon was given a chance to speak. He took it, delivering one last confession, addressing Offie Green, Marilyn’s mother—the woman who had been accusing Simon of killing Marilyn for years.

“I never meant to hurt her. Never meant to do it,” Simon said:

Never meant her no harm at all. I had things between Jerry and I. And when the shots started she just, she was coming past and happened to got in the way when the shot went off. Before I realized it I had already squeezed the trigger, she was trying to stop me from coming at Jerry. She threw up her hands, and trying to hit her in the hand, I didn’t even realize she … was even hurt that bad.

“There is no question in my mind that there is true contrition on the part of this particular defendant,” Judge Fitzgerald said before imposing the 37-year sentence recommended by the prosecution. Because the offense was committed prior to 1998, Simon could serve as little as 50 percent, or 18 and a half years—a lenient punishment for the crime that had earned Anthony Porter a death sentence. (Murders committed after 1998 were subject to a new law that required offenders to serve 100 percent of their sentences.) The next day, Simon was transferred to Danville Correctional Center in Vermilion County, Illinois.

Public reaction was instantaneous and loud. The Ford Heights Four case had been bad enough. But the Washington Park murders were something else entirely—an innocent man had escaped execution by mere hours.

“Why didn’t the police or the defense lawyers do a better investigation?” the Chicago Tribune asked in a lengthy editorial. “Was the only witness intimidated by policing into lying so Porter could be framed? How could this case come so horrifyingly close to the point that an innocent man would be put to death? Does Illinois want to answer these questions before an innocent person dies, or after that happens?”

One of the Illinois residents watching the drama play out was the Republican governor, George H. Ryan. “I turned to my wife and I said, ‘How the hell does that happen?’” Ryan later recalled. “How does an innocent man sit on death row for 15 years?”

He instituted a temporary moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, until a more thorough review of the judicial process for capital cases could be conducted.

Anthony Porter and David Protess embrace following Porter’s release. Photo: Chicago Tribune

Part II


Between 1982, the year Anthony Porter was arrested for the murders of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard, and 1999, the year he was exonerated, the field of criminal justice changed in dramatic ways. Courts began allowing the introduction of DNA evidence, throwing doubt on convictions that had once seemed airtight. Eyewitness testimony was being treated with far more skepticism. (By 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court would order all judges to read to juries a set of instructions detailing the inherent problems with such testimony. “Human memory is not foolproof,” the instructions read. “Research has revealed that human memory is not like a video recording that a witness need only replay to remember what happened. Memory is far more complex.”)

The public’s faith in the ability of prosecutors and police to get the right man was shaken. Support for the death penalty plummeted from its peak in 1994; by 1997, the American Bar Association was advocating for a nationwide moratorium, until courts were sure they’d “minimiz[ed] the risk that innocent persons may be executed.”

A fundamental societal shift was under way, and few people had been as instrumental in effecting it as David Protess. In the months following Porter’s release from jail, Protess and his students sat for dozens of magazine, newspaper, and television profiles, in which they were consistently depicted as diligent sleuths whose digging had helped to overthrow a conviction based on sloppy police work. “I just believe that the higher calling of journalism is that after you find the truth, you can in fact right the wrong,” Protess proclaimed to The New York Times in March of 1999.

Four months later, Protess presided over the inauguration of the Medill Innocence Project, an offshoot of the national organization. was named director. Other universities, inspired by Northwestern’s accomplishments, followed suit. “I saw what Protess was doing and said I’d like to try something like that up here,” recalled Bill Moushey, the founder of the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, in Pittsburgh.

The establishment of the Medill Innocence Project highlighted the tension of Protess’s dual roles: It was a journalistic enterprise headed by an activist. With Protess, the former Medill dean Michael Janeway said, “it was always kind of fuzzy whether he was engaged in journalism or a kind of guerrilla social-justice law operation where the ends justified the means.” Another acquaintance, a journalist himself, told me that Protess developed “boundary issues with journalism and activism. He could sometimes get out over his skis.”

In 2003, Illinois governor George Ryan held a press conference to announce his intention to empty death rows across the state. From the podium, he made sure to single out Protess in the audience. “Most of us wouldn’t have even paused for a second except that Anthony Porter was innocent,” Ryan thundered. “He was innocent for the double murder for which he had been condemned by the State of Illinois to die.” (Later that year, Ryan was indicted for racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering, and tax fraud; he was convicted and served six and a half years in prison.)

For members of the wrongful-conviction movement, the case became shorthand for all they stood against: the flawed nature of the death penalty; police coercion and prosecutorial negligence; the inequities of the criminal-justice system. But for Protess’s enemies, it was something else: a target.

None of the investigations carried out by Protess and his students had occurred in a vacuum. To look into an old case was to dissect it with an eye toward understanding where it had gone wrong—under whose control and how. Each exoneration unraveled a carefully orchestrated conviction and, more often than not, implicated the cops and attorneys who had helped stitch it together. The city was forced to pay out thousands of dollars to the freed men. Unsurprisingly, in Chicago’s conservative law-enforcement circles, David Protess was increasingly viewed as a threat.

