When Alstory Simon walked out of prison on the last day of October, it was 15 years since he had first confessed to murdering a young couple by the side of a pool.
At the time it looked like justice served. But not long after, Simon started claiming that he’d been set up. He said he was lied to and coerced into giving his confession by people working with a group called the Innocence Project, which was trying to exonerate a different man—Anthony Porter—who had been convicted earlier of killing the young couple.
Simon’s story was hard to believe. If he was an innocent man, why had he confessed, on more than one occasion, to being a murderer? And why would the Innocence Project, an esteemed group dedicated to freeing the wrongly imprisoned, have framed an innocent man? For years, few paid attention to Simon’s claims or the appeals from his lawyers and his small group of supporters. Then a few weeks ago, the state’s attorney released Simon and vindicated his account. Fortunes reversed and what was far-fetched yesterday was suddenly closer to fact.
The story of Alstory Simon has all the scope and scale, the cruel reversals, and pointless waste of proper tragedy. And it has those staples of the modern form: villains with good intentions and powerful figures insulated by their position from the damage they cause.
All of Chicago and half the state of Illinois seem to be involved in the case. It’s got the housing projects and the governor’s office, the press bureau and police force, university professors, private investigators, college students, criminals, and scapegoats. Over the decades, it’s touched anybody in shooting range of power and yet so far claimed only a handful, all of them from the projects.