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Crime & Courts

Testimony over in McCullough trial

Judge adjourns court; closing arguments set for Friday

SYCAMORE – Testimony concluded Thursday in the kidnapping and murder trial of Jack McCullough.

Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock adjourned the court for the day and told both sides to return at 9 a.m. Friday to present closing arguments.

McCullough is accused of kidnapping 7-year-old Maria Ridulph of Sycamore on Dec. 3, 1957. Her body was found months later in rural Jo Daviess County.

The defense case was brief, as McCullough did not take the stand in his defense. There were only three witnesses, including one of McCullough's half-sisters, Mary Hunt, who was very short with the defense when questioned.

Before the state rested its case this morning, another prisoner testified during Jack McCullough's murder trial, offering details he said McCullough shared with him in jail regarding the death of a Sycamore girl in 1957.

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. Swaggerty said the two talked about extradition because Swaggerty had been extradited from Mexico after being arrested.

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 also said McCullough told him he contacted the FBI because he had a dream that someone who lived near him named "Johnny" killed the little girl. McCullough then told Swaggerty that he was "Johnny," and that he used to go by "Johnny."

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 sent letters to detectives and the state's attorney's office regarding the comments McCullough made to him. He said he was not promised anything by prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.

On cross-examination, defense attorneys questioned Swaggerty's intentions in sharing the information on the conversations with McCullough. 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 on July 28, 2011, and Aug. 2, 2011. She also said that from Sept. 1-5 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 murder 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 at one point. During his testimony Wednesday, Diaz denied being a gang member.

The state also gave defense attorneys copies of discs with video surveillance of the county jail on the September dates John Doe said he spoke with McCullough. Although prosecutors intended the play that footage in court, the defense objected due to the delayed nature. Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock sided with McCullough's attorneys and said the video could not be played.

McCulloch's motion for directed verdict in favor of McCullough was denied by Hallock, who said the state had presented sufficient evidence.

The trial resumes this afternoon at the DeKalb County Courthouse.

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