By Suzannah Gonzales
CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Illinois man who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping and murder of a 7-year-old girl in 1957 was cleared of charges on Friday.
DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge William Brady dropped charges against Jack McCullough, 76, who was arrested and jailed in 2011 for the murder of the girl, Maria Ridulph. He was convicted the following year.
Last week, Brady granted McCullough's request for a new trial and annulled his conviction, while ordering him to remain in Illinois while he was free on bond.
McCullough was released from prison in April on the basis of previously unknown evidence that pointed to his innocence.
Brady told an attorney for a Ridulph family member that he has four weeks to submit a motion to request a special prosecutor to the case. McCullough could be retried for the murder since Brady dismissed it without prejudice.
He dismissed lesser charges in the case with prejudice.
McCullough, wearing a blue and green parka, sat behind attorneys who stood in front of judge and made their arguments during the hearing. He left the court smiling and shaking hands after the 90-minute hearing concluded.
McCullough plans to sue the state of Illinois for the suffering that five years in prison caused him and his family, the Associated Press reported.
A lawyer for McCullough has declined to comment on the report.
Ridulph disappeared in December 1957 while playing near her home in Sycamore, Illinois, about 65 miles west of Chicago. Her body was found months later and the case remained unsolved.
McCullough was a teenager when Ridulph went missing. He was an early suspect and 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.
The Ridulph case was reopened after a former girlfriend of McCullough contacted investigators in 2010. She found what she said was McCullough's unused train ticket from Rockford to Chicago on the day Ridulph disappeared, a Washington state newspaper said.
(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; EDiting by Steve Orlofsky)