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2001 memo called death row decision ‘political’

Published: Sunday, April 13, 2014 11:53 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO – City of Chicago attorneys believed that a decision by prosecutors to release one man from death row and charge another with murder in the case was “political,” according to a 2001 memo obtained by a Chicago newspaper.

The memo, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, was written as the city was deciding whether to settle or fight a lawsuit brought by Anthony Porter, who had served 16 years on death row for a 1982 double murder until another man, Alstory Simon, confessed to the crimes in a videotaped statement.

Porter was released in 1998, just days before his scheduled execution, and his case helped lead former Gov. George Ryan to halt all executions in Illinois.

Simon was convicted and sentenced to 37 years in prison. But he later recanted his confession, alleging he was coerced into making it by a private investigator working with Northwestern University journalism students, who promised Simon he would get an early release and a share of the riches from book and movie deals.

Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez announced last October that her office would re-examine Simon’s conviction.

The four-page memo obtained by the Sun-Times does not say how the four city attorneys concluded that the decisions in the case were political.

But it says prosecutors decided the case “should be put to rest” partly because of negative publicity over the death penalty. It also said there still was compelling evidence against Porter, but the state’s attorney’s office was comfortable releasing Porter because he served some prison time.

Attorney Kimberly E. Brown, who was on the team, told the newspaper that she couldn’t recall why she and other attorneys thought the decision was political, but said “all the evidence lined up against Anthony Porter,” and the circumstances leading to Porter’s release and Simon’s prosecution “seemed very, very fishy.”

A former county prosecutor said last week that he had raised questions about Porter’s release and Simon’s prosecution. Thomas Epach, Cook County’s chief of criminal prosecutions in 1999, said that he had given a sworn affidavit to Simon’s attorneys saying that he’d advised then-Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine to investigate the case more thoroughly before charging Simon.

Devine said he didn’t recall Epach expressing doubts about the decision to charge Simon in 1999, and that there was no “substantive claim” that Simon was innocent at the time.

Porter received more than $145,000 in restitution from Illinois in 2000. But five years later, a jury rejected his claim for $24 million in a lawsuit alleging Chicago police conspired to wrongfully charge him in the slayings.

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Information from: Chicago Sun-Times, http://www.suntimes.com/index

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