Friday, May 12, 2006

Deep freeze at Sun-Times continues

The Sun-Times thought the exoneration of Anthony Porter in 1999 was a big, big story. It published more than 100 stories, including a 3,861-word epic that won several awards.

In this land of housing projects and poor families, where murder was almost as common as vacant lots, a crime, it seemed, had been solved. A case cleared.

And if, in the lockdown of Death Row, with two days between him and the executioner's needle sliding into his arm, that man knew he hadn't committed the crime, what did it matter, really? Outside that cold cell, who really cared?

Well, today, Alstory Simon has replaced Porter in prison and the Sun-Times empathy toward a potentially wrongfully convicted man seems to have dried up. Credible evidence has come forward that the Simon may be innocent and that the Porter exoneration story may have been a fraud. Suddenly, the Sun-Times has lost interest in the saga.

This week the absurd freeze-out continued. Attorneys for Simon brought forward two new witnesses to the crime, including one who has sworn in an affidavit that he saw Porter do the shooting of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard in 1982.

That follows revelations that all witnesses against Simon have recanted and that a minister has come forward and verified that Simon told him in 1999 that his "confession" was coerced.

The new witness accounts were filed in Cook County Circuit Court, where Simon is seeking a new hearing. The attorneys staged a news conference afterwards and other news media covered the story, including the Tribune, and ABC-7 Chicago.

"I looked up to see Porter firing a gun and I saw Jerry laying in the bleachers," Brown said in the affidavit, filed in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Evelyn Clay.

If any newspaper ought to be interested in the story, it's the Sun-Times. The murder occurred on the city's southeast side, the heart of the Sun-Times' circulation base.

When information came forward that Anthony Porter may be innocent in 1999, the Sun-Times didn't hesitate to tell the story. Within a couple of weeks of news that Porter might be innocent, here is a line at the end of the Sun-Times' award-winning story that describes the effort.

This account was assembled through interviews with David Protess, Paul Ciolino, Tom McCann, Cara Rubinsky, Shawn Armbrust, Eric LeBorgne, Syandene Rhodes-Pitts and Lori D'Angelo, as well as a review of police reports, medical examiner's reports, trial testimony and appellate records, and visits to the key locations in Milwaukee, Evanston and Chicago.

Now, information is coming forward that Alstory Simon may be innocent and the Sun-Times won't even send a reporter to write a brief.

The only rational explanation for the silence is that the Sun-Times believes the new twist in the Anthony Porter storyline makes its 1999 stories on the exoneration look more like cheerleading than real journalism. And the editors are doing their best to make sure that Alstory Simon goes away quietly, regardless of whether he is truly guilty of the murders.

I'm sure there are those at the Tribune who aren't crazy about this story, either. The Trib is not tackling the Simon claims with the zeal it tackled other possible wrongful conviction stories, but to its credit it is putting stories in the paper.

From the Sun-Times -- the sounds of silence. Or as it said in 1999: "Outside that cold cell, who really cared?"

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