“He’d get these kids out in front, and he’d say, ‘These coeds, it’s unbelievable how smart they are. They just go in and get a confession!’” James DeLorto, a former investigator with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, told me recently. “And there was nobody around saying, ‘That’s a crock of shit,’ you know?”

DeLorto is short and snowy haired, with close-set eyes and a parchment-dry sense of humor. At the bureau, he was a member of the Organized Crime Task Force, which investigated mob operations; “When there were no more Italians left,” he likes to joke, “they had to start us on gangs.” In 1995, he and his longtime partner, John Mazzola, retired from the ATF and founded their own private investigation outfit.

Two years later, David Protess’s work on the Ford Heights Four case led to a federal investigation into corruption in the Chicago suburb. Mazzola and DeLorto were hired by lawyers representing Jack Davis, the longtime chief of police, who was charged with accepting bribes from area drug dealers. To understand the context of the accusations, the former ATF agents examined Protess’s original exoneration investigation. Davis was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in a federal lockup, but the case taught Mazzola and DeLorto a lot about how Protess and his Northwestern team operated. “We knew the part that Ciolino played, the part the students played, and the part that the news media played,” DeLorto told me.

To DeLorto, it was all a liberal conspiracy; the public had been hoodwinked, and good “coppers,” as he put it, were paying the price. The professor needed to be taught a lesson. And in 2002, DeLorto and Mazzola stumbled across the right opportunity: Alstory Simon had filed a pro se motion, a legal document made without the assistance of an attorney, alleging that he’d been forced into admitting to the murders by Paul Ciolino, Arnold Reed, and Jack Rimland.

A judge had denied the motion, but DeLorto and Mazzola arranged a visit with Simon anyway. In the Danville visiting room, Simon told the investigators his new story: Ciolino and Reed had shown up unannounced at his Wright Street bungalow in Milwaukee and barreled past him, brandishing pistols. (Ciolino told me he was unarmed: it would have been “crazy” to transport loaded handguns across state lines, he said. Reed has since passed away.) They spent the next hour alternately threatening him and cajoling him with bribes, until Simon broke down and told the two investigators what he thought they wanted to hear: that he had killed Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green.

In a subsequent court filing, Simon explained:

For the first time, I believed that I was actually going to be charged with committing the murders…. [Ciolino] said he had all the evidence they needed to put me on death row, and that the Chicago police were on their way to arrest me right then. He said that once the police get to my house, there would be nothing more he could do for me, and this was my one and only chance to help myself by giving a statement saying that I shot the two victims in self-defense. Ciolino said that he and [Protess] wanted to free Anthony Porter, that when he got out, millions of dollars were going to be made on movies and book deals, that I would be entitled to a lot of the money…. He said that if I gave a statement saying I did the crimes in self-defense … that he would get me a free lawyer, that the professor could make it so that I only had to serve a short time in prison, and that when I got out, I’d be taken care of financially and would not have to work again.

But after several years at Danville Correctional Center, Simon went on, he stopped hearing from Jack Rimland. He concluded that Paul Ciolino, Arnold Reed, and David Protess had hoodwinked him into confessing and then saddled him with a lawyer, Rimland, who was determined from the start to leave him to rot in Danville.

In fact, Ciolino told me that he didn’t have an ulterior motive when he gave Simon the names of those two attorneys back in 1999: He knew both men and trusted them. Furthermore, each lawyer had an extensive track record of litigating death-penalty cases. Ciolino’s supporters, including Rob Warden, who calls Rimland a “fine attorney,” have said that they saw nothing wrong with the recommendations.

“The options included refusing to give him the name of a lawyer, giving him the names of lawyers he didn’t know or trust, or asking him to call the bar association for a legal referral,” David Protess later argued. “I’d call it the best of all the bad options.”

But to DeLorto and Mazzola, the referral represented a clear conflict of interest—and, more than that, evidence of a conspiracy to frame an innocent man.

Paul Ciolino. Photo: Chicago Sun-Times


The two investigators were ecstatic. Returning to their offices in Batavia, they contacted James Sotos, an attorney based in the nearby suburb of Itasca. Sotos runs something of a specialty shop: On any given year, he and his partners defend a dozen cops or prosecutors who are accused of excessive force, false arrest, or worse. (“You work hard for us, let us work hard for you,” reads the firm’s website.) Typically, his fees are paid either by city or county governments, as in the case of Sotos’s most famous client, Jon Burge—a police commander convicted of overseeing a culture of witness and suspect torture in Chicago’s Area 2. (The scandal cost the city more than $100 million in reparations and associated costs.)

Sotos had worked with DeLorto and Mazzola for many years—he outsourced a lot of shoe-leather investigative work to the two former ATF men. Still, when it came to the Alstory Simon case, his gut reaction was to politely turn them away. “It was my feeling that it was kind of an obvious case, that Northwestern had the right guy, because I had seen [Simon’s confession] on television,” Sotos told me recently.

In preparing his pro se motion, Simon had collected all the court documents and police reports associated with his case. He mailed the files to DeLorto and Mazzola, who shared them with Sotos. “It became that stack of papers that sits on the corner of your desk that you don’t have time to get to,” Sotos told me. “But [DeLorto and Mazzola] kept pushing me to do it, and they said, ‘Review the grand jury documents, and if you don’t want to get involved after that, we’ll leave you alone.’”

The results of the second grand jury convened in the Simon investigation by Thomas Epach, head of the criminal division of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, were well known: The jury had indicted Simon for murder. And for good reason, Sotos saw, paging through the documents. All three of the witnesses—Celeste Stack, an assistant state’s attorney; detective Allen Szudarski; and Paul Ciolino—had focused on the statements given by Inez Simon and Walter Jackson, and on the contrite confession delivered by Alstory Simon himself.

But the transcripts from the first grand jury, which was tasked in February of 1999 with conducting the initial review of the case, were foreign to Sotos. He saw that the first grand jury had heard from an array of people the indicting grand jury had not: the Northwestern students, Protess, and the four men—Eugene Beckwith, Mark Senior, Michael Woodfork, and Kenneth Edwards—who were present at the pool area at the time of the killings. The men had not testified at Porter’s 1983 trial, but they had given statements to police implicating Porter in the killings. In 1999, they had delivered echoes of those statements from the stand to Thomas Gainer, the state’s attorney charged with presenting evidence to the first grand jury. Their recollections were vague, decayed over the years, but to Sotos, they suggested a possible road map to Alstory Simon’s exoneration.

Sotos was also struck by Protess’s acknowledgement, under oath, that he’d only studied the files generated during Porter’s appellate proceedings, along with summaries written by his students and the 1982 statement given by William Taylor. That meant that before assigning the case to his students, he hadn’t read Salvatore and Gray’s report of the interview with Kenneth Edwards in which Edwards had identified Porter as the killer, nor the testimony of the other witness, Henry Williams, called by the State in 1983:

Gainer: You didn’t read [Henry] Williams?

Protess: Correct.

Gainer: You didn’t read any of Mr. Porter’s alibi?

Protess: That’s correct.

Gainer: You didn’t read any of the police witnesses?

Protess: That’s correct.

The professor’s decision is understandable: Given the shoddy testimony of the witnesses the state had called, Protess might have been skeptical about what police claimed they learned from four other young black men. Porter was facing execution, and with only 11 weeks in each Northwestern quarter, Protess and his students had great incentive to move quickly—it made sense that they would start with William Taylor, the one witness to the crime to testify at the 1983 trial, and with the contents of the Offie Green affidavit, which pointed in the direction of a different killer.

But Sotos saw barely concealed bias: It appeared to him that Protess had been selective about the witnesses he focused on. Perhaps he’d already had his mind made up about the innocence of Anthony Porter and was determined to overlook any evidence that might disprove his theory. Sotos came away convinced that Protess had gone too far.

“I decided I would get involved and do whatever I could,” he told me.

He phoned his friend Terry Ekl, a former prosecutor with extensive courtroom experience, and asked if Ekl would be willing to lend a hand on Simon’s appeal. Ekl agreed.

In the fall of 2003, Sotos and Ekl arranged a meeting with the Cook County state’s attorney and his senior staff. Between Simon’s retraction and the transcripts from the first grand jury, Sotos and Ekl believed they had enough to persuade Devine to give Simon a new hearing. But the meeting went nowhere. “I didn’t get the sense there was any real serious consideration given,” Sotos told me. “There was some smirking.” (In his opinion piece last year, Devine defended his actions: “Was there evidence pointing to Porter? There was. But there was also evidence pointing to Simon, and Simon pleaded guilty,” he wrote, adding, “there should not be any issue about the need to investigate Simon’s role in the murders or the professionalism of the prosecutors in conducting that investigation.”)

Sotos resolved to talk to Protess. Maybe he could make the professor see things from his point of view. The three men—Ekl, Sotos, and Protess—had lunch at Ina’s, a now defunct brick-front restaurant in the West Loop. Sotos and Ekl laid out what they had. Sotos remembers telling Protess that “the anti-death-penalty movement will survive Porter’s guilt. There’s so much momentum it’s not going to turn that back. But the facts of this case are the facts of this case, and you can get out in front of this.”

Protess, Sotos says, took the tone of “a hardened police detective who didn’t want to hear the other side.” He stood by the Northwestern investigation, calling it “one of the strongest criminal cases” he had ever worked.

While Sotos and Ekl lobbied to have Simon released from prison, Anthony Porter was struggling to adapt to life on the outside. In 2000, Porter had been granted a certificate of innocence from the governor and a restitution check in the amount of $145,875—less than ten grand for each year Porter had spent behind bars. The money vanished within months, spent on a luxury SUV, gifts to friends and supporters, and booze.

