Practically speaking, even the lightest sentence probably would have constituted a life sentence for 73-year-old Jack D. McCullough.
But Judge James Hallock’s decision Monday to sentence McCullough to life imprisonment for the Dec. 3, 1957, kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph of Sycamore seems exactly right.
McCullough walked free for decades after Ridulph’s disappearance and death shocked Sycamore. He lived a long life without having to face the consequences that finally befell him Monday.
Maria died a little girl. Her parents died never knowing what happened to her or who had killed her.
There are some who defend McCullough still, and he already has begun his appeal, as people often do when the prospect of spending the rest of their life behind bars becomes reality.
McCullough brought a box of old FBI reports to court Monday, telling the judge the truth was in the box; that he didn’t kill Maria.
He may keep saying it until his voice gives out, but the fact remains McCullough was not deprived of his rights. He decided to have Hallock decide his case rather than a jury. He decided not to testify on his own behalf, as was his right.
Now McCullough has been convicted and sentenced. His stay in the DeKalb County Jail and the periodic field trips out of confinement to go to court are over.
Unless his appeal succeeds, never again will McCullough be a free man.
That might not be cause for rejoicing, but it is cause for relief.
It is a relief that Maria’s murder will not go down as unsolved in the annals of justice. It is a relief to think that no matter how long killers hide, they eventually can be found; that justice can wait patiently, sometimes for decades.
Maria’s surviving family members, including her older brother. Charles Ridulph of Sycamore, say there’s only cold comfort in knowing McCullough was finally brought to justice and given the life sentence he should have received more than 50 years ago.
This episode has been painful for them. Old memories have been rehashed, old wounds reopened. We respect them for enduring it and carrying the burden for as long as they have.
Better they have cold comfort than none at all.