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Secret Settlement Resolves Unlikely Lawsuit Against Northwestern Innocence Project

by Derek Gilna

In a strange twist to a case that eventually led to the abolishment of the death penalty in Illinois, Northwestern University’s Innocence Project and other defendants have settled on undisclosed terms a $40 million federal lawsuit filed by a man who said he was coerced by an investigator employed by the university to admit guilt for a murder he said he did not commit.

The November 2018 settlement, sealed by Chicago district court judge David Weisman, ends a four-year legal odyssey by Alstory Simon, who was represented by law-enforcement-friendly attorneys Terry Ekl and James Sotos.

The primary target of that lawsuit was Northwestern Medill School of Journalism professor David Protess, the driving force behind an investigation of a double homicide in Chicago Park that resulted in the arrest of Anthon Porter.

Then, in 1998, on the eve of Porter’s execution, then-Illinois Governor George Ryan stayed the proceedings, giving Northwestern’s Innocence Project and Protess an opportunity to obtain a confession from Alstory Simon. Ryan, shaken by the fact that an innocent man had almost been executed, ordered a moratorium of further executions, which was made permanent by statute in 2011.

However, Simon then said his confession was coerced by Protess and his investigator, and his case was taken up by Ekl and Simon, who accused Northwestern and Protess of misconduct, and who appeared anxious to discredit the university’s exoneration initiative. Simon’s conviction was itself vacated by the Cook County State’s Attorney, and the suit was filed shortly thereafter. In the meantime, Northwestern and Protess parted ways over an unrelated manner, which Northwestern claimed was a result of Protess failing to follow university guidelines.

After years of pretrial maneuvering over discovery issues, apparently both sides decided that it was in everyone’s interest to settle the litigation and, in an unusual development, mutually agreed to keep the details of the settlement secret.

Still unsettled, however, is who ended the lives of the original two victims? It appears that we will never know.


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