Not long after his release, Porter was arrested for assaulting his daughter and her mother—“He was really hitting hard. You wouldn’t think he would do that to his own blood,” a relative told reporters—but was spared jail time by . Porter moved in with his mother and spent much of his time on the couch, watching daytime TV. “All I wanted was to get home. Then I got to go home. I feel like I’m going through the same thing as before,” he complained to a visiting reporter. “I just want to get a life.”

In 2001, he filed a $24 million lawsuit against the City of Chicago, claiming that detectives Charles Salvatore and Dennis Gray, in a rush to have him indicted for murder, had ignored key evidence and conspired to force Henry Williams and William Taylor to testify against him. A civil trial was slated for the fall of 2005. There would be three main defendants in addition to Salvatore and Gray. Anthony Liace, a patrolman, had responded to the shots-fired call and seen a man he later identified as Porter fleeing the scene. And detectives Geraldine Perry and Dennis Dwyer had also arrived at the pool area in the early hours of August 15, 1982; they’d been the first cops to talk to Taylor and Williams.

At trial, James Montgomery, who represented Porter, sought to depict the 1982 police investigation as a frame job. He called to the stand William Taylor, who repeated what he’d told McCann and Ciolino: that Salvatore and Gray were already certain that the shooter was Porter and that things would be much easier if Taylor “went with the flow.” Taylor said the detectives coerced him into identifying Anthony Porter.

Montgomery also questioned Eugene Beckwith, Kenneth Edwards, and Michael Woodfork, three of the four men who, according to detectives Charles Salvatore and Dennis Gray, had seen Porter shoot Hillard and Green—and had testified accordingly in front of the investigative grand jury in 1999. (Kenneth Edwards’s testimony was delivered via videotape, from prison, where he was serving time for murder.)

The three men disputed the accuracy of the police reports, which Salvatore and Gray had produced after their interviews; according to the detectives, Edwards and Woodfork had identified Porter as the shooter. They maintained that they said no such thing in 1982.

Beckwith and Edwards admitted that they’d seen Porter at the pool but couldn’t say that he’d killed anyone; Woodfork didn’t know who Porter was. Edwards asserted that he had testified against Porter in 1999 in exchange for leniency on a pending charge.

Walter Jones, the city attorney representing the officers, did his best to cast doubt on the witness reversals and introduce compelling witnesses of his own. There was Liace, who claimed to have stopped and frisked a man he later identified as Anthony Porter near the pool area. And there was the still-intact testimony of witness Henry Williams. (Being dead, Williams could hardly reverse his original statement, although Montgomery called Williams’s best friend at the time, Sheffield Younger, to testify that no mugging had occurred.)

At the close of the one-week trial, the judge directed the jury to reject the claims against Perry, Liace, and Dwyer and instructed them to focus wholly on Salvatore and Gray. But there, too, the jury members’ purview was to be limited: They weren’t deciding whether Anthony Porter was guilty. They were deciding only if Salvatore and Gray had probable cause to arrest Anthony Porter and whether the two detectives had acted with malice.

On November 6, 2005, the jury foreman announced that the plaintiff’s claims were rejected. Anthony Porter would receive no money from the City of Chicago.

In coming weeks and months, the verdict would be interpreted in radically different ways. Walter Jones saw it as cementing Porter’s guilt. But Porter’s family and supporters were able to take some solace that the jury had agreed that Salvatore and Gray failed to arrest the real shooter. “We unanimously believed [Porter] was innocent, that he was wronged,” a jury member told the Chicago Sun-Times. “But we couldn’t [find for Porter]. The case was, ‘Was there probable cause?’”

Inez Jackson. Photo: Chicago Tribune


In 2006, Terry Ekl and James Sotos filed a petition in a Cook County court requesting a fresh review of Simon’s conviction. As part of the process, they had DeLorto and Mazzola track down Inez Simon. The private detectives found her living with her son in Milwaukee, suffering from advanced-stage emphysema and AIDS, which left her bedridden and hooked up to an oxygen tank.

In a deposition given to Ekl, Inez retracted her statement implicating her ex-husband in the murders and said she’d done so only under duress from the Northwestern team. “I didn’t want to die carrying it to my grave, knowing he was innocent,” she told Ekl. Four months later, Inez was dead. The lawyers obtained a similar retraction from Walter Jackson, Inez’s nephew: Jackson said he’d only implicated Simon because he’d hoped David Protess and the Northwestern students would help him with his own appeal.

In September of 2006, Cook County judge Evelyn Clay agreed to hear Ekl and Sotos’s petition, arguing that Rimland did not provide adequate counsel to his client.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, the columnist Eric Zorn, who had applauded Northwestern’s efforts to have Porter released from prison, cast doubt on Sotos’s single-minded interest in Simon’s innocence. “I believe that those behind the effort to re-open Simon’s case are interested only in discrediting the integrity of those whose work has attacked the criminal justice system,” Zorn wrote.

