Film

‘A Murder in the Park’ Exposes the Innocence Project Gone Wrong

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This welcome doc of crime and injustice serves as a fleet, compelling inquest into what went wrong in the prosecutions — yes, plural — of two men, years apart, for the 1982 murders of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard in Chicago’s Washington Park. Directors Shawn Rech and Brandon Kimber piece the story together via fresh interviews, vintage footage, and too many iffy reenactments and close-ups of news stories. But the matter here transcends the artlessness: Anthony Porter was originally charged and convicted for the murders — and sentenced to death row. Porter was set free in ’99, after an investigation by Northwestern University professor David Protess and his Medhill Innocence Project turned up a confession from another man, Alstory Simon. George Ryan, then governor of Illinois, has cited Porter’s release as the moment that inspired him to push to abolish the state’s death penalty — if someone who has not committed the crime can come that close to death at the hands of the government, how can we ever trust our justice system to execute?

The problem with all this? Protess’s investigation, headed up by Paul Ciolino, relied on the kind of railroading and coerced confessions that the Innocence Project was founded to fight. Simon and others here recount, in blood-boiling detail, Ciolino’s lies and abuses, and we see an old TV clip of him bragging, “I don’t have any rules.” The filmmakers and the law enforcement officials they’ve interviewed suggest that Porter himself did commit the crime, but attentive viewers will note that the doc never makes a thorough case for his guilt. What is clear, though: Simon, now exonerated himself, served fifteen years for that forced confession, a crime compounding the original crimes.

A Murder in the Park

Directed by Shawn Rech and Brandon Kimber

Sundance Selects

Opens June 26, IFC Center