Man convicted in 1957 murder could not have committed the crime, says prosecutor

Jack McCullough was convicted of killing 7-year-old Maria Ridulph decades after her disappearance. But new evidence casts doubt on that conviction.

Danielle Guerra/Daily Chronicle via AP/File
Jack McCullough, shown here in January, is serving a life sentence after being sentenced in 2012 for the 1957 death of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph. On Friday, DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack says his review of evidence has convinced him that McCullough could not have committed the crime.

The case of Maria Ridulph, a 7-year-old girl who was killed in northern Illinois in 1957, has once again gone cold.

While DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack says he wishes the case could be solved, he announced on Friday that a man convicted of abducting and killing Maria couldn’t have committed the crime.

Mr. Schmack announced the findings Friday after reviewing new evidence in the case of Jack McCullough. He says the evidence supports Mr. McCullough’s alibi and has promised not to oppose his request to dismiss the conviction

"Hopefully this comes to a rapid and favorable conclusion," Tom McCulloch, McCullough’s public defender, said on Friday. Mr. McCulloch added that the appeal will be back in court Tuesday and is hopeful McCullough could be released soon.

The court-ordered, six-month review was prompted by McCullough's push for a new trial and comes amid a wave of exonerations nationwide. The Christian Science Monitor's Henry Gass reported last month that a record number of people were exonerated in 2015.

Experts say there’s a simple reason behind it: More prosecutors are actively looking for wrongful convictions. 

There were 149 exonerations last year, according to a new report from the National Registry of Exonerations, based at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. Since 2011, the annual number of exonerations has more than doubled – the country now averages close to three exonerations a week – and this surge has been mirrored by an increase in prosecutor involvement.

McCullough was convicted in 2012 in the killing of Maria, who vanished from the small community of Sycamore on Dec. 3, 1957. Her body was found several months later – and her death remained a mystery for decades. McCullough, who’s now in his 70s, was a neighbor at the time.

Maria’s sister, Patricia Quinn, says she remains convinced that McCullough is responsible for the murder and that he "therefore belongs in prison."

"I know there are people who will never believe that he is not responsible for the crime," Schmack said in a statement. "But I cannot allow that to sway me from my sworn duty."

Schmack said he was convinced of McCullough innocence by recently subpoenaed phone records that proved McCullough called his parents from a city about 35 minutes away from Sycamore just minutes after the abduction took place. He said it was a "manifest impossibility" that McCullough could have been anywhere near Maria when she went missing.

While McCullough awaits his court hearing on Tuesday, his step-daughter Janey O'Connor says she's eager for him to return to Washington. But Ms. O'Connor told The DeKalb Daily-Chronicle that she understands "the wheels of justice move slowly."

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.