Illinois man ordered freed after serving 15 years for murder
Hands behind bars in prison or jail (Shutterstock)

A man who had served 15 years in prison for murder was ordered freed on Thursday after a judge dismissed charges at the request of prosecutors amid doubts over the man's confession in a controversial 1982 case that helped lead to Illinois abolishing the death penalty.

Prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss the conviction of Alstory Simon, the second of two men to be charged in the double murder, according to a spokeswoman for the Cook County state's attorney's office. The judge ordered that he be released, she said.

The first man, Anthony Porter, had been convicted of the crime in 1983 and sentenced to death, but was released from prison after Simon's confession and guilty plea.

Porter's case and other death penalty cases in which the suspects were found to be innocent led former Gov. George Ryan to impose a moratorium in 2000 on the death penalty in Illinois. The punishment was banned by the state legislature in 2011.

Porter was released following an investigation by law students at Northwestern University. Upon reinvestigation, the Cook County State's Attorney's office determined that Simon's confession had been coerced, according to the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

Simon's attorneys have criticized the tactics of former Northwestern University Professor David Protess and his private investigator Paul Ciolino. Ciolino has denied wrongdoing but admitted he showed Simon a video in which an actor posing as a witness implicated Simon as the gunman, according to the Tribune.

It was not clear whether prosecutors now believe that Porter was indeed guilty in the murders of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard on Chicago's South Side. But he cannot be retried, due to constitutional protections against double jeopardy.

(Editing by Fiona Ortiz and James Dalgleish)