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Crime & Courts

Judge denies convicted Sycamore child murderer's appeal

SYCAMORE – Convicted child murderer Jack McCullough could spend the rest of his life in prison after a DeKalb County Judge dismissed the 75-year-old man's most recent appeal.

McCullough, 75, was sentenced to life in prison in December 2012 for the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph, 7, of Sycamore. He is an inmate at the Pontiac Correctional Center.

Judge Robert Pilmer dismissed McCullough's petition for post-conviction relief this week calling it "frivolous and without merit," according to court documents. After Pilmer's dismissal, the U.S. Supreme Court is the only avenue left for McCullough to appeal.

The dismissal came as a relief to Maria Ridulph's family, her older brother Charles Ridulph said.

"I was glad to hear it," Ridulph, of Sycamore, said Friday afternoon. "The community as a whole needs some closure on this."

Maria Ridulph's death and McCullough's subsequent arrest, trial, conviction, sentencing and appeal were extremely difficult for the family.

"It's has been so horrible," Charles Ridulph said. "But the people from the community and even those from outside the community ... talking with them through the process has been so much a part of our healing."

In June, McCullough filed a petition for post-conviction relief claiming that his 2012 trial and subsequent appeal were tainted by prosecutors' misconduct and that a new witness would support his alibi.

In his order, Pilmer went through McCullough's claims one by one and determined each was frivolous, according to court records.

The Illinois Supreme Court denied McCullough's appeal in May, according to court records. Pilmer wrote that "the record does not reflect whether [McCullough] sought further review in the United States Supreme Court."

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.

In his June petition, McCullough claimed 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 Ridulph disappeared, saying that he'd be late for their date. McCullough also said Edwards could testify that he was dropped of at her Sycamore home at 9 p.m. that day.

Those claims didn't convince the judge.

"As [McCullough's] claim and argument with respect to newly discovered evidence lacks any factual corroboration or explanation as to the absence of the corroborative facts, this claim is without merit," Pilmer wrote.

Pilmer also said that McCullough failed to explain why he didn't know Edwards was alive at the time of the trial or include an affidavit from Edwards in support of the petition.

McCullough has claimed phone records, FBI investigation reports and comments from military recruiters show he was in the Rockford area when Maria Ridulph was abducted. Throughout his trial and sentencing, McCullough has maintained he is innocent.

"Although [McCullough] alludes to a claim of actual innocence in the title of his petition and in prefatory language, and such claim is not supported by any facts which may be corroborated or an explanation as to why such facts are unavailable," Pilmer wrote. "Accordingly, [McCullough's] assertion of actual innocence is frivolous and without merit."

DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack declined to comment Friday on the case.

McCullough, a 17-year-old known as John Tessier when Ridulph was murdered, was one of more than 100 people who were briefly suspects after the girl's disappearance. The case went cold for decades until McCullough’s half sister told Illinois State Police about a deathbed confession from their mother.

Ridulph's murder was the oldest cold case in the U.S. to be solved.

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