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Inmate Whose Confession Led Ill. to End Death Penalty Is Released

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 31, 2014 9:34 AM

An Illinois inmate has been released after over a decade in prison for a double-homicide conviction that was key to ending the state's death penalty.

Alstory Simon was the second person to be convicted for a 1982 double murder, but there were serious questions about whether Simon's confession was coerced, the Sun-Times Media Wire reports. Now, more than three decades after the deaths, Illinois prosecutors have asked that charges against Simon be dropped.

What happened in Simon's case, and why is he now being released?

One Man Convicted, Then Released, Then Another

The man who was originally convicted for the 1982 murders was Anthony Porter, who came within moments of being executed before being released in 1999. According to the Sun-Times Media Wire, the case was instrumental in convincing then-Gov. George Ryan to "declare a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois."

Simon was then charged for the murders, largely based on the fact that prosecutors were able to secure his confession. The Chicago Tribune reports that Simon's videotaped confession was obtained by a private investigator with the help of a Northwestern University journalism professor and his students; Simon's attorney at the time, Jack Rimland, said that Simon "repeatedly" admitted to the murders prior to his guilty plea and continued to do so afterwards.

This last-minute switcheroo of convicts was vaunted as the case that eventually brought down the death penalty in Illinois and one that saved Porter's life. But allegations that Simon's confession was coerced -- raised by the Conviction Integrity Unit of the state's attorney's office -- led prosecutors to ask for Simon to be freed on Thursday.

Both Suspects Walk Free

Because both Porter and Simon were already charged and convicted for the 1982 double murder, they cannot be charged with those crimes again. This oft-misunderstood rule of criminal procedure, called double jeopardy, places a high bar on the prosecution to convict the right suspect.

So while the state's release of Simon may make one wonder whether Porter was the killer after all, double jeopardy prevents Porter from being charged again for those deaths.

As for Simon, he spent 15 years in prison and may be looking at a future wrongful conviction case against the state. The City of Chicago has paid out at least $25 million in one recent wrongful conviction case, for a man who spent about the same amount of time in prison as Simon.

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