Still, he argued, Simon was entitled to a “full evidentiary hearing”:

If I’ve learned anything in more than a dozen years of banging my shoe on the table about the fallibilities of our legal system, it’s that beliefs and conflicts of interest can be poisonous to the search for truth, no matter how good anyone’s intentions. And that the first step toward injustice always involves people abandoning principle when it threatens to conflict with what they “know” to be true.

Later that month, Judge Clay ruled against Simon, noting that she had not seen “evidence of erroneous legal advice” and adding that Rimland had “negotiated an excellent plea bargain” for Simon. Clay also cast doubt on the recantations that Sotos had secured. “Recantations are inherently unreliable and do not constitute new material evidence,” she wrote. “Both Inez Jackson and Walter Jackson have severely impaired credibility rendering their recantations untrustworthy.”

An appellate court upheld the decision; in 2008, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision. There were few legal avenues remaining.

For all intents and purposes, Sotos recalled, “we were dead in the water.”

Inez Jackson’s deposition. Video: Courtesy of the Sotos Law Firm 

In the spring of 2009, a writer named William Crawford showed up at Sotos’s offices in Itasca. Before he became a PR man and a crisis-management strategist, Crawford had spent his cub years at the now defunct Chicago City News; in 1970, he’d joined the investigations team at the Chicago Tribune, where he’d been part of a group that won a Pulitzer for exposing corruption at two local hospitals. In his retirement, he occasionally looked into old murder cases for cop buddies, and after reaching out to Mazzola and DeLorto about a decades-buried arson case, the two former ATF men had steered Crawford to Alstory Simon and Anthony Porter.

Crawford, Sotos believed, could be a useful part of the team: The legal efforts to exonerate Simon were flagging, and besides, a major part of Protess’s success had been his ability to draw media attention to his work—with Crawford on board, Team Simon would now have an investigative journalist of its own. He showed Crawford into one of the conference rooms, which was piled high with cardboard file boxes, and encouraged Crawford to take as much time as he needed.

Crawford started with the transcripts from the two 1999 grand juries and Simon’s sentencing. “I realized immediately,” Crawford told me recently, “that the investigation had been absolutely inane, meaningless, unprofessional, childish. There was no merit to it at all.” In his reading of the record, the Cook County state’s attorney, under pressure from Protess and the media, had mistakenly released a guilty man and incarcerated an innocent one. Rimland, a friend of Ciolino’s, should never have been allowed to represent Simon; the second grand jury should have heard from the same witnesses as the first.

He launched himself into the case at a velocity he would later describe as unhealthy—spending days on end reviewing and organizing documents. “Everybody had heard bits and pieces of this story,” he recalled, “but when you pieced it all together it was so abundantly clear, the wrongdoing. But nobody had the entire picture.”

This spring I met Crawford at a Starbucks near O’Hare airport. I asked him about his motivations for getting involved in the case. Did it have to do with the death penalty? “I don’t give a shit one way or the other [about the death penalty],” he told me. “I just want to expose the fucking wrongdoing that went on here.”

But later in our conversation, he dropped a clue: “Without blowing my own horn, there was a time when I was a central member of the media in Chicago, print media in particular, but I got out in ’95,” he told me. “It is now 2000-and-whatever-it-is, and the name Bill Crawford is meaningless to a lot of people. But the cheerleading that went on for Protess…” There he trailed off.

In March 2011, the State of Illinois abolished the death penalty and commuted the sentences of all prisoners on death row, bringing new acclaim to Protess and Northwestern. Meantime, Crawford began work on a lengthy document he titled Chimera, after the two-headed monster of Ancient Greek myth. He outlined his goals in the introduction: “One, to set the record straight—the official public record that has been spread over thousands of pages since the 1982 crimes were committed. Two, to get that record in front of those men and women, in private and public office, who are in a position to begin at once the task of righting the colossal wrong that has taken place.”

Despite Crawford’s ambition to lay out the facts in an orderly fashion, the tone of Chimera is by no means impartial. It begins with the assertion of Anthony Porter’s guilt and Alstory Simon’s innocence. The initial 1983 conviction is described as “a rather open and shut case”; Porter is repeatedly referred to as the killer, despite his having been exonerated.

And here is Crawford on Protess:

The journalism profession at least in theory is grounded in the time-honored tradition of seeking the truth, not the absolute truth, which is not possible given time constraints. But the approximate truth. For Protess, the goal of his death penalty class—judging by his conduct and the course’s content—apparently was to get Porter off Death Row or freed altogether, by hook or by crook, the facts be damned, and whoever may be harmed in the process.

Beyond Protess’s wrongdoing, Crawford suggested a broad conspiracy, perpetuated by lazy local journalists: “The lead actors in this farce? Certain members of the print and electronic media, especially in Chicago. Reeled in hook, line and sinker, routinely regurgitating information spoon fed to them by a Northwestern journalism professor without any effort on the part of reporters to validate the underlying facts.”

