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Crime & Courts

Judge will consider appointing a special prosecutor in Ridulph case

Danielle Guerra - dguerra@shawmedia.com                                                   
DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack (center) shakes hands with Jim Kaplan (left), a partner with Chicago-based Quarles & Brady LLP, the Chicago firm that filed the brief on behalf of the MacArthur Justice Center, after court in front of Judge William Brady in Sycamore on Tuesday, June 21, 2016.
Danielle Guerra - dguerra@shawmedia.com DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack (center) shakes hands with Jim Kaplan (left), a partner with Chicago-based Quarles & Brady LLP, the Chicago firm that filed the brief on behalf of the MacArthur Justice Center, after court in front of Judge William Brady in Sycamore on Tuesday, June 21, 2016.

SYCAMORE –  A judge will allow a hearing to determine whether DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack’s involvement in a 59-year-old cold case is undermined by a campaign promise he allegedly made before taking office.

The hearing is scheduled for July 12, when attorney Bruce Brandwein will call three witnesses he said will prove Schmack’s conflict of interest in the investigation of the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph.

By Thursday, Brandwein must provide Schmack with any information he plans to present during the evidentiary hearing, Brady said. The state’s attorney has until July 6 to file a response.

Schmack declined to comment since he could be called as a witness in July.

Maria Ridulph’s older brother, Charles Ridulph, claimed in May the state’s attorney made a promise during his 2012 campaign to drop murder charges against Jack McCullough. McCullough was convicted in 2012 of abducting Maria Ridulph from near her Sycamore home and killing her. The conviction was upheld on appeal. Judge William Brady agreed with Schmack’s request to dismiss murder charges against McCullough, 76, in April.

In July, Brandwein plans to call former DeKalb County Assistant State’s Attorney Julie Trevarthen as a witness. She said she “heard Mr. Schmack state that if elected as state’s attorney he would dismiss the murder charges,” according to court documents.

Brandwein will have to prove who was around when and if any promises were made, what exactly was said, and to whom, Brady said.

Although Schmack denies having ever made a campaign promise to vacate McCullough’s murder conviction and have him released from the Pontiac Correctional Facility, he argued Tuesday that even if the allegations were true, they wouldn’t be grounds to dismiss him as prosecutor on the case.

“If in fact, the state’s attorney were to make promises of this sort, I think the thing is a complaint of fulfilