In 1999, when Anthony Porter was cleared of the 1982 murders of two teenagers in Chicago’s Washington Park and released from death row, the case drove Gov. George Ryan to suspend capital punishment in Illinois. Praise poured in for David Protess, a Northwestern University journalism professor, and the students in his Innocence Project, who contended that Mr. Porter couldn’t have been the killer and produced a videotape in which a man named Alstory Simon said he had done it.
Directed by Shawn Rech and Brandon Kimber, “A Murder in the Park” promotes another account — of manipulation, witness coercion and rushed judgment. Mr. Simon, who pleaded guilty, later claimed his confession had been forced; he was ultimately exonerated and released from prison in October. The documentary also argues that Mr. Porter was indeed the killer.
Using time lines, archival clips, witness interviews and re-enactments, the film deconstructs the Innocence Project investigation and describes dubious methods that a private investigator working with Mr. Protess used to elicit Mr. Simon’s confession.
If this sounds like a legal brief, it is. Andrew Hale, the film’s executive producer and an interviewee, is one of Mr. Simon’s lawyers in a federal suit against Northwestern, Mr. Protess, the investigator and his first lawyer. (The defendants declined to be interviewed; Mr. Protess, who left Northwestern in 2011, has written of his objections.) The movie doesn’t note this, and the lack of transparency raises questions of its own. Even so, the filmmakers have skillfully laid out a complex and murky story of crime and justice that, more than 30 years on, continues to scandalize.
“A Murder in the Park” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) for crime scene photos.