CHICAGO (CBS) – Former Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine has said he doesn’t remember one of his top prosecutors raising concerns about the innocence of a man who was freed from death row in 1999, in a case that became a catalyst to end the death penalty in Illinois.
The current State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez, has reopened an investigation into the 1982 murders of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard, after attorneys for the man currently behind bars for the crime raised new concerns about the case.
Alstory Simon has been behind bars since 1999, when he confessed to the murders, leading to the release of another man, Anthony Porter, who had been on death row since 1983, after he was convicted at trial. Porter was two days from execution when he was released.
However, Simon’s attorneys have since said he was coerced into confessing by a Northwestern University professor, students, and – specifically – the class’s private investigator. They said the investigator told Simon if he confessed to the murders in self-defense, he’d only serve a short time, and would get rich from book and movie deals.
Simon’s attorneys also have claimed they have an affidavit from former prosecutor Thomas Epach, the man who was chief of the criminal division for Devine’s office office, and who told them “questions remained about the guilt of Simon and the innocence of Porter” when Simon confessed, and Porter was freed.
They said Epach “expressed those concerns to Mr. Devine,” but Devine prosecuted Simon anyway.
Devine said that’s now how he remembers it.
“If Mr. Epach had these issues, I don’t recall him ever raising them with me. Maybe he raised them with other people. That’s possible, but I don’t recall their being raised with me,” Devine said.
However, Devine said he does believe Simon’s claims “should be looked at and evaluated” to determine if the right man is behind bars.
Porter’s release from prison drew the attention of then-Gov. George Ryan, who began an effort to reform the death penalty system, and eventually declared a moratorium on executions, in the wake of a series of wrongful convictions in death penalty cases.
Two years ago, lawmakers abolished the death penalty altogether in Illinois, following years of heated debate.