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Journalist Calls Out Former Student in Porter Case

Pulitzer-Prize Winning Journalist William Crawford, whose research into the Anthony Porter murder case broke the story of corruption at Northwestern University, addresses students still defending the Porter exoneration. 

Crawford has a book coming out in the next few months:

Justice Perverted:

How Northwestern and Medill School of Journalism

Railroaded an Innocent Man



Shawn Armbrust is the Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project where she works to prevent and correct wrongful convictions in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. She graduated cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center and before that, she earned a journalism degree with honors from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston.  

Now, in 2015, more than a decade after she matriculated from Medill, she remains blind to a grave, undeniable and sinister episode of which she was a central part in 1999. Namely, that she--and a handful of others, including David Protess, a once-heralded now disgraced former Medill professor--participated in one of the gravest injustices ever inflicted on the Cook County criminal justice system.  

Yes, blind to the undeniable reality that she, Protess, Paul Ciolino, a small time private eye with a checkered past, Jack Rimland, a defense attorney, and Tom Gainer, a former Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney, played different yet essential roles in a 1999 conspiracy that sent Alstory Simon to Illinois state prison for 15 years for a 1982 double homicide that was committed by Anthony Porter. 

A brief history of the hellacious Simon injustice is in order. 

In 1983, following a three day trial, Anthony Porter was convicted by a Cook County criminal court jury of gunning down Jerry Hillard and his fiancée, Marilyn Green, as the couple sat in the upper bleachers overlooking the pool in Chicago’s south side Washington Park in the early hours of Aug. 15, 1982. The jury reached its verdict in less than six hours of deliberations. Following a post-trial aggravation and mitigation hearing, the presiding judge sentenced Porter to death.  

For the next fifteen years, Porter languished in obscurity on death row. Until September 1998, that is, when Porter’s case was brought to the attention of Protess, who had just launched a new journalism course that fall. Titled News Media and Capital Punishment, three students enrolled in the new course were Shawn Armbrust, Tom McCann and Cara Rubinsky. Subsequently they were joined by a fourth student, Syandene Rhodes-Pitts. 

 For the next 90 plus days, with Protess at the helm of what turned out to be a sinisterly brilliant charade, his students purported to unearth new evidence that proved Porter was innocent of the double homicide and that in fact, the real pool triggerman was a Chicago native by the name of Alstory Simon who was now living in Milwaukee. 

With Protess playing a clueless, adoring local press corps like a fiddle while directing every move of his four students and those of Ciolino, Rimland and Gainer, Porter was freed from prison amid ululations from the press, the Governor of Illinois and many a member of the anti-death penalty movement. In turn, Alstory Simon was sentenced to 36 years for the double 1982 homicide committed by Porter.  

Then, on Oct. 30, 2014, in the face of compelling new evidence that Simon had in fact been railroaded, Cook County State’s attorney Anita Alvarez ordered Simon’s release from prison. In doing so, she declared that the case had been so deeply “corroded and corrupted” by Protess, Ciolino and Rimland that justice compelled her to seek Simon’s release from prison. Her request earlier the same day was immediately granted by Chief Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel.  

By the time of Simon’s release on Oct. 30, 2014, Protess, the once iconic Medill professor had been summarily canned by Northwestern University after the University had finally and at long last discovered that Protess, for years, had lied to his Medill colleagues, that he had manufactured certain evidence in the Simon case and several others like it, that he had withheld evidence, that he had lied to his own attorney and that he had lied to a Cook County Criminal Court Judge. Following his ignominious dismissal from the University and the long term damage he has inflicted on the local justice system, Protess turned around and founded the Chicago Innocence Project west of Chicago’s Loop, a non-profit where he continues his nefarious work of freeing the wrongfully convicted. 

His web site carries, among other insidious distortions, testimonials from several of his former Medill students. And here is the point of this letter. Among those testimonials is one from, you guessed it, Shawn Armbrust. Besides being woven through with incomprehensible distortions, her testimonial is truly gut churning, particularly for anyone who knows anything about the Simon injustice. 

Samplings of Armbrust’s testimonial on Protess’ web site: 

“It would be hard for me to exaggerate the impact that David’s class and the Porter case had on my life,” she begins under a testimonial section titled, “Reflections.” 

“I’ve often said that I signed up for the class because it sounded cool and because I wanted to avoid taking another writing class….I definitely didn’t come in with the expectation that ten years later I’d be running an innocence project.” 


“I was lucky. I chose to work on the Porter case, which ended in exoneration. I can’t really describe how man doors that opened for me. Doing both the investigation and the media interviews that followed gave me a confidence and poise at a young age that I never would have been able to obtain otherwise.” 

Finally this: 

“Tangibly, my work on the Porter case got me a great job after college graduation at the Center on Wrongful Convictions and got me into the Public Interest Law Scholars program at Georgetown Law……It’s hard for me to imagine the path my life would have taken without David’s class, but I have a hard time believing that it would be as fulfilling or interesting as the life I have now.” 

In closing, two comments for Shawn Armbrust to contemplate, based on her testimonial. 

One, it’s hard for us to imagine the path the life of Alstory Simon would have taken had Simon never crossed paths with Shawn Armbrust. 

Two, you note that your work on the Porter case opened many doors for you. That may be, Miss Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, but for Alstory Simon the Porter case opened only one door---that was his cell door in Danville State Prison where that door slammed shut and remained closed for fifteen years.  

Check out Crawford's Groundbreaking Interview for Crooked City: