SYCAMORE – Convicted child murderer Jack McCullough wants another chance to prove his innocence, claiming that his 2012 trial and subsequent appeal were tainted by prosecutors' misconduct and that a new witness will support his alibi.
In a petition filed June 19 in DeKalb County Circuit Court, McCullough writes that Janice Edwards, his girlfriend at the time, would testify that she received a collect call from him at 7 p.m. from Rockford on Dec. 3, 1957, the day 7-year-old Maria Ridulph disappeared, saying that he'd be late for their date. He says Edwards can testify that McCullough was dropped of at her Sycamore home at 9 p.m. that day.
McCullough has claimed phone records, FBI investigation reports and comments from military recruiters showed he was in the Rockford area when Maria Ridulph was abducted.
"Janice Edwards was not known to be alive as a witness available to the defense at trial or before trial, and is crucial to the defendant's alibi," McCullough wrote in the 14-page handwritten petition.
Clay Campbell, the former DeKalb County State's Attorney who prosecuted McCullough, dismissed his claims as a last-ditch attempt to escape prison.
"Mr. McCullough is a cold-blooded killer serving a life sentence," he said. "This is a desperate effort to to convince a court he's innocent."
McCullough has maintained that he was in Rockford when Maria Ridulph was kidnapped and has presented FBI documents that he says back up his claims.
Campbell said there was nothing in McCullough's petition that would "indicate he should get an evidentiary hearing." He called it "frivolous."
"Investigators spent a lot of time tracking down Mr. McCullough's stories," he said.
McCullough, 75, was sentenced to life in prison in December 2012. In February, an appellate court upheld McCullough's murder conviction, but tossed two other convictions – kidnapping and abduction of an infant – because they didn’t affect McCullough’s life sentence and because prosecutors did not prove the statute of limitations had not expired.
McCullough, who is serving his sentence at Pontiac Correctional Center, has appealed his case to the Illinois Supreme Court. The appeal is pending.
McCullough also claims that prosecutors charged him with kidnapping and abduction of an infant despite the statute of limitations issue so they could illegally introduce evidence and witnesses who otherwise wouldn't have been allowed.
In all, the petition outlines five allegations of misconduct by prosecutors, including a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights by putting him near known informants in jail.
DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack declined to comment Friday on the petition because the state doesn't participate in the first stage of the post-conviction process.
It would be up to a judge to determine if the petition has presented the gist of a constitutional claim and can move to the second stage of the process. A judge must make a ruling on the petition within 90 days of its filing, in this case by Sept. 17. If there is no ruling, the request would automatically go on to the second stage of the process.
Ridulph's murder was the oldest cold case in the U.S. to be solved.