The State Journal-Register – February 26, 2001
Springfield, Illinois

By Chris Dettro
Staff Writer

Lecture part of effort to start network for wrongly convicted defendants

A Chicago-based private investigator who has been successful in finding evidence to free wrongly convicted defendants from death row will speak at the University of Illinois at Springfield this week as part of an effort to establish a downstate Innocence Project at UIS.

Paul Ciolino, who gained notoriety for his 1998 investigation that freed Anthony Porter from Illinois’ death row, will lecture at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday in the Public Affairs Center conference room G on the lower level. His presentation is free and open to the public.

UIS faculty from legal studies, criminal justice and political studies are developing the project, which is in its preliminary stages and one of several such efforts around the country.

The Innocence Project is a network of attorneys and students that has taken up and reviewed hundreds of criminal cases around the country where there is reason to believe someone has been wrongfully convicted of a crime.

Illinois already is home to the Center on Wrongful Conviction at Northwestern University Law School and the Medill School of Journalism there. The center has helped develop evidence in at least three different cases to exonerate people previously convicted and sentenced to death.

Porter, a mildly retarded man who was 48 hours away from being executed for a double murder, spent 17 years on death row before being freed.

Ciolino, working with Northwestern University journalism professor David Protess, broke open the case by taking a videotaped confession from the real killer, Alstory Simon.

The Porter case generated intense media coverage and was instrumental in Gov. George Ryan’s decision to impose a moratorium on executions in Illinois.

In 1996, Ciolino led Northwestern journalism students in re-investigating the case of the Ford Heights Four.

Four boyhood friends had been convicted in connection with 1978 murder of a south suburban gas station attendant and his girlfriend. The interracial rape, kidnapping and murder convictions resulted in two of the men being sentenced to death and the other two to life in prison without parole.

Ciolino, investigative journalist Rob Warden, Protess and the students uncovered police street files that identified four other suspects. A confession was obtained from one of the men, forcing Cook County prosecutors to release the Ford Heights Four, but after they had served a collective 65 years in prison.

Three other people were ultimately convicted of the murders.

Attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld founded the Innocence Project, which to date has represented or assisted in representation of nearly 40 people who have been exonerated with DNA tests, including eight on death rows across the country. Overall in the United States, more than 60 people have been exonerated with help from the project.