Illinois judge defers decision on freeing man wrongfully convicted of murder

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 01, 2016 4:31 PM

By Suzannah Gonzales

CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Illinois judge on Friday said he needed more time to consider whether to free a man serving a life sentence who prosecutors say was wrongfully convicted in 2012 of kidnapping and murdering a 7-year-old girl more than 50 years ago, local reports said.

DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge William Brady continued the case of Jack McCullough of Washington state who was sentenced to life for kidnapping and murdering Maria Ridulph, court officials said.

Her death was unsolved for more than five decades after she disappeared in December 1957 while playing near her home in Sycamore, Illinois, about 65 miles west of Chicago. Her body was found four months later.

The next hearing in McCullough's case is set for April 15.

Local media said McCullough filed a request for release from prison after DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack, who completed a six-month review of evidence in the case, said last week that thousands of pages of improperly excluded police reports pointed to McCullough's innocence.

McCullough was a teenager when Ridulph went missing and was an early suspect in the case. He told investigators he was on a train from Rockford in southern Illinois to Chicago when the girl disappeared. He later joined the military, moved to Washington state and became a policeman in Lacey, a town east of Olympia.

Around 2010, McCullough's ex-girlfriend found an unused train ticket for the Rockford-to-Chicago trip and alerted authorities. McCullough was arrested in 2011 and said he was innocent.

Records show McCullough was in and around a Rockford post office when Ridulph disappeared, making a call from a pay phone and contacting a U.S. Air Force recruiting station, Schmack said in a statement.

"It is a manifest impossibility" for McCullough to have been in Sycamore when Ridulph disappeared and also make a phone call in Rockford, Schmack said.

In addition, McCullough was mistakenly identified in a photo lineup that "was suggestive in the extreme," Schmack said.

In 2012, the DeKalb County State's Attorney's office called McCullough's sentence "appropriate for a defendant who stands convicted of this brutal crime."

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)