Man Freed From Prison Sues Northwestern U. and Former Star Professor

A man who spent some 15 years in prison before his conviction in a decades-old double homicide in Chicago was thrown out is suing Northwestern University, the former professor who founded the Medill Innocence Project there, and others associated with the project, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The man, Alstory Simon, had confessed and pleaded guilty to the two killings, but prosecutors agreed in October to throw out his conviction, citing questions about the methods used to obtain his confession. A federal lawsuit filed on Mr. Simon’s behalf on Tuesday alleges that the former professor, David Protess, and a private investigator who worked with him conspired to frame Mr. Simon and intimidated him into confessing and pleading guilty as part of the project’s effort to free another man who was on death row for the killings.

The suit accuses Northwestern of tolerating a “culture of lawlessness” and unethical conduct by faculty members and journalism students involved in the program, now known as the Medill Justice Project. The lawsuit seeks $40-million in damages.

Mr. Protess, who left Northwestern in 2011 amid a controversy over how the project had handled another case, has previously denied wrongdoing. The Tribune could not reach him for comment on Tuesday. Alan K. Cubbage, a spokesman for Northwestern, declined to comment beyond denying wrongdoing by the university and predicting vindication in court.

Paul Ciolino, the investigator named in the lawsuit, denied that Mr. Simon’s confession had been coerced and called the suit a “legalized version of a holdup for a big payday.”

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