CHICAGO (Reuters) - A wrongfully convicted man filed a $40 million lawsuit on Tuesday against Northwestern University, a former journalism professor, a private investigator and an attorney, accusing them of framing him for a double murder to get another man released.
Alstory Simon, 64, of Ohio, claims in the lawsuit that he was the victim of unethical tactics by a team focused on freeing another man in what became a celebrated Illinois wrongful conviction case.
Simon was imprisoned in 1999 after confessing to the 1982 murder of two people in a park, and spent more than 15 years behind bars before he was exonerated on Oct. 30, when prosecutors decided his confession was coerced.
Simon “has endured and will continue to endure immense and
immeasurable, emotional and physical, pain and suffering, all of which was proximately caused by defendants’ misconduct,” said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois.
Another man, Anthony Porter, was originally convicted of the murders, and sentenced to death but was released after Simon’s confession.
Porter’s release was an early victory for Innocence Project programs that work to overturn wrongful convictions. His and other cases eventually spurred Illinois to abolish the death penalty.
“Northwestern denies all wrongdoing in this matter and looks forward to being vindicated in a court of law,” said a statement from the university in Evanston, Illinois.
As part of a Northwestern University investigative journalism class he taught in 1998, then professor David Protess instructed his students to investigate Porter’s case and find evidence of Porter’s innocence, “rather than to search for the truth,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleges that Northwestern, through Protess and private investigator Paul Ciolino, intentionally manufactured false witness statements against Simon.
Fabricated evidence, threats and other illegal and deceitful tactics were used to coerce a false confession from Simon, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also said that attorney Jack Rimland was hired by Northwestern, through Protess and Ciolino, to represent Simon, and that Rimland coerced Simon to plead guilty, lied about the strength of the evidence against Simon, withheld witness testimony implicating Porter and threatened Simon.
Rimland said he had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment. Protess and Ciolino could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Sandra Maler