A Mur­der in the Park

A Mur­der in the Park, doc­u­men­tary, rated PG-13, The Screen, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

The story sounds like a John Gr­isham novel. One hot sum­mer night in 1982, teenagers Mar­i­lyn Green and Jerry Hil­lard were gunned down in Chicago’s Washington Park. A man named An­thony Porter was ar­rested for the crime, then tried, con­victed, and sen­tenced to death. In 1998, David Prot­ess, a pro­fes­sor at North­west­ern Univer­sity’s Medill School of Jour­nal­ism, hired a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor and gath­ered a group of his stu­dents. To­gether they ex­am­ined ev­i­dence; spoke with a key wit­ness, who re­canted the state­ment he had given the po­lice; and iden­ti­fied a new po­ten­tial sus­pect, Al­story Si­mon, who even­tu­ally con­fessed to the crime. Just days shy of his sched­uled ex­e­cu­tion, Porter was ex­on­er­ated and re­leased from prison, and Si­mon was locked up.

But, as the say­ing goes, the devil is in the de­tails. This film by Christo­pher Rech and Bran­don Kim­ber re­veals that rather than cham­pi­oning jus­tice, Prot­ess and his stu­dents may ac­tu­ally have thwarted it. Their work was flawed in nu­mer­ous ways. The stu­dents ne­glected to lo­cate and in­ter­view any ad­di­tional wit­nesses, for ex­am­ple, and thus come across as naive and lazy. Prot­ess and the pri­vate eye, Paul Ci­olino, uti­lized sus­pect, even un­eth­i­cal tac­tics that in many other cases are at­trib­uted to cor­rupt law en­force­ment in­di­vid­u­als — im­proper in­ter­ro­ga­tion and in­ves­ti­ga­tion tech­niques, ques­tion­able le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, bad ev­i­dence — in an at­tempt to get the re­sults they wanted. They elicited a con­fes­sion from Si­mon, who main­tains in in­ter­views shown here that he is in­no­cent and was strong-armed (he was even­tu­ally ex­on­er­ated, but only af­ter 15 years be­hind bars). This will prob­a­bly get your blood boiling.

Too bad Rech and Kim­ber’s film­mak­ing is ut­terly art­less. The cin­e­matog­ra­phy makes it feel more like an episode of Date­line or a low-bud­get ca­ble-TV true-crime drama. They use am­a­teur­ish reen­act­ments; some ques­tion­ably cho­sen crime-scene photos and archival footage; melo­dra­matic nar­ra­tion; seem­ingly end­less ex­cerpts from tran­scripts, ar­ti­cles, and books; and a per­va­sive and ham-handed score. Prot­ess (who was sus­pended by North­west­ern in 2011), his stu­dents, and Ci­olino de­clined to be in­ter­viewed, which leaves the film feel­ing un­bal­anced. Rech and Kim­ber do not men­tion the nu­mer­ous ex­on­er­a­tions sim­i­lar to Porter’s that have been up­held (the pro­duc­tion com­pany, Whole Truth Films, is af­fil­i­ated with a group that sup­ports and pro­tects po­lice of­fi­cers wrongly ac­cused of mis­con­duct), and they ap­par­ently didn’t want to touch is­sues of race and class with a ten-foot pole.

It’s no se­cret that our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem is bro­ken. Stud­ies sug­gest that be­tween 2.3 and 5 per­cent of in­di­vid­u­als cur­rently in U.S. pris­ons are in­no­cent. While Prot­ess and the Medill stu­dents were in­stru­men­tal in end­ing the death penalty in Illi­nois, their crooked meth­ods make this fact feel more like “one step for­ward, two steps back.” And af­ter all that, we still don’t know who shot those two teenagers in 1982. — Lau­rel Glad­den

An­thony Porter and Al­story Si­mon

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