A Swing And A Miss

A federal judge on Tuesday tossed a defamation countersuit by a high-profile private investigator in one of the state’s most influential wrongful conviction cases.

Judge Robert Dow dismissed the countersuit by private investigator Paul Ciolino, accused in 1999 of framing an innocent man, Alstory Simon, for a double murder as part of a plot to overturn the conviction of another man, Anthony Porter, for the same crime.

Claiming in the press conference last April that “today, the gloves come,” Ciolino said the accusations of misconduct against him by Simon’s attorneys in a federal lawsuit were false and defamatory.

“My message to the people named in this lawsuit is simple,” Ciolino was quoted as saying in Chicago Tribune article. “You want a fight, you got one. I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere.”

With Judge Dow’s rejection of his countersuit, Ciolino, former Northwestern Professor David Protess and Northwestern University, now face a fight of their own: Simon’s massive $40 million lawsuit against them.

Simon’s “confession” to Ciolino on a cold February morning in 1999 was a media sensation that transformed the criminal justice system and eventually spurred the release of other convicted killers. It also led to the end of the death penalty in Illinois. 

But shortly after Simon confessed to the crimes, he retracted his confession and alleged he was the victim of a frame-up by Protess and Ciolino, who, he claimed, offered him wealth through movie and book deals if he would cop to the murders. The men also said Simon would only serve a few years for the murders, Simon claimed.

Simon’s allegation went nowhere until retired Chicago Tribune reporter William Crawford took up the case, revealing a chilling account of the case that backed up Simon’s claims of being framed. Chicago Police Officer and writer, Martin Preib, who interviewed detectives who originally investigated the 1982 murder case, bolstered the claims that Simon was innocent of the murders and that Porter was indeed the killer.

Both Preib and Crawford wrote books about the case, which eventually led to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez reviewing the case. Alvarez released Simon from prison in October, 2014, saying that Protess and Ciolino violated Simon’s constitutional rights.

From the Chicago Tribune:

At a news conference, Alvarez questioned the integrity of David Protess, then a Northwestern University journalism professor whose students initially investigated the murders. She also criticized the private investigator, Paul Ciolino, who obtained Simon's videotaped confession using an actor to falsely implicate Simon, saying that his tactics were "coercive" and "unacceptable by law enforcement standards.

"The bottom line is the investigation conducted by Protess and private investigator Ciolino as well as the subsequent legal representation of Mr. Simon were so flawed that it's clear the constitutional rights of Mr. Simon were not scrupulously protected as our law requires," said Alvarez, who indicated she would have considered obstruction of justice or witness intimidation charges if the statute of limitations hadn't run out.

 Attorneys for Simon then filed the lawsuit against Ciolino, Protess, Northwestern University. In response, Ciolino filed a bizarre countersuit, claiming that Simon’s attorneys, Crawford, Preib, two private detectives, and Alvarez were all engaged in a conspiracy to defame Ciolino “all as ‘payback’ for their efforts and success at revealing the injustice in the Illinois criminal justice system.”

It is not just the Simon case in which Ciolino and Protess are accused of misconduct. Attorneys for Simon allege a pattern of similar tactics spanning several cases over the course of two decades.

Martin Preib is a Chicago Police Officer and writer. His first book, The Wagon and Other Stories From the City, was published by the University of Chicago Press. His second book, Crooked City, which played a critical role in the release of Alstory Simon from prison, is available on Amazon. His articles have appeared in Playboy, The Chicagoan, Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, and New City. He is currently working on his third book about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and the Hobley arson, titled Burn Patterns. He is also running for Second Vice President in the upcoming Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7 elections. 

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