We have been discussing the Illinois approach to overturning wrongful convictions. It’s important to remember that a conviction is only wrongful if the man or woman did not commit the crime. In Illinois, though, being pardoned is not the same thing as establishing actual innocence, and only a finding of actual innocence — and a certificate of innocence — will wipe that conviction from the person’s criminal record.
The court has some leeway in granting the certificate of innocence, as we have seen in the case of Alstory Simon. The court denied the certificate, saying that Simon’s conduct had caused his conviction. That conduct involved the case of Anthony Porter.
Porter’s case came to the attention of the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions about 16 years after he was convicted and sentenced to death. A group of workers from the center began to work for Porter’s freedom, engaging a private investigator to help them find a more likely culprit. Simon’s name came up.
The investigator manufactured evidence against Simon, evidence that was powerful enough to convince Simon to confess. He confessed and pleaded guilty to murder and manslaughter. Porter was freed.
He did something else that the court now says was a sign that he was “a willful participant in the plan” to free Porter: During the sentencing hearing, after Simon entered his plea, he turned to the family of one of the victims and apologized. In that hearing, the court now says, Simon not only lied to the court, but he engaged in a “measure of creative deception” with the apology.
After his conviction, Simon even agreed to a television interview, which was conducted from prison. During that interview, Simon again admitted to committing the crimes.
In time, Simon recanted his confession, and a reporter took up his cause. The truth about the Center for Wrongful Conviction’s part in his confession came out, and Simon eventually won his release last year. Then he filed a lawsuit against the center and the professor who spearheaded investigation, accusing them of framing him for the crimes. They did not set out to prove Porter’s innocence, he said, but to prove Simon’s guilt.
The convoluted circumstances of the confession and conviction have kept Alstory Simon from obtaining a certificate of innocence. The crime will remain on his record.
Prosecutor, “‘Innocence Fraud’ Demands Prosecutor Vigilance,” John M. Collins Jr., Oct-Nov-Dec 2014, via WestlawNext
Washington Times, “Judge denies freed Illinois man certificate of innocence,” June 18, 2015