Chimera weighs in at 105 pages; it is exhaustively researched and unapologetically skewed. The underlying argument can be summarized as follows: The jury had it right in 1983. Everything after the early months of 1999 had been a horrendous reversal of justice, propagated primarily by Northwestern and Paul Ciolino, in order to bolster credentials. In Crawford’s telling, the Northwestern students were naive and Ciolino a fearsome gumshoe “with a checkered past.” It detailed, for the first time, the testimony heard by the first grand jury. (Crawford would later publish a full book, essentially a longer version of Chimera, titled Justice Perverted: How the Innocence Project at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism Sent an Innocent Man to Prison.)

In late 2011, Crawford emailed the document to approximately 100 individuals: politicians, prosecutors, senior administrators at Northwestern University. He received a couple of short responses, but nothing that would move the case forward. To Crawford, the silence was further proof of omertà on the part of Protess’s supporters: “They were all stonewalling—by not acknowledging this thing is out there and nobody’s talking about it and the press wasn’t going to touch it.”

Cook County courthouse, Chicago. Photo: Jonathan Lurie


David Protess’s response to the allegations made by Crawford, Sotos, and Ekl was to retreat further into his work, expanding the scope of the Medill Innocence Project and the number of wrongful-conviction cases it took on. He arrived on campus early in the morning and did not leave until late at night. He drank more; smoked too many cigarettes. The cause had consumed him, so much so that he may have been blind to the single-minded purpose of his critics.      

In 2006, Protess and his students presented Richard Devine, the Cook County state’s attorney, with the results of a potentially groundbreaking investigation: the reexamination of the conviction of Anthony McKinney, an Illinois man accused of shooting a security guard in 1978. Protess and his students had obtained crucial evidence that seemed to indicate that the wrong person was behind bars. Together with the members of the Bluhm Law Clinic at Northwestern, they petitioned Devine to reopen the case. But Devine’s term expired before he could act, and in 2009, the evidence wound up in the hands of career prosecutor Anita Alvarez, the new Cook County state’s attorney.

Alvarez shocked Protess and Northwestern by responding to the petition with a subpoena, demanding that the university turn over all emails and notes pertaining to the case and the grades of the students involved. “I said, ‘Holy shit. They don’t want to just litigate [this] case. They want to litigate us,’” Protess later recalled. That night he told his wife, “Well, Anita Alvarez just declared war on our Innocence Project.”

Protess’s supporters viewed the subpoena as an attempt to stop the journalists from meddling in old cases. “It is a flagrant attempt to intimidate the Medill Innocence Project and other similar projects which have been so successful in overturning wrongful convictions,” a high-ranking former federal judge wrote in a column at the time. (Alvarez has repeatedly denied the existence of any vendetta.)

The state’s attorney went on the offensive, unleashing a string of allegations against the Medill Innocence Project: Students had flirted with witnesses in order to extract information, Alvarez claimed, posed as census workers, and paid out money to a witness. Northwestern refused her subpoena on principle: The students’ emails should be covered by the same Illinois shield law that protects professional journalists.

The university hired the white-shoe law firm Jenner and Block to reinterview students and staff familiar with the case and to go over material scraped from staff hard drives. During that search, emails were uncovered that showed Protess had shared materials with lawyers representing Anthony McKinney—in doing so, he’d legally voided his right to be protected under Illinois’s shield law.

More embarrassingly, the probe produced evidence that Protess had attempted to cover his tracks. The most glaring example involved a 2007 email sent from Protess to the program assistant for the Innocence Project. In the original email, Protess had written that “My position about memos, as you know, is that we share everything with the legal team, and don’t keep copies.” But he had altered that communication before sending it to the dean and the lawyers to read: “My position about memos, as you know, is that we don’t keep copies.” (Protess later said that he altered the text to better reflect reality, because he didn’t want to imply that they had shared literally everything.)

A close friend of Protess’s told me that Protess had temporarily “lost it,” possibly a result of caring for his wife, who had been ill, while balancing the demands of the Innocence Project. “I think he was probably under extreme emotional stress,” the friend says.

But Protess had been caught lying to Northwestern officials—a particularly grave sin at a university whose motto is Quaecumque Sunt Vera, a line from Philippians 4:8 that translates to “whatsoever things are true.” Northwestern, citing Protess’s violation of its values, announced his retirement from the university.

Anita Alvarez announcing the release of Alstory Simon. Photo: Chicago Sun-Times


By 2011, Sotos and Ekl were starting to feel confident about their client’s case. Protess was gone from Northwestern. Simon was maintaining his innocence. They had a deathbed retraction from Inez. They’d attracted the support of Chicago beat cop and writer Martin Preib, the author of Crooked City, a blog popular in law-enforcement circles. They’d added a new member to their legal team: Andrew Hale, an attorney who had spent years defending police officers against wrongful-conviction charges.

And they’d been working with a filmmaker from Cleveland, Shawn Rech, on a documentary about the 1982 murders. Funded in part by Hale, the film, which would be released in 2014 under the title A Murder in the Park, is more pro-Simon propaganda than objective journalism: It features interviews with Charles Salvatore, Alstory Simon, Ekl, and Hale, but not with Protess, Ciolino, Rimland, or any of the students—the entire Northwestern team declined to participate.

And it floats a spectacular theory: that David Protess and Anthony Porter conspired to convince Walter Jackson to give a false statement and to persuade Inez to participate in the plot to frame Alstory Simon, with Jack Rimland acting as a knowing accomplice. (Porter was interviewed for the film and again denied his involvement in the killings; he later said Rech offered him cash to confess on camera, a charge that Rech has denied.)

As the public relations campaign wore on, Sotos sent a letter to Alvarez ticking down the evidence he had amassed and asking the state’s attorney’s office to take another look at Simon’s conviction. Sotos cited Simon’s allegations of coercion; Inez Simon’s and Walter Jackson’s retractions; the testimony of Kenneth Edwards; and the involvement of Rimland—it was a conflict of interest, Sotos argued, to have Rimland on the case at all. (On this last point, Sotos, the Chicago Tribune editorial board, and Eric Zorn, who has long supported the wrongful-conviction movement, were in agreement. “Simon should have been represented by an attorney who wasn’t a pal of the guy who took his confession,” Zorn wrote in 2013.)

Sotos’s case was bolstered, in September of 2013, by an affidavit signed by Thomas Epach, the head of the criminal division at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in the late 1990s. In the affidavit, Epach swore that he’d always been dubious about Simon’s guilt and that he’d asked Richard Devine, the Cook County state’s attorney, for more time to look into the case. Devine, Epach said, turned him down. “I was told that the decision to prosecute Alstory Simon had been made by Mr. Devine,” Epach wrote.

Devine could hardly have been expected to look the other way when Alstory Simon was so loudly confessing to the murders of Green and Hillard. But Simon’s supporters viewed the Epach affidavit as corroboration that Simon’s conviction was political in nature: Even the head of the criminal division of the state’s attorney’s office had been skeptical, and still Devine plowed ahead. (“If Mr. Epach had these issues, I don’t recall their being raised with me,” Devine has said. “Maybe he raised them with other people. That’s possible, but I don’t recall them being raised with me.”)

Alvarez agreed to assign the case to the attorneys in her conviction integrity unit, a new group created in response to public pressure for more accountability at the state’s attorney’s office. Celeste Stack, the state’s attorney who had testified before the grand jury that had indicted Alstory Simon, would oversee the investigation.

On October 30, 2014, Alvarez called a press conference at her office in downtown Chicago. Bill Crawford and Martin Preib were in attendance. The state’s attorney strode into the room in all-business gray, her face drawn. Flashbulbs clattered. The Simon case, Alvarez said haltingly from the podium, “has undoubtedly been the most complicated and the most challenging reinvestigation that we have undertaken” since the formation of the conviction integrity unit.

Alstory Simon had “made more than one incriminating statement to this crime,” she said. “In fact,” she went on, “he had made arguably inculpatory statements in the year following his guilty plea—in a television news interview and in letters that he wrote to Mr. Rimland, another attorney, and a letter that he wrote to Anthony Porter himself.”

For Alvarez, though, “the bottom line is that the investigation conducted by Protess and private investigator Ciolino, as well as the subsequent legal representation of Mr. Simon, were so flawed that it’s clear that the constitutional rights of Mr. Simon were not scrupulously protected as our law requires. This conviction therefore cannot stand.”

Crawford and Preib leaned forward, waiting for Alvarez to say the magic words: that the real killer had been Anthony Porter. But the state’s attorney equivocated. “I can’t definitely tell you that it was Porter that did this, it was Simon that did this,” she said. “I’m just saying based on the totality of the circumstances, based on the way I think Mr. Simon was coerced, then in the interest of justice, this is the right thing to do.”

Alvarez vacated the charges against Simon, and a Cook County judge ordered his release. As the Chicago Tribune later noted, the move was an extraordinary one for Alvarez: “As state’s attorney, Alvarez has given great weight to confessions, often refusing to throw out convictions because defendants had confessed, even in the face of compelling evidence undercutting the confessions.”

Here, she’d shown no such compunction. (Alvarez’s office declined to comment or to make any documents collected during the case review available to me.)

In a written statement provided to the Tribune, Ciolino stood by the work of the Northwestern team. “I believe Anthony Porter was innocent, but no one can deny the state fell far short of meeting the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt in securing a death sentence for him,” Ciolino wrote in the statement. “But for the work we did together with David Protess and his students, Porter’s life would have been taken.”

