was like the Grisham novel John Grisham would never allow himself to write. To
undermine the death penalty, a justly convicted death row murderer was
wrongfully exonerated. Of course, that meant an innocent man had to be framed
to take his place. The result was a stunning two-fold miscarriage of justice
laid out step-by-step in Shawn Rech & Brandon Kimber’s rigorous
documentary, A Murder in the Park (clip here), which opens this
Friday in New York at the IFC Center.
As the film's interview subjects lay out pretty clearly, in 1983 Anthony Porter murdered Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green in a Chicago
park. During the course of a thorough investigation, the police concluded
Porter was indeed the killer, but the prosecutor sent them back to further buttress
the case. Porter was subsequently charged, convicted, and sentenced to death.
However, at the last minute, a Northwestern professor and his investigative
journalism class stepped forward with apparently exculpatory information. The
media embraced his narrative, building a groundswell to successfully end
capital punishment in Illinois.
David Protess's shady private detective Paul Ciolino did to extort a
false confession from their fall-guy, Alstory Simon is beyond shocking and
outrageous. It is simply flabbergasting. Of course, Simon’s attorney, Jack
Rimland should have objected. He also should have disclosed his close
association with Protess and Ciolino. Yet, Simon was not the only victim of
Protess and his accomplices. The police officers who had worked the original
case faced potential ruin when Porter sued them, along with the city of
longtime veterans of true crime television, Rech and Kimber know what a proper
investigation should look like. They reconstruct the events in the Porter-Simon
affair with all the thoroughness and deliberation lacking from the version of
events prepared by Protess and his students.
Point by point, they show how Team Protess ignored key witnesses,
browbeat others into minor concessions, and used fraudulent evidence and
physical intimidation against Simon while he was under the influence of
is a damning film, but it should not be the end of the story. Usually, when
cops are caught planting evidence, all their past cases are re-examined.
Surely, the same standard should apply to Protess and his “exoneration mafia,”
including Shawn Armbrust, who is currently executive director of the
Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project. Every case she ever argued should be closely scrutinized
anew, based on what we know of the conduct of the Protess team.
is plenty of blame to go around in this sad story, starting with a gullible media
that Protess played like a virtuoso. In contrast, Rech and Kimber, along with
William Crawford, whose book served as a blueprint for the film, deserve enormous
credit for asking the tough questions and doing the follow-up work.
It is worth noting many of the controversial
participants in the intertwined cases declined invitations to appear in the
film, so viewers should judge their absence in that light. Some documentary
purists might also object to the frequent use of dramatic recreations, but they
are helpful establishing contested spatial relationships on that fateful night.
The result is a staggering and infuriating expose of advocacy run amok. Very
highly recommended, A Murder in the Park opens
this Friday (6/26) in New York, at the IFC Center.
Labels: Alstory Simon, Anthony Porter, David Protess, Documentary