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McCullough appealing 1957 murder conviction

Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:38 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:40 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Alex Wroblewski)
Jack McCullough, a 73-year-old former police officer, speaks during an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times Aug. 1, 2013 at the Pontiac Correctional Center in Pontiac.

SYCAMORE – Jack McCullough brought a box of FBI documents to his sentencing hearing for the killing of Maria Ridulph that he said prove his innocence, and in his appeal he contends they should have been admitted as evidence in his trial.

The reports, compiled by FBI investigators as they sought leads in finding the person who abducted and killed 7-year-old Maria in 1957, were not allowed in McCullough’s trial in 2012. Judge James Hallock agreed with prosecutors that they were based on hearsay and contained no observations from investigators. McCullough has long contended that they show he was in Rockford at the time.

The disallowed documents are one of four main reasons McCullough and his defense lawyer Paul Glaser contend McCullough’s 2012 conviction and life sentence for the kidnapping, abduction and murder of Ridulph were unfair.

In the appeal, filed in Illinois Second District Appellate Court in Elgin, Glaser said the evidence at trial was insufficient to prove a guilty verdict, that Hallock erred in refusing to allow defense evidence that would have proved an alibi, that some of prosecutors’ evidence shouldn’t have been admitted, and that the convictions for kidnapping and abduction charges violate the one-act, one-crime rule.

Key testimony by Kathy Chapman, Ridulph’s childhood friend, identified McCullough, then known as John Tessier, as the man who was with Ridulph at the intersection of Center Cross Street and Archie Place in Sycamore when she was last seen. The man introduced himself as “Johnny” to the girls.

“This happened 30 years plus after the incident,” Glaser said. “We simply can’t believe that testimony.”

McCullough, 74, was sentenced in December 2012 after a five-day bench trial in September. He was arrested in 2011 in Seattle, where he had moved and changed his name.

Authorities said Ridulph and Chapman were playing at a street corner Dec. 3, 1957, when a man offered the girls a piggyback ride. Ridulph agreed to the piggyback ride, but Chapman ran home to get mittens. When she came back, both Ridulph and the man were gone.

Ridulph’s body was not found until April 1958, about 100 miles from Sycamore in some woods, the appeal states. A forensic archaeologist found knife wounds on Ridulph’s chest when she exhumed the body in July 2011.

In finding McCullough guilty in 2012, Hallock acknowledged that some witnesses’ memories were cloudy, “but that’s to be expected after these many years.”

Glaser takes issue with Chapman identifying McCullough as the suspect decades after the incident. He also called testimony from jailhouse informants unreliable because of their backgrounds. Christopher Diaz, who was in DeKalb County Jail on charges of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, testified he overheard McCullough admitting to giving a little girl a piggyback ride and running down an alley with her while another girl went to get her mittens, the appeal states.

Glaser also claims a statement from McCullough’s mother, Eileen Tessier, saying her son was involved was not credible because she was in the hospital under the influence of substances such as morphine when she made the statements. McCullough’s half-sister Janet Tessier came forward and told police about incriminating comments their mother made just before their mother died in 1994.

“We don’t think that statement should be given any credence,” Glaser said.

Clay Campbell, who was the DeKalb County State’s Attorney who prosecuted McCullough, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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