Inmate whose case helped end the death penalty in Illinois has died at age 66

·3 min read
Anthony Porter has died aged 66 (AFP via Getty Images)
Anthony Porter has died aged 66 (AFP via Getty Images)

An inmate whose case played an integral part in Illinois dropping the death penalty has died, according to reports.

Anthony Porter died earlier this week at age 66, his lawyer Jim Montgomery told WBBM Radio.

“Tony had a pretty tough lifestyle. He was a man who came up on the street and did not make much changes in his lifestyle from the time he exited the penitentiary,” he told the station.

Mr Porter is believed to have died from “anoxic brain injury, probable opiod toxicity”, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. His death was ruled as accidental.

Mr Porter was found guilty of a double homicide in 1982 for fatally shooting a couple, Jerry Hillard,19, and Marilyn Green, 18, in a park on the south side of Chicago.

Seventeen years later, in 1998, merely two days before his scheduled execution, a judge ruled that his IQ was too low and therefore Mr Porter was unable to understand the reasoning behind his death sentence. The ruling triggered a statewide debate around the death penalty. Illinois’ governor at the time, George Ryan stopped all executions in response.

Before leaving office, Mr Ryan converted all death row sentences to life in prison. The death penalty was formally revoked in 2011 by Governor Pat Quinn.

In 1999, Mr Porter had his conviction cleared over the murder following Alstory Simon confessing to the 1982 shooting. However, the confession was called into question when Mr Simon filed a lawsuit saying he gave coerced testimony. The suit alleges that Paul Ciolino, an investigator, told Mr Simon that he would have a reduced sentence and be entitled to any profits based from a potential book or movie deal if he admitted to the murders.

Mr Ciolino was working with Northwestern journalism professor David Protess, who along with a group of students, were looking into the murders and the events to help Mr Porter.

Both Mr Ciolino and Mr Protess deny these claims. Mr Ciolino filed a defamation suit against Mr Simon.

These revelations prompted Anita Alvarez, the state attorney of Cook County, to overturn Mr Simon’s conviction in 2014, thus prompting Mr Simon to walk free.

Jennifer Bonjean, a lawyer for Mr Ciolino, told Newsweek, We finally will have the opportunity to prove that a group of strongly pro-police lawyers, their investigator, and a Chicago Police officer publicly peddled the lie that Ciolino framed Alstory Simon by coercing a videotaped confession from him.”

Mr Porter was arrested again in 2011 over shoplifting a stick of deodorant. He served one year in prison for the crime in 2012.

Last week, US Attorney General Merrick Garland halted all federal executions as he expressed concerned about the number of exonerations among death row inmates.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States but is also treated fairly and humanly,” he wrote in a letter.

The elimination of the death penalty was a campaign promise of President Joe Biden.