Anthony Porter, N05372

ANTHONY PORTER, N05372, MENARD PRISON, DEATH ROW, CHESTER, IL 62259. Anthony Porter was one of the 3,500 or so people in the United States who literally have "death" in their address. We all know that some day we will die, but Anthony was one of the few who have their date with death marked on a calendar.

It was 7 a.m., Monday, Sep. 21, 1998. Anthony was just two and a half days the live side of death--scheduled to be executed by injection by the state of Illinois just 60 hours later. As a member of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty visiting team, I had been assigned to visit him.

Anthony grew up in one of the coldest steel-and-concrete high-rise bunkers in America, Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes. The "pad" on Federal Street was home to him. As an African American from a single-parent home he had his odds stacked against him, especially during his trial for a capital offense. He had an IQ of 51.

I nervously walked down the corridor of the "condemned unit," as the state calls death row. Anthony was eating.

"I have some letters of support to give to you, Anthony."

He looked at me a little distrustfully at first. After a pause I said, "I can come back; I don't want to disturb your breakfast."

"No, no," he finally said, rising. "Come on with it. Let's do it."

Among the letters was one from Chicago Cardinal Francis George and another from the mother of one of the victims Anthony had allegedly killed in this double murder.

"Would you like to look these over on your own," I asked, "or would you like me to read them?"

"Yeah, yeah, why don't you just go ahead and read them." His response confirmed my belief that he could not read.

We stood shoulder to shoulder through the bars. The letter from the cardinal urged Illinois' then-Governor Jim Edgar to grant a stay of execution. He mentioned that there was no physical evidence--no gun, no DNA, no fingerprints—and the IQ of only 51.

The letter from Offie Lee Green, the mother of victim Marilyn Green, pleaded for the state not to kill Anthony. She said she did not believe that he killed her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend, Jerry Hillard. She explained why she was convinced that it was Marilyn's friend's boyfriend, Alstory Simon, who had committed the crime.

After I read the letters, Anthony asked me to read some affidavits from his case that he had in his possession. Reading them out loud, I learned some things about his case that I had not known. Several people had overheard Simon say that he killed the two, and someone had seen a man much taller than Anthony arguing with Jerry Hillard shortly before the murders.

The only evidence the state had against Anthony was a questionable eyewitness to these murders. (He subsequently signed an affidavit saying he had lied under police pressure.)

As we talked, I came to believe that Anthony really was innocent. I felt so helpless. I wanted to assure him that he would not be executed, but I could not. Yet there was some glimmer of hope because this very day the Illinois Supreme Court was hearing an appeal that could possibly grant Anthony a fitness hearing, and thus a stay of execution. That would buy him more time to uncover new evidence.

When I left, I looked Anthony in the eye and said: "I will see you again."

At about 3:30 p.m. that same day we began our seven-hour trek back to Chicago. I alternately felt hope and doom. We listened to the radio for some word on the decision. At 7:30 we stopped for gas. I called my wife, Donna.

"So did you hear the news?" she asked.

"No," I replied, holding my breath.

All I needed to hear was the word "stay." Lots of eyebrows were raised in the travel store as I yelled "Yeah" jubilantly at the top of my lungs. I ran to the parking lot screaming.

On Feb. 1, 1999, CBS Evening News showed a clip of Alstory Simon admitting that he shot both Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green. Five days later, after 16 years on death row, Anthony Porter was released from Cook County Jail on his own recognizance. He became the 10th death-row inmate Illinois has released as innocent since the reinstitution of capital punishment in the 1970s; two more have been released after Porter.

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