In 1999 Alstory Simon confessed to killing two people 17 years earlier. He and his champions now say hes innocent.
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  • In 1999 Alstory Simon confessed to killing two people 17 years earlier. He and his champions now say he’s innocent.

If Alstory Simon is innocent of killing two people, it’s despite confessing that he did it, and despite the dramatic 1999 courtroom scene in which Simon, tears in his eyes, told the mother of one victim, “I didn’t mean to hurt her—your daughter never did anything to me. It was an accident and she got in the way.”

Simon got 37 years in prison for the murder of Marilyn Green and voluntary manslaughter of Jerry Hillard, both gunned down in Washington Park in 1982. As Simon’s former lawyer, Jack Rimland, has pointed out, Simon made out a lot better than Anthony Porter, who was originally convicted of the killings and sent to death row.

As Simon was sentenced Porter was exonerated, and Porter’s brush with execution persuaded then-governor George Ryan there was something rotten about capital punishment in Illinois. Ryan suspended the death penalty.

But now Simon and his champions claim that despite his confession he’s innocent—and Porter probably is guilty after all. Simon’s present lawyers, Terry Ekl and James Sotos, got nowhere in court with this theory, but last fall they persuaded Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez that Simon’s case deserved to be reviewed by her office.

With a report from Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit expected soon, reporter Steve Mills brought readers up to speed in last Friday’s Tribune. He explained, “Simon contended that he was tricked into confessing by Paul Ciolino, a private detective working with then-professor David Protess and his Northwestern University students, and then encouraged to plead guilty by Rimland in spite of his innocence.”

The pro-Simon narrative argues that Rimland was too close to Ciolino to have had any business representing Simon. One of Simon’s champions is Martin Preib, a cop and writer who said in a piece published last February by New City:

Ciolino boasted to the media that he “bull rushed” a confession out of Simon by showing him a video of a witness who saw him commit the murders in the park.

The tape was a ruse; the witness an actor. (One wonders what would happen to a murder confession obtained by a Chicago detective who boasted he “bull rushed” it out of the suspect.) It was an amazing feat of persuasion by Ciolino, getting a man he had never met before to confess to a double homicide that had already been solved.

One detail of Simon’s confession shocked police officers. Ciolino admitted that Simon, at one point during Ciolino’s visit to his apartment, requested a lawyer. No problem, Ciolino told Simon. Then Ciolino called Chicago and obtained the services of attorney Jack Rimland, a friend of Ciolino, to represent Simon. To any police officer, such a tactic would immediately undermine the credibility of any evidence obtained from this interview. One cannot get an attorney for a person they are accusing of murder.

This move was more than enough to cast doubt on the authenticity of the confession. A detective who used such tactics would have the case thrown out immediately and would probably face penalties and perhaps even indictment. The moment Simon requested a lawyer the entire interaction should have ended.

But the opposite happened. Rimland traveled that day to Milwaukee and advised Simon to confess. What lawyer would advise their client to confess to a murder before he even spoke to his client or looked at the evidence? Rimland continued to encourage Simon to confess all the way until Simon was sentenced for the murders six months later, even though there was a mountain of evidence, including at least six witnesses, who still fingered Porter for the murder and not one witness who ever told police they saw Simon at the park that night

Rimland and Ciolino declined to discuss any of this with me. This account of their actions is drawn from depositions and testimony.

Rimland is the loose thread the Simon camp is determined to yank at until the case against Simon falls apart. The Tribune‘s Eric Zorn has followed the Simon case closely without showing him much sympathy, but he did allow that Rimland’s connection to Porter’s team looked uncomfortably close, and he wished Rimland would speak up on his own behalf.

Finally, Rimland did talk to Mills—and I commented that “Rimland speaks his piece and speaks it pretty well, I’d say.”

On closer review, maybe not quite that well.

According to Mills, Simon’s lawyers maintain “Rimland was too close to Ciolino to fairly represent Simon’s interests as he faced the murder charges,” but Rimland insists “I didn’t sell (Simon) down the river” and suggests he and Ciolino weren’t as close as all that. According to Mills, Rimland “rebutted a claim that he ever shared office space with Ciolino, saying they worked out of the same building at one time but never in the same office. He acknowledged that as president of an Illinois defense lawyers group, he gave Protess and Ciolino an award but said he was the group’s only officer at the event. He said he was not sure if he represented Simon at the time. ‘A conflict? No,’ Rimland said. ‘I wasn’t the one who decided to give them the award. I was just the only who was there on that night.'”

But on second thought, what difference does it make if Ciolino and Rimland didn’t share an office, or if one gave the other an award because nobody else was there to give it? These are minor details. Rimland didn’t categorically deny having too close a relationship to Porter’s team; he simply pushed back against that perception around its edges.

Over the weekend, someone gave me this compelling evidence of Ciolino’s warm regard for Rimland: In 1996 Ciolino published a book, Advanced Forensic Civil Investigations. The “friends and colleagues” to whom it’s dedicated include David Protess and Jack Rimland.

In 2005 Ciolino published another book, In the Company of Giants: The Ultimate Investigation Guide for Legal Professionals, Activists, Journalists & the Wrongfully Convicted. In his preface Ciolino praises the “logic and common sense of David Protess” and “the personal and professional sacrifice of former Illinois Governor George Ryan” as “the things of which memories are made.” He writes that “the spirit and selfless acts of courage” shown by Jack Rimland, among others, “is what motivates me and drives me to the best I can.”

I reached Rimland and he hesitated to add much. “I don’t mean to be curt,” he told me, “but as you know, over a many-year period of time I’ve been the brunt of allegations that attack my ability to be fair and honest and whatever else those people have said about me that is pretty frivolous. I did nothing wrong.”

Did he persuade an an innocent man to plead guilty? Rimland noted that Simon repeatedly said he was guilty. He reminded me that by the time Simon changed his story and said he was innocent, he was no longer Simon’s lawyer.

I asked about Rimland’s relationship with Ciolino. “We had a professional relationship,” Rimland said. I mentioned the books, and the admiring language Ciolino used in them. “OK, so he admired me,” Rimland said. “I’ve admired people. That doesn’t mean I would throw away my career.”

If he had it to do over again, would he have told Ciolino that Simon needed to find his own lawyer? Rimland said he’d think about the question and possibly get back to me.