April 20, 2014
Anthony Porter is angry.
He’s come within hours of being executed after he was convicted of killing two people.
He was freed from Death Row after another man, Alstory Simon, confessed to the murders.
He got a pardon, but he didn’t get a dime when he sued the city and the cops for framing him.
And now, there’s a serious push to strip away what little Porter has left: his claim of innocence.
Attorneys pushing for Simon’s release from prison say the justice system got it right the first time — that the evidence points to Porter all along in the notorious double murder in 1982 at a South Side park.
Porters’ friends and supporters argue that a racist conspiracy is trying to rewrite history and make a victim, Porter, into a villain once again.
“Yeah, I’m innocent, man,” Porter said in an interview that was sometimes tense and combative.
“They keep on bringing the same old stuff up,” Porter told the Chicago Sun-Times, as he was surrounded by supporters.
“I ain’t got no peace of mind,” he said. “I’m suffering. I’m tired.”
The questions about Porter’s innocence have been coming up more frequently as the attorneys for Simon argue he was set up.
Those lawyers accuse Richard Devine, the Cook County state’s attorney at the time, of bowing to political pressure and accepting a guilty plea from Simon despite strong evidence pointing to Porter. Devine has said politics had nothing to do with his decision.
Last fall, Devine’s successor, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, agreed to review the circumstances of Simon’s confession and imprisonment.
And that makes Porter furious.
He and his supporters say the review of Simon’s case is part of a conspiracy to discredit the anti-death penalty movement that embraced Porter as a symbol of a broken justice system. Former Gov. George Ryan, who pardoned Porter, has said the case factored heavily in his decision to impose a moratorium on the death penalty.
“They’re trying to destroy me and Gov. Ryan at the same time,” Porter said.
Porter, 59, said he can’t walk on the street without people pointing at him because of the renewed questions about the murders of Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green.
In an interview last week, Porter gave a rambling but impassioned defense of his innocence. A longtime supporter, Maurice Perkins, president of the Bronzeville-based Inner City Youth and Adult Foundation Inc., was at his side, helping him respond to questions because — Perkins said — of Porter’s low IQ. Tests have shown Porter has an IQ of 51, which was a factor in his getting “railroaded,” Perkins said.
Porter wore a beige suit and suede shoes during an interview in the historic Swift mansion at 45th and Michigan, the headquarters of the foundation.
The stress from the renewed questions about his innocence have made him sick, Porter said. He needs surgery for a gall bladder ailment, he said.
Porter also said he lost his former wife, two children and a grandchild in a fire in Alabama a few years ago.
He does odd jobs for the foundation and speaks to youth groups, but the stigma of the case prevents him from landing a full-time job, he said.
“They damaged my name. I’ve been cheated out of my money,” he said.
Porter did receive about $145,000 in restitution from Illinois in 2000, but in a court deposition, he said he didn’t keep much of it, spending a large chunk on a Lincoln Navigator SUV and giving money to churches and supporters.
And suing the city got him nothing.
Attorney Walter Jones, who represented the city in the lawsuit, said he supports the review of Simon’s murder case.
“I am like any ex-prosecutor,” Jones said. “I want the truth to come out. I certainly believe I heard the truth come out during the course of the trial. I never met the man, Alstory Simon. All I can tell you is the truth that came out in my trial always said: ‘It is Anthony Porter.’ ”
When Porter was sent to Death Row for the 1982 killings of the couple in the bleachers near a pool in Washington Park, he’d never accused the police of abusing him physically.
Now, he alleges he was tortured in the same way detectives working under former police Cmdr. Jon Burge allegedly coerced confessions from suspects.
“They beat me, stomped me,” Porter said. “They put a plastic bag over my head.”
Porter has never confessed to the murders, though, and has steadfastly denied being in Washington Park when the killings happened.
“I wasn’t in no park,” he angrily repeated last week.
Witnesses at his trial in 1983 said otherwise.
One of the prosecution witnesses, William Taylor, testified at the trial that he saw Porter pull the trigger. Taylor would later modify his testimony and say that while he saw Porter in the park, he did not see the actual murders.
Porter was convicted of the murders and of robbing a man of $2 at gunpoint at the pool just minutes before the shootings in the nearby bleachers.
But the convictions unraveled after Northwestern University professor David Protess, his journalism students and private investigator Paul Ciolino famously reinvestigated the case in 1998.
Ciolino went to Milwaukee and obtained a videotaped confession from Simon, a convicted robber.
Just two days after the explosive video was aired on TV, prosecutors released Porter.
But Simon’s attorneys, Terry Ekl and James Sotos, claim Simon was tricked into confessing. Ciolino played a videotape for Simon of an actor pretending to have witnessed Simon commit the murders.
Simon was sentenced to 37 years in prison. He’s eligible for parole in 2017.
In an interview, Porter insisted all of the witnesses against him have recanted their testimony.
Perkins said those witnesses made up stories about Porter because he was known as a bully in their neighborhood and they wanted to get rid of him.
Indeed, Porter’s lengthy rap sheet includes two other robbery convictions and a conviction for shooting a man in the head during an argument over a dog. The man survived with a graze wound.
Some of the witnesses to the 1982 double murder were threatened by police to identify Porter as the killer, Perkins claimed.
He said the witnesses later decided to tell the truth and recant their statements against Porter.
But several of those witnesses were recently interviewed for a feature-length documentary called “Porter” and have renewed their allegations against him.
The film, due to be released this summer, is directed by Shawn Rech, a Cleveland-area resident who produces the “Crime Stoppers Case Files” show. It’s partially funded by Chicago attorney Andy Hale, who represents police officers in lawsuits claiming misconduct.
In one interview in the documentary, reviewed by the Sun-Times, Taylor said: “I saw Anthony Porter run past down the bleachers right past me out of the south gate.”
“Anthony Porter, I still think in my heart, is guilty,” Taylor said.
Another witness, Kenneth Edwards, said: “I am positive that Anthony Porter killed those two people. I saw it with my own eyes.”
Edwards, now serving a prison term for murder, said he heard a “pow, pow.”
“I saw Porter, I saw Tony Porter, and I saw him do it,” he said.
In the documentary, Jacqueline Green, a sister of murder victim Marilyn Green, also suggests Porter was the culprit. “It makes me angry that a killer could be walking out free when they took someone’s life and changed my life forever,” she said.
Porter, though, said he remains on good terms with the Green family, and notes Marilyn Green’s mother believes Simon did it.
In a strange new twist to an already complex case, meanwhile, Porter and Perkins say they were both recently paid $500 “bribes” in return for Porter appearing on camera for the documentary.
Perkins said he and Porter were offered “thousands” more if Porter would confess.
Simon’s attorneys deny involvement in an offer to pay for Porter to confess.
Rech, the director of the documentary, acknowledges giving Porter and Perkins $500 each at Perkins’ request.
“We thought it would add authenticity to have the real guy [Porter] in the movie saying he didn’t do it,” Rech said.
But Rech denies he or anyone else in his project offered a bonus to Porter to confess.
Perkins insists that racist, pro-law enforcement motivations are driving the renewed questions of Porter’s innocence.
“You’re trying to rewrite history, man,” Perkins said.
Porter added: “I’m an innocent black man in Chicago.”