Local author discusses Medill Innocence Project lawsuit at Evanston Public Library


Leeks Lim/The Daily Northwestern

William Crawford, author of “Justice Perverted: How the Innocence Project at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism Sent an Innocent Man to Prison,” speaks at Evanston Public Library on Monday. The book explores accusations lodged against the former program’s director David Protess that he fabricated evidence.

Andy Weir, Reporter

Author William Crawford discussed his book’s exploration into the accusation that the director of the former Medill Innocence Project falsified evidence in a criminal investigation at an event hosted by the Evanston Public Library on Wednesday night.

Crawford, who spent 23 years working for the Chicago Tribune before writing “Justice Perverted: How the Innocence Project at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism Sent an Innocent Man to Prison,” provided an overview of his book before reading an excerpt from it and taking questions from the audience.

“Justice Perverted” explores the events surrounding the controversial exoneration of Anthony Porter in the 1982 murders of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard in Chicago’s South Side. The exoneration, spearheaded by former Medill Prof. David Protess, director of the then-Medill Innocence Project, came after what Crawford argues was the coerced and forced confession of Alstory Simon. The project, after Protess’ departure from Northwestern, was taken over by Medill Prof. Alec Klein and is now called the Medill Justice Project.

Simon was exonerated of the crime after Cook County prosecutors threw out his conviction in 2014 following the suspension of Protess for allegedly falsifying evidence relating to a subpoena in another wrongful conviction case. Upon being freed, Simon sued Northwestern for $40 million, a suit that remains ongoing.

In his overview, Crawford described his book as “moderately epic in scope” but warned the story it tells was a “tangled yarn” he was trying to keep as straight as possible.

Some audience members said the event illuminated new concerns with America’s criminal justice system.

“It was really shocking,” Adrienne Lieberman, an Evanston resident, told the Daily. “I haven’t read the book yet, so I don’t know a lot about it, but after hearing this, it certainly left me with plenty of questions.”

Chicago Police Department officer and writer Martin Preib, who attended the event, said Crawford’s talk reaffirmed his existing concerns with the criminal justice system.

“Bill really opened the door, (exposing) much of the wrongful doing in the criminal justice system,” Preib said. “This is an important story and needs to be told. Our criminal justice system is broken. We need to just follow the evidence, keep it in the courtroom, and leave the media circus out of it.”

Crawford said his talk at EPL was just one of several engagements he has planned to promote his book.

“We were up in Glencoe (and) we’ll be in Chicago in a few weeks,” Crawford said. “We’re trying to market the book at big libraries to really get the message out there.”

Event coordinator Russell Johnson, a librarian at EPL, said the library hosted Crawford because it wants to provide a space for authors to share with the community the issues discussed in their books.

“We want to be a place where people can come to share their books and the issues,” Johnson said. “It’s a local author about something that happened here, and there’s lots of questions right now about the criminal justice system.”

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