Judge won’t dismiss ex-inmate’s suit against Northwestern

CHICAGO (AP) — A freed Illinois inmate’s lawsuit against Northwestern University and a professor he says conspired to frame him for a double slaying can move forward, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Alstory Simon says he was coerced into a confession that helped free a death row inmate in a case that was instrumental to ending capital punishment in Illinois. Simon — who later recanted and was freed — alleges in his $40 million lawsuit that shoddy oversight by Northwestern allowed former journalism professor David Protess, private investigator Paul Ciolino and defense attorney Jack Rimland to conspire to frame him for killing two people as they sat in a Chicago park.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow said it was plausible that money and publicity Protess had brought to Northwestern had allowed a culture of lawlessness and unethical conduct at the university.

“It is reasonable to think that the defendants, who had garnered tremendous prestige from their involvement in two high-profile wrongful conviction cases, would be eager to continue their streak of successes,” Dow wrote in his opinion.

A Northwestern spokesman declined to comment Tuesday. Protess, retired from Northwestern in 2011 amid questions about his investigative methods, and Rimland have refused to comment on the lawsuit. Ciolino has called the lawsuit frivolous.

Simon says he was coerced into confessing with promises of an early release and a share of the profits from book and movie deals.

His videotaped confession led authorities to free Anthony Porter less than 48 hours before his scheduled execution in 1999. The Porter case helped prompt then-Gov. George Ryan to declare a moratorium on executions in 2003. Then-Gov. Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty in 2011.

Simon was convicted and spent nearly 15 years in prison before a re-examination of the case by Cook County prosecutors prompted a judge to release Simon in 2014. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office questioned the tactics used to obtain Simon’s confession and said the case was so tainted that it was impossible to determine who actually committed the slayings.

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