Crooked City

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Media Still Misses Key Evidence of Prosecutor Corruption in Porter Case

One truth about corruption in Chicago is that it never seems to end. At each level of a narrative about the workings of the city, another crime or betrayal seems to unfold.

The Chicago Reader, for example, published a story about the Anthony Porter case that was first revealed on the Conviction Project blog.

The story detailed evidence of prosecutorial manipulation of the grand jury process that covered up the fraudulent exoneration of Anthony Porter and the wrongful conviction of Alstory Simon.

Uncovering a second, kangaroo grand jury created by prosecutors in 1999 that ignored evidence of Anthony Porter’s guilt reveals just how far Northwestern’s plot to exonerate a killer and frame an innocent man went: all the way to the prosecutors’ office, it seems.

But even with this new information about the second grand jury, the Reader, the Tribune and the rest of the Chicago media have yet again failed to get at the core, unequivocal evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in the Porter case, and the magnitude of corruption in the case in general. Their failure is somewhat glaring, given that it has been right there in the public record for fifteen years.  

Their unwillingness makes sense. When one truly looks at the case, one question emerges that neither the Reader nor any other Chicago newspaper ever wants to ask: If the Porter case was this appallingly dirty, how many others were?

Turns out a lot of them, and the Reader was a central player in most of them. It must be a difficult thing for the staff at the Reader to deal with.

To review.

Porter had been sentenced to death row for a 1982 double homicide on the south side. Then, in 1998, Professor David Protess and his students from Northwestern University’s Innocence Project became involved in the case. In short order, they claimed Porter was innocent and another man, Alstory Simon was guilty. They obtained a “confession” from Simon to the murders.

After Simon was sent to prison, Simon claimed he was coerced by Northwestern advocates into confessing. He painted a dire picture of being threatened with violence and the death penalty and of being offered money to admit to the killings. Simon said he caved into this pressure and confessed.

For years, supporters of Simon—a collection of cops, retired cops, lawyers, a journalist, and few private detectives--have pointed out a vast body of evidence bolstering Simon’s claims. They also pointed to evidence that showed Porter was the killer after all. In fact, since Simon was arrested in 1999, the evidence that sprang him from prison has been out in the open. Nevertheless, those advocating for Simon were largely ignored by the local media, then completely vilified. For it is the most common tactic of those in the wrongful conviction movement and their supporters in the media to vilify anyone who questions a wrongful conviction claim.

But finally, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was convinced to look at the case again. She eventually freed Simon and assailed the conduct of the Protess-led Northwestern team for violating Simon’s rights. But Alvarez said she could find no evidence of wrongdoing by her predecessor, Dick Devine.

A close look at the records of a six-month period between February and September of 1999 reveals these claims by Alvarez hold little water.

In that period, Prosecutor Dick Devine’s administration was already under fire from the Chicago Tribune in a series of relentless, and largely false, articles about wrongful convictions. Then came Northwestern University’s claims that a death row inmate, Anthony Porter, was innocent of a brutal double homicide in 1982. Northwestern argued that another man, Alstory Simon, was guilty of the killings.

Buckling under this intense pressure from a local media, Devine let Porter of prison and took Simon into custody, based largely on the “confession” Northwestern’s Paul Ciolino obtained from Simon.  It is now clear that the media, which was cheerleading the Northwestern team, had not bothered to look into any of the facts of the Northwestern claims.

In February of 1999, dissension broke out at in the prosecutors’ office over the decision to free Porter and arrest Simon. One prosecutor, Thomas Epach, who was chief of the criminal division, knew the case inside out. He knew Porter was guilty and Simon never had anything to do with the murders.

Epach called for a grand jury, aimed at putting the Northwestern claims under a microscope. It worked. Over the course of February, 1999, Epach’s grand jury, headed by another prosecutor named Thomas Gainer, eviscerated the Northwestern claims. Included in the grand jury was testimony by several key witnesses the detectives had met after they returned to the crime scene the day after the murders in 1982. These witnesses were crucial because they confirmed the testimony of other witnesses gathered from the crime scene. All these witnesses fingered Porter. Not one of them ever mentioned Alstory Simon.

Here are the statements of these witnesses taken in the February, 1999 grand jury.

Witness Kenneth Edward:

Question: As you sit here today, as you sit here today, can you tell this grand jury who it was that fired those shots?

 Edwards: I sure can.

 Question: Who was it?

