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McCullough letter: ‘Set me free’

SYCAMORE – The man found guilty last month of kidnapping and killing a Sycamore girl almost 55 years ago blames the judge for throwing out documents that he says prove his innocence.

In a letter to the Daily Chronicle and the people of Sycamore, Jack D. McCullough wrote that FBI records which were barred from his trial provide his alibi for Dec. 3, 1957, the night 7-year-old Maria Ridulph was abducted not far from her Sycamore home.

“Many of you that were at my trial on Sept. 14 cheered as if your team had just scored the winning point at the last second of the game while I sat in shock and disbelief at the verdict of guilty,” McCullough wrote.

At McCullough’s trial, Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock ruled that the records could not be used as evidence because the people in them were dead and could not be cross-examined. Hallock found McCullough, 72, guilty of murder, kidnapping and abduction of an infant. He is being held in the DeKalb County Jail awaiting sentencing.

Jail staff confirmed that the handwritten letter did come from McCullough, whose lawyers will not allow him to see visitors from the news media.

Ridulph’s remains were found in rural Jo Daviess County in April 1958. A forensic anthropologist testified at trial that marks on bones of the throat and chest areas looked to be those left by a knife.

McCullough’s letter also details what the FBI records included, mentioning that the documents were given to him and his attorneys by the state, and both sides then acted as if they didn’t exist when the case went to trial.

“If all parties had read the documents, it should have caused a reasonable person to conclude that I could not have been ‘Johnny’ because at the exact time of the kidnapping, I was in Rockford, 40 miles away.

“People of Sycamore: These documents are in the courthouse at 133 State St. They are public records. Go there, demand to see them and set me free.

“All I want is a new trial that will allow the truth to be told,” McCullough wrote.

McCullough did not testify on his own behalf at trial.

DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell said Hallock ruled the FBI records were inadmissible because no one named in them had any independent knowledge as to McCullough’s whereabouts. Records indicate that McCullough told several people he had an alibi, not that anyone could establish he had an alibi.

“The truth is that the FBI reports did not and could not clear the defendant,” Campbell said.

McCullough’s attorney, interim Public Defender Tom McCulloch, said the passage of almost 55 years since Ridulph’s death seemed to be on the state’s side in the case, and the ruling that the FBI records were inadmissible likely will be a large part of an appeal.

“I think the problem ... is the passage of time made everything that was favorable to Jack inadmissible, at least according to the judge’s ruling,” he said. “I don’t think there is a rational explanation right at the moment.”

McCulloch said the records show McCullough made certain phone calls from Rockford to Sycamore at the time the kidnapping was said to have occurred.

“If ever there was a great alibi, that was it,” he said. “That’s all we wanted to do was use the records we were given.”

Maria’s older brother, Charles Ridulph, said there was plenty of evidence that showed McCullough was not where he claimed to be at the time of Ridulph’s kidnapping.

“But the evidence was there to disprove his alibi, had he presented one,” Charles Ridulph said.

Even if McCullough made the phone call from Rockford at 6:57 p.m., as the documents mentioned, Ridulph’s abduction took place about an hour earlier, Charles Ridulph said.

“There was plenty of time for that phone call,” he said.

Before an appeal would be filed, defense attorneys can take other steps. McCulloch said he plans to file a post-trial motion, although he’s not optimistic, in the next week to 10 days.

Asking for a new trial is a procedural requirement, but it’s not terribly productive, he said.

McCullough, who has been held at the county jail since July 2011, is set to be sentenced Nov. 30, and McCulloch said they would likely file a motion to reconsider the sentence afterward.

He said he and McCullough still have to talk about sentencing, since McCullough can choose to be sentenced under current day or 1957 statutes.

If the case is taken to the appellate court, the process can take years, which McCulloch said is concerning considering McCullough’s age.

Charles Ridulph said he is not worried about a potential appeal because Hallock based his verdict on testimony that he deemed credible.

“I mean, how can you dispute that?” Charles Ridulph said. “... It was like a puzzle. Everything together leaves no doubt.”

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