Crooked City

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Will the Tribune Return its Pulitzer Prize?

Investigative reporters at the once mighty Tribune newspaper are reportedly digging into the Anthony Porter case, a sign the paper may finally be facing the truth that it got the biggest wrongful conviction case in the state's history completely wrong.  

Preliminary indications are that investigative reporters may actually be taking a look at more than the just the Porter case. The reporters may review the entire career of disgraced former Professor David Protess at Northwestern's Innocence Project.

If only it were true.   

Protess spearheaded several crucial wrongful conviction cases, including Anthony Porter, a career thug who in 1982 gunned down a couple in a park. Not only did Protess and his students free Porter, who was clearly guilty of the murders, they incarcerated an innocent man, Alstory Simon, along the way. 

In the last few years, Protess was fired from Northwestern after the school admitted he lied about his investigations. Now prosecutors are reviewing the Porter case after a litany of allegations arose claiming Protess and his Private Investigator Paul Ciolino manipulated evidence. 

Critics of the Porter exoneration point out that it could not have taken place without the support of the media. But now the Tribune narrative is crumbling under the weight of new evidence pointing to Porter's guilt and Alstory Simon's innocence.

What will the paper to do? Will investigative reporters truly dig deep into the Protess cases? Could a major metropolitan newspaper finally acknowledge it had one of the biggest wrongful convictions completely wrong? After all, the paper won a Pulitzer Prize in part over his coverage of Porter.

Will the paper apologize to the detectives in the case, who endured six years of condemnation in the media because Tribune journalists never bothered to look at the facts? And then what will happen if the paper does investigate the Porter case? They will inevitably have to ask what other wrongful conviction claims are also false.

Certainly they will then have to take up the Madison Hobley case, an arson in which seven people were killed. Hobley was sent to death row, but was set free, just like Porter. 

How deep will it go? How many wrongful conviction claims will fall apart?

Somewhere along the way, the Tribune must account for the 2005 civil trial in which Porter's attorneys tried to sue the city, claiming the detectives framed Porter. The detectives fought for the city to take the case to trial.  

The attorney for the detectives, Walter Jones, at first believed Porter was innocent. Then he talked to the detectives and re-investigated the case, concluding that Porter was guilty. Jones walked into the civil trial and argued just that: that the only man who could be guilty of the murders was Porter. Jones and the detectives won and Porter got nothing.

After the trial, reporters asked how it could be Porter didn't get any money. Jones pointed to Porter and said that Porter was the killer.

Furious that Jones could contradict the narrative of Porter's innocence, Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote a scathing attack on Jones, even suggesting a lawsuit against Jones for Jones claiming that Porter was guilty.

I asked Jones about Zorn's column.