Friday, January 13, 2006

Anthony Porter was the wrong man

I ask again, what is an acceptable level of law enforcement error in death penalty cases? To contend that death penalty opponents have never in history demonstrated that errors have been made leading to the execution of "the wrong man" seems to me like the weakest possible argument in support of the death penalty. To be sure, there are plenty of good arguments in support of the death penalty, but this one is really, really lame. Does anyone seriously think that the wrong man has never been executed? Given another 50 hours, Anthony Porter would have been executed in Illinois, and he was the wrong man. Pro bono lawyers helped him gain a reprieve, and a Northwestern University professor, journalism students, and investigators saved him . Remember his story?
Anthony Porter had exhausted his appeals, his family had made his funeral arrangements, and he was just 50 hours away from execution when he won a reprieve from the Illinois Supreme Court in late 1998. The reprieve was granted not out of concern that Porter might be innocent but solely because he had tested so low on an IQ test that the court was not sure he could comprehend what was about to happen to him, or why. The court's intent was merely to provide time to explore the question of the condemned man's intelligence, but it had an unanticipated consequence: It gave a Northwestern University Professor David Protess, private investigator Paul Ciolino, and a team of journalism students time to investigate the case and establish Porter's complete innocence. Porter had been convicted of two murders. The victims, Marilyn Green, 19, and Jerry Hillard, 18, were shot to death in the bleachers overlooking a swimming pool in Washington Park on the South Side of Chicago shortly after 1 a.m. on August 15, 1982. Police originally surmised that the crime had been an armed robbery, but it is now known to have resulted from a dispute over drug money. ******************************************************** Fifty hours before Porter was scheduled to die, the court granted a stay of execution, ordering the Cook County Circuit Court to hold a competency hearing to determine whether Porter was fit to be executed. Soon after the stay was granted, Protess, Ciolino, and the students started investigating the case. In December of 1998, William Taylor recanted his testimony to Ciolino and one of the students. He said in an affidavit that police had pressured him to name Porter as the shooter. On January 29, 1999, Alstory Simon's now-estranged wife, Inez Jackson, told Protess, Ciolino, and two of the students that she had been present when Simon shot Green and Hillard. She said she did not know Anthony Porter, but that he most certainly had nothing to do with the crime. Four days later, on February 3, Alstory Simon confessed on videotape to Ciolino, asserting that he had killed Hillard in self-defense after the two argued over drug money. Simon claimed the shooting of Marilyn Green had been accidental. Two days later, Porter was released from prison on a recognizance bond and the murder charges against him were officially dropped the next month. Porter thus became the tenth person sentenced to death in Illinois under the present capital punishment law to be released based on innocence. In September of 1999, Alstory Simon pleaded guilty to two counts of second degree murder and was sentenced to 37.5 years in prison.
Remember the action taken by then Illinois Governor George Ryan in January of 2000 and the reasons he gave in support of his decision to impose a moratorium on executions in Illinois? Does anyone seriously think that Governor Ryan's actions were taken in the nick of time to preserve a 100% track record of success in Illinois executions of "the right man?" Here's an excerpt from the whole article:

January 31, 2000

CHICAGO (CNN) -- Illinois Gov. George Ryan on Monday imposed a moratorium on the state's death penalty. All lethal injections will be postponed indefinitely pending an investigation into why more executions have been overturned than carried out since 1977, when Illinois reinstated capital punishment. "We have now freed more people than we have put to death under our system -- 13 people have been exonerated and 12 have been put to death," Ryan told CNN. "There is a flaw in the system, without question, and it needs to be studied."


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