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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, November 10, 2014

INJUSTICE PROJECT

"Once they convinced Simon it was for his own good, he was all in."

In 1999, a man was set free from death row by the confession of another man for his crimes.  This and the storm of publicity around it from the Innocence Project ended up ending the death penalty in Illinois.
The confession was to the Innocence Project, and was taped and given to police who investigated and the man ended up in prison.  Strangely, despite the confession, he claimed innocence all the time in prison.
And it turns out that perhaps he really was innocent, because he was recently set free after 15 years in prison.  The man, named Alstory Simon, was set free from a 37 year sentence after a Cook County state's attorney investigated the case and the Innocence Project its self.
Innocence Project is a coalition of lawyers and activists working to end the death penalty.  They are convinced that lots of people who didn't commit the crime at all are on death row, despite it being one of the most legally difficult cases to prove; a death penalty sentence is extremely challenging to achieve.
The Innocence Project claims it has set many people free who were wrongly convicted, and that this proves that the death penalty is evil and should be stopped.  After all, they argue, if someone is dead then they can't be set free from an unjust conviction were they actually innocent.
But the Cook County investigation is throwing some doubt on the project and its tactics.  Jim Stingle writes in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
The investigation by the Innocence Project, she said, "involved a series of alarming tactics that were not only coercive and absolutely unacceptable by law enforcement standards, they were potentially in violation of Mr. Simon's constitutionally protected rights."
...
But that neat and clean narrative unraveled with the discovery of how the confession by Simon was obtained. Protess discovered that Green's mother had mentioned Simon was with Green and Hillard at the park the day of the murders, so Protess went after Simon in an effort to clear Porter.
Members of the Innocence Project showed up at his house posing as cops.  They told him that they knew he was the real murderer, and he needed to confess if he wanted to avoid the death penalty.
Now, lets stop right here. If you're a cop, you already know what's coming, but think about it: what leverage did this group use to get a confession?  What is going to get a hardened criminal not that concerned about jail time to confess, saving the state time and money, and maybe even give up fellow criminals?  A penalty worse than the one he's comfortable with.
So by their very actions, this group showed the value of the death penalty as a potential threat.  The irony is thick in this story.
But we go on.  The fake cops then showed him a video of his ex-wife implicating him for the crime (she later recanted on her death bed in 2005), and another video of a supposed witness to the crime.  Except that witness turned out to be an actor.  So they pressured him into confessing to something based on an embittered woman's anger and an actor.
They coached Simon through a videotaped confession, promising him a light sentence and money from book and movie deals on the case. Simon, admittedly on a three-day crack cocaine bender, struggled to understand what was going on.
Oh, but it gets worse.  They set Simon up with a lawyer, for free.  Except that lawyer was a friend to the victims of the crime.  Further, that lawyer - Jack Rimland - was in on the fix and part of the Innocence Project effort.
Basically they railroaded a stoned guy who didn't know much of what was going on to confess to a crime he never committed, using lies and deception, violating his civil rights and foisting an attorney hostile to his cause on him, to set a guilty man free.  And they did it for a "higher cause" of ending the death penalty.
This is what I call "ethical pragmatism" where the end justifies the means.  What they were trying to achieve was considered so holy and righteous that anything they did to reach that goal was thereby sanctified.  It wasn't wrong to lie and frame an man innocent of this crime and set a murderer free, because the goal was so lofty and just.
The man behind it (David Protess) has been suspended at Northwestern University (he is a professor of journalism) but is the president of the Chicago Innocence Project chapter.
Perhaps this is the only case where the Innocence Project distorted the system and lied, cheated, and violated human rights to get their job done.  Perhaps every other time they were perfectly ethical and just in their actions and Protess was just an exception in his zeal and drive for personal status, or something.
I have no doubt that many, perhaps most if not nearly all of the cases the Innocence Project has managed to overturn have been valid and proper justice.  I am sure that many innocent people have been put in prison through history - we can all think of at least a few (such as Corrie Ten Boom for instance).
But like a dirty cop, this casts doubt on every case the Project has been involved in.  It makes you wonder about all the people they've set free.  The fact that a reporter, several students, and a professor were so willing to utterly ruin and frame a black man to achieve their goals makes me wonder about the entire Innocence Project.
Certainly a valuable project would be to dig closer into all their work so far.  Because they've demonstrated at least once that the Project is willing to do anything and ruin anyone to accomplish their goals.

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