Prosecutor: Newly discovered evidence should exonerate Seattle man convicted of killing girl in 1957

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CHICAGO -- Prosecutors said Friday a 76-year-old Seattle man arrested in the killing of a 7-year-old girl nearly 60 years ago was wrongly convicted because of "misleading" and "false" evidence. It was one of the oldest cold cases in the country to go to trial.

State attorney Richard Schmack said "newly discovered evidence" shows there is no way Jack McCullough could have been in Sycamore, Illinois when Maria Ridulph disappeared on Dec. 3, 1957.

"I know that there are people who will never believe that he is not responsible for the crime," said Schmack, who was not the state's attorney when the trial was held. "Many of these people are my neighbors in Sycamore. But I cannot allow that to sway me from my sworn duty."

The court-ordered, six-month review was prompted by McCullough's push for a new trial.

After Ridulph vanished from the small community of Sycamore, her body was found several months later in Northwestern Illinois. The slaying remained a mystery for decades.

McCullough, a neighbor at the time of the slaying, had long ago been cleared by authorities.

But in 2011, he was arrested in Seattle and charged during a renewed effort to solve the case.

According to the Chicago Tribune, McCullough's family lived in the area where Ridulph's body was found in the 1950s.

McCullough was found guilty in 2012 of murder and kidnapping in a bench trial in DeKalb County and was sentenced to natural life in prison.

But Schmack says new evidence firms up an alibi. He said a review ordered by the judge in the case found several problems with the conviction:

  • "Recently subpoenaed" phone records show McCullough called his parents collect from a pay phone at the Rockford post office at 6:57 p.m. on Dec. 3, around the time Maria disappeared in Sycamore, nearly 50 miles away.
  • Maria's friend identified McCullough as the abductor from a photo array that was "suggestive in the extreme." McCullough's photo was shown alongside "professional yearbook photos" of "young men wearing suit coats."
  • McCullough's sister testified during the trial that she saw people searching for Maria an hour before the girl was reported missing.
  • "Thousands of pages" of police reports excluded from the trial "contain a wealth of information pointing to McCullough’s innocence, and absolutely nothing showing guilt."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.