SYCAMORE – The man accused of kidnapping and killing a Sycamore girl more than 50 years ago did not take the stand in his defense Thursday.
When Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock asked Jack D. McCullough whether he understood his rights regarding testifying, McCullough said, “Yes, your honor,” and said he was “absolutely” making the decision of his own accord.
Hallock adjourned court just before 2 p.m. Thursday to give himself time to review the large amount of evidence presented in the case. The trial, which began Monday, resumes at 9 a.m. today for closing arguments.
McCullough, 72, is charged with abducting and killing 7-year-old Maria Ridulph of Sycamore on Dec. 3, 1957. Her body was found months later in rural Jo Daviess County.
The defense’s case was brief and focused on discrediting Eileen Tessier, whose daughters claim their mother said shortly before her death that McCullough was responsible for Maria’s disappearance.
One of the defense’s three witnesses was Mary Hunt, one of McCullough’s half-sisters, who was short with attorneys and acknowledged that she was subpoenaed by the defense.
Hunt said their mother, Eileen Tessier, was dying of cancer in January 1994. As Hunt and her sister, Janet, sat at their mother’s bedside, Tessier said, “He did it.”
She did not specify who “he” was or what “it” was, Hunt said. When Hunt tried to question her mother further, Tessier did not respond.
“You had to imply who did it?” asked defense attorney Robert Carlson, with the public defender’s office.
“Yes, sir,” Hunt replied.
John Prabhakar, a retired medical doctor and surgeon who worked at Kishwaukee Community Hospital in January 1994, said he was involved in Tessier’s treatment while she was at the hospital, installing an IV in her neck to provide a continuous morphine infusion.
His records note that Tessier – also taking a medicine called haldol, which is given to people who are agitated, uncooperative or confused – was “pleasantly confused” and disoriented.
His records from Jan. 10, 1994, note Tessier suffered from “unspecified psychosis.”
Carlson tried to question Prabhakar further on Tessier’s possible psychological condition, but Prabhakar said he was a surgeon and shied away from discussing psychological medicine in greater detail.
During cross-examination, Prabhakar acknowledged to State’s Attorney Clay Campbell that he was not Tessier’s primary doctor and couldn’t testify as to her mental state other than what was in his records for Jan. 10, 1994.
Stephanie Roberts, a records keeper at the hospital, briefly took the stand before the state objected to Tessier’s hospital records being reviewed in court, citing hearsay. After some discussion at the judge’s bench, Hallock sided with prosecutors and said the records would not be allowed into evidence.
Before the state rested its case Thursday morning, another prisoner offered details he said McCullough shared with him in jail regarding the case and Maria’s death.
Kirk Swaggerty is currently serving a prison sentence after being convicted in August 2011 of first-degree murder, home invasion and unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon. A jury found Swaggerty guilty of orchestrating a Genoa home invasion in February 2005 that left a man dead.
In the days leading up to his August 2011 trial, Swaggerty was housed in the DeKalb County Jail and had conversations with McCullough in the jail’s multipurpose room.
When Swaggerty asked McCullough if he would be pleading guilty or taking the case to trial, he said McCullough told him he could probably get probation if he pleaded guilty, because it was an accident. When Swaggerty asked what he meant by that, McCullough said he was giving the little girl a piggyback ride when she fell from his shoulders.
The girl wouldn’t stop screaming, and when McCullough tried to keep her quiet, she suffocated, Swaggerty said.
Swaggerty testified that McCullough also told him the state had no evidence and wouldn’t find any DNA. If they did, he said, he would plea bargain. Swaggerty said McCullough told him the case has made him a celebrity and he could probably get a “dream team” if it were to go to trial.
Swaggerty, who sent letters to detectives and the state’s attorney’s office regarding the comments McCullough made to him, said prosecutors did not promise him anything in exchange for his testimony.
On cross-examination, defense attorneys questioned Swaggerty’s intentions in sharing the information. Interim Public Defender Tom McCulloch pointed out that Swaggerty has a pending motion to reconsider his 36-year sentence and, within that motion, mentioned helping detectives with the McCullough case.
Another witness, Sgt. Kathie Christensen of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, works at the jail and said inmate inspection logs show Swaggerty and McCullough would have been in the multipurpose room at the same time July 28, 2011, and Aug. 2, 2011.
She also said that from Sept. 1 to Sept. 5 of this year, McCullough was housed in the same jail block as inmate Christopher Diaz and another inmate who has requested anonymity and is being referred to as John Doe.
Both testified Wednesday, with Doe claiming McCullough shared details of Maria’s death with him.
As McCulloch questioned Christensen, she confirmed Diaz is a member of a street gang who wrote a gang sign on his jail uniform. During his testimony Wednesday, Diaz denied being a gang member.
McCulloch’s motion for directed verdict in favor of McCullough was denied by Hallock, who said the state had presented sufficient evidence.
McCullough, formerly known as John Tessier, was arrested in July 2011 in Seattle. He is being held in the DeKalb County Jail on $3 million bond.