It’s a fascinating subject, and here are the facts. A man called Anthony Porter from Chicago sat on death row. He was found guilty for the 1982 murders of two teenagers committed on the bleachers by a swimming pool in Washington Park. Seventeen years later, in 1999 with just hours to go before the execution, Porter’s conviction was overturned, the result of a new investigation by a group of Northwestern University students; it was part of a class assignment that freed Anthony Porter.
The students believed they found holes in the prosecution. They also implicated another man, Alstory Simon, as the real murderer. A new appeal, new information and a new confession of guilt from a second man lead to Porter’s exoneration. After seventeen years waiting on death row, Anthony Porter was now free and a man called Alstory Simon was behind bars. The media declared triumph for justice, the students and their professor celebrated their success and the state halted the death penalty. All now seemed right with the world, except for one thing. As explored in the new documentary A Murder in the Park from directors Brandon Kimber and Christopher S. Rech, the wrong man was walking free. As attorney Andrew Hale tells us, “Anthony Porter killed those two people. It was a big lie,”
With quick reenactments from actors, illustrations, factual charts and a calm though authoritative narration from Dan Nachtrab, we learn how those Northwestern students, under the guidance of Professor David Protess, delved into the original evidence that put Anthony Porter in prison and found what they considered to be inconsistencies. It was, in fact, simply bad detective work; a meaningless investigation with disastrous results.
Their professor even hired a private investigator, Paul Ciolino, to get an innocent man to confess to the crime while the students unknowingly worked on freeing the guilty party. The film spells out how Ciolini used everything from coercion, the victim’s ignorance of the law, a fear of violence, the threat of a harsh sentence and even intoxication to get Alstory Simon to confess on camera to a crime he never committed. Both Professor Protess and Private Detective Ciolino refused to be interviewed for the documentary.
If the film suffers from anything, it’s the dry and unapologetically factual approach it employs to telling its story. With such attention to complex details and so many characters to name, depending on your tolerance for too much information in one sitting, there’s always that tendency to let the mind wander. But don’t. Stick with it. Like the most complicated tale in a detective novel with a murky plot and a vicious sting, there’s no other way to tell the tale. The way the film presents its case then proceeds to unveil truth after hidden truth, each one more shocking than the reveal before, you’re hooked.
Throughout the whole of this scrupulously researched documentary, revelations of criminal injustice intentionally committed against the innocent while the guilty walks free come at you thick and fast. The implications are overwhelming. Your jaw can drop only so many times.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 93 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)