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Death Row Convict Exonerated

A judge Thursday overturned the murder convictions of a man who spent nearly 17 years in prison and came within two days of execution before the work of Northwestern University journalism students suggested he was not the real killer.

"Thank God, I'm innocent of all charges. Thank God, I'm free," Anthony Porter said after his court hearing.

Circuit Judge Thomas Fitzgerald praised the work done by prosecutors, defense attorneys, and "others outside the system" in freeing Porter from death row.

"I'm personally and profoundly grateful that we were spared the unthinkable, unthinkable conclusion to this case," Fitzgerald said.

Porter was released on bond Feb. 5. He walked out of jail and threw his arms around journalism professor David Protess and several students from the investigative reporting class that gathered evidence suggesting Porter was wrongly convicted of two murders.

Porter, 43, came within two days of being executed in September before the Illinois Supreme Court decided his case required another look.

Since then, key witnesses have recanted their testimony and another man, Alstory Simon, was recorded on videotape admitting to the shooting deaths of Jerry Hillard, 18, and Marilyn Green, 19.

In early February, Simon, a Milwaukee laborer who used to live in Chicago, confessed on videotape that he was the real murderer.

Private investigator Paul Ciolino, part of Protess' team, videotaped Simon's confession after they viewed a CBS News television report on Porter's plight.

Ciolino told CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Thalia Assuras in early February that "your story came out and he watched it. It confirmed everything I had been telling him earlier in our conversation. It seemed at that moment he gave up and he was ready to talk about the case and tell the truth."

"We sat him down, videotaped him," Ciolino continued, "and I have to tell you, the critical moment was when he watched the CBS story."

Because of these developments, Cook County prosecutors reopened the case.

Porter is the 11th death row inmate exonerated in Illinois since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977. Since 1977, Illinois has executed 11 people.

It was not the first time Protess and his students have investigated old murder cases. In June 1996, four men who had spent 18 years in prison for a double murder were released after students helped uncover new evidence.

Porter remains convicted of two armed robbery charges, A hearing was scheduled for April 20 to hear evidence on overturning those convictions.

"Mr. Porter is innocent of all the charges," said defense attorney Daniel Sanders, who said he believed the robbery charges would be dropped at the hearing.