 Edwards: It was Tony Porter

Witness Mark Senior:

Senior: They were in the northwest corner of the bleachers.

 Question: Top or the bottom of the bleachers.

 Senior: Top

 Question: As you sit here today, to the best of your recollection, do you know who any of those four or five people were?

Senior: One.

 Question: Who?

 Senior: Anthony Porter

Witness Eugene Beckwith:

 Question: How many people did you see sitting up there high at the north end of the grandstand?

 Beckwith: I saw four individuals.

 Question: Now, as you sit here before this grand jury today, do you know whether or not you knew any of those four people?

 Beckwith: Well, I recognized one of them.

Question: And what was that person’s name that you recognized:

 Beckwith: His name was Tony Porter.

This Epach grand jury placed two great burdens on Dick Devine’s administration.

Because all the witnesses at the crimes scene pointed to Porter, and not Simon, this initial grand jury would never indict Simon for the murders. But Devine had already charged him. Devine had already let Porter go free.

Devine’s solution was to call a second grand jury. This second grand jury never heard from witnesses like the men above. Instead, they heard only the statements of a few witnesses implicating Simon. Their statements were highly doubtful. Later, these witnesses even recanted their testimony fingering Simon. Their recantations left not one witness fingering Simon for the murders.  

This second grand jury, clearly aimed at avoiding the evidence revealed in the first, paints a dark picture of Devine’s administration. The members of this second grand jury, hearing none of the evidence in the first, voted to indict the hapless Simon.

Armed with an indictment against Simon, Devine and Gainer proceeded to the sentencing hearing, where the hapless Simon was to plead guilty, as part of his secret agreement with Northwestern investigators, who had coerced him into pleading guilty.  

This sentencing hearing posed an even more ominous burden to Devine and Gainer. It was their duty to reveal any exculpatory evidence against Simon. And from the first Grand Jury, there was plenty of it. Nevertheless, Gainer walked into the sentencing hearing and lied.  

Here’s how he did it. As part of the proceeding, Gainer was obligated to tell the judge the basic theory on how he would have convicted Simon had the case gone to trial. This explanation is a safeguard in the system, forcing the prosecutor to outline the criminal theory of his prosecution. During this process Gainer described how he would prove Simon guilty for the murders if they had proceeded to trial.

“We would also call at trial three other witnesses, a man by the name of Mark Senior, Michael Woodfork and Eugene Beckwith.”

But Gainer knew from the first grand jury that these men all fingered Porter. They never mentioned Alstory Simon. There is no way they would go to a trial and finger Simon. They didn’t even know who he was. So how could Gainer say he would call them to testify in a trial against Simon?

It was a blatant lie by the prosecutor.

There were two more instances of lying in the hearing. Gainer was also obligated to reveal exculpating evidence against Simon. That evidence existed in the first grand jury based on the testimony of other witnesses, including members of the Northwestern team. He failed to do so. He also failed to disclose that a key witness by the name of William Taylor would identify Anthony Porter as well.

Consider again this key eyewitness testimony by Kenneth Edwards:

Question: As you sit here today, as you sit here today, can you tell this grand jury who it was that fired those shots?

 Edwards: I sure can.

 Question: Who was it?

 Edwards: It was Tony Porter

Not only did Gainer lie and mislead Judge Thomas Fitzgerald, so did Simon’s attorney, Jack Rimland. Rimland had been obtained by Northwestern investigators as part of the ruse to frame Simon. Rimland lied to the trial judge, saying there was no exculpating evidence against Simon, when he knew there was.

That’s three instances of lying by attorneys on both sides of the aisle, lies aimed at knowingly convicting an innocent man.

Alstory Simon never had a chance.

In the face of these transcripts, several crucial questions emerge.

How can it be that the local media, which has been covering the Porter case since 1998, not have observed this evidence? In particular is the Chicago Tribune. Reporters at the paper, including Steve Mills, were hoping that their reporting, all of it in support of the Northwestern scam against Simon, would garner a Pulitzer Prize. Yet now it is clear they never even bothered to look at the documents in the case.

How can Anita Alvarez maintain that her office conducted a thorough investigation of the case for more than a year and not note the clear prosecutorial misconduct by Gainer and Devine? How can her claims vindicating her predecessor, Dick Devine, be taken seriously? The second grand jury, the lying at the sentencing hearing. Clearly Alvarez observed it during her investigation…

Stay tuned. It’s bound to get worse in the Crooked City…