On the afternoon of the 30th, under a low-bellied sky, Simon, clad in a gray hoodie, strode out of prison. Rain flecked his shoulders. His hood was pulled over his head. “I’m not angry,” he said, and, catching himself, added: “At first I was angry when I first came in here. I was very bitter. Like a person would come up to me, and I’d cuss ’em out, be ready to fight. Then I thought about it, and I thought, I got to let that go.”

A few hours later, Simon went with Sotos, Ekl, DeLorto, Mazzola, and Crawford to Gibson’s Steakhouse in Rosemont, a few miles west of Chicago. He had whiskey and a T-bone. Crawford recently sent me a photo from that night: Simon is still in his hoodie, and Crawford has one arm draped over his shoulder. Both men are smiling.

The next morning, the Chicago Tribune published an unsigned editorial on the case, lamenting the fact that “nobody will be held accountable for a double murder, despite two convictions. That’s a hugely unsatisfying outcome, but it only underscores our belief that the death penalty has no place in a just society,” the editorial continued. “A case that sent a man to death row has come unraveled, twice, leaving only uncertainty. Who killed Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard? We still don’t know.”

Alstory Simon at his release, 2014. Photo: AP Photo 


In the wake of his release from prison, Alstory Simon filed a petition for a certificate of innocence—the same certificate granted to Anthony Porter in 1999. Cook County circuit judge Thomas J. Byrne returned a decision in June. “It is more likely true than not that [Simon] is actually innocent in the murders of Hillard and Green,” Byrne ruled. But citing Simon’s confessions and apologies to Green’s family, Byrne found “Simon’s conduct [not] in line with the conduct of an unwilling victim.” He denied Simon the certificate of innocence and with it legal and binding proof that Simon wasn’t a killer.

Still, James Sotos, Terry Ekl, and Andrew Hale are pressing forward with a massive lawsuit against Northwestern University, David Protess, and Paul Ciolino, alleging that the Northwestern team “intentionally manufactured false witness statements against [Alstory] Simon and then used the fabricated evidence, along with terrifying threats and other illegal and deceitful tactics, to coerce a knowingly false confession from Simon.” (The defendants have denied the accusations.) They are asking, on Simon’s behalf, for $40 million. Even if they don’t prevail, the suit has already succeeded in silencing Protess and many of the people who worked on the case; few agreed to speak with me on the record.

One exception was Paul Ciolino. When I met him in April, the private investigator, clad in a blue UnderArmour hoodie and jeans, vibrated with rage at the allegations detailed in the lawsuit. It was costing him business, he said. “They want you to let this shit take over your life,” he said of Sotos and Ekl. “They don’t want you doing anything else but dealing with this nonsense.” But he was determined to fight back: “No one has really come back at them. I’m going to tell you, man, World War III is getting started with these people.”

The Northwestern students involved in the 1998 and 1999 investigation are not targets of the complaint, but some have retained counsel anyway, fearing that they could eventually be sued by Simon. “I think a lot of us would like to get on with our own careers,” one former student told me. Of the four undergraduates assigned the case in 1998, only one, Cara Rubinsky, an editor at the Associated Press, ultimately became a journalist. Tom McCann works as an attorney in Washington, D.C.; Shawn Armbrust is the executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, a D.C.–based nonprofit; Lori D’Angelo is a writing instructor.

As for David Protess, he is still president of the Chicago Innocence Project, the organization he founded after leaving Northwestern. “The situation is so painful that he wishes to receive no communication regarding it,” one friend told me, after I asked the friend to pass along a message to Protess on my behalf. (An attorney for Protess declined to comment.)

Protess’s most recent public communiqué was a lengthy 2013 column for The Huffington Post suggesting that any effort to overturn Simon’s conviction was the result of a “hidden agenda” on the parts of Sotos, Ekl, Hale, and the filmmaker Shawn Rech. “Sure enough,” Protess wrote, “a little digging shows that Porter has been dragged back into the spotlight for a more sinister reason. The motive is money.”

On a stormy day this spring, I rented a car and drove out to Washington Park. The air was heavy and damp, the sky filled with dancing white cottonseeds. The pool area would not open for a few more weeks, but the grounds crew had left the gate open. As I climbed the bleacher steps, I did a mental roll call: Inez Simon, dead. Henry Williams, dead. Arnold Reed, dead of stomach cancer. Daniel Sanders, recovering from bankruptcy and struggling to make ends meet as a self-employed attorney. Tony Porter, living in poverty, having been arrested three times since his release from prison, twice for assault and once for shoplifting. Alstory Simon, putting his life back together far from the South Side. Bill Crawford, convinced that the entire case has been his curse—his “infection.”

I stopped at the top of the bleachers and peered out over the park. I could find nothing in the way of commemoration: no Sharpied memoriam with the initials M.G. and J.H., no weather-bleached bloodstains—no hint that 33 years ago, two young people had been killed here, inaugurating a legal drama that would end the death penalty in Illinois but leave their deaths unavenged and all but forgotten. If the case had ever really been about Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green, it wasn’t any longer.