Does a Milwaukee TV reporter hold the key to whether Alstory Simon was framed?

by Dan Curry

                                      Colleen Henry

Right now, the Cook County State's Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit is deep into its re-review of the nationally famous murder exoneration of Anthony Porter and imprisonment of Alstory Simon, who reportedly has been interviewed twice in recent weeks.

The review may pivot on a TV interview of Simon conducted by a well-known, veteran Milwaukee TV reporter.

You can read in detail about Simon's contention he was illegally framed by Northwestern University, a publicity seeking private investigator and a conflicted attorney, with able assists from the prosecutor's office and the news media. But it boils down to this:

  • Was Simon's "confession" a charade, or was it real?
  • Why did Simon persist in playing along with the charade for a time before he contended in court in 2001 that the confession was phony?

Here is why the Nov. 24, 1999 interview of Simon by Milwaukee TV reporter Colleen Henry is so important. Consider the timeline below:

  • Feb. 3, 1999. Simon "confesses" to private investigator Paul Ciolino.
  • Feb. 5, 1999. Anthony Porter is released from prison.
  • Sept. 7, 1999. Simon is sentenced to 37 years in prison based upon his confession.
  • Nov. 24, 1999. Henry airs interview with Simon.
  • Early 2001. Simon files a motion in Cook County Circuit Court saying his confession was coerced and phony.

The obvious question raised by the Henry interview is why on earth would Simon agree to an interview essentially re-confessing to a crime he already was sentenced to prison for?

Simon had already confessed at sentencing so there was no need to impress the court with his contrition.

Simon advocates claim that Northwestern University journalism professor David Protess, investigator Ciolino and attorney Jack Rimland were part of a cabal who conspired to frame him for a crime he didn't commit. They say Protess, Ciolino and Rimland promised a light sentence and riches afterwards from book and movie deals. It was crucial, under this scenario, that the conspirators keep the phony confession from falling apart. One possible way to do this is for the conspirators to urge Simon to do a TV interview AFTER his sentencing.

Indeed, Protess repeatedly has cited the Milwaukee interview as evidence that Simon's confession was real.

After Simon was sent to prison, an unpleasant place where Simon had plenty of time to think, he could have recanted his confession and professed his innocence. But he didn't do it. instead, he granted an interview with Milwaukee TV reporter Colleen Henry.

Again, what motive would Simon have to do such an interview?

I asked Colleen Henry in an email this week. The Simon story was big in Milwaukee as well as Chicago because Simon was living there at the time of his arrest. I asked whether she set up the interview independently, or whether someone urged and/or helped facilitate the Simon interview. Although I don't know whether she knows Protess, she earned a post-graduate journalism degree from Northwestern University.

Here is the main part of my email to her:

As you well know, the re-investigation of the case centers on whether Simon's confession was genuine and uncoerced. Advocates for those who contend Simon's confession was real always point to your interview of Simon where he repeats his confession on camera.

Advocates for Simon contend the coercion was an illegal plot to frame him and that the plotters continually urged Simon to repeat his confession in order to bolster its credibility.

Considering all the above, as a former investigative reporter I believe it is crucial to know how your interview with Simon came about.

Did you seek him out on your own, or did someone first urge or suggest you interview him?

As an ex-journalist, I understand that this is the type of question you won't want to answer. However, considering a man has been sitting in prison for 15 years for a crime he may not have committed, I thought you might make an exception. I would guess that if the answer to my question is the latter scenario, you wouldn't want to be considered part of the scheme to frame an innocent man, even if it presumably was not done wittingly.

She has not responded.

Rimland is a key player here too. If Protess was helping Henry set up the interview, Rimland would presumably have to green light his client's participation in a TV appearance that had no apparent benefit to the inmate.

All this is informed speculation on my part, which very well could be missing context. Colleen Henry could clear what up happened here. I don't blame her for doing the interview; it was her job. However, in retrospect, if the interview was set up by advocates for Anthony Porter, she might have unwittingly been part of a criminal conspiracy that is continuing to imprison an innocent man. Henry, in addition to her career as a TV reporter, is also a lawyer. I'm sure she understands the potential gravity of answering the question above.

I hope she speaks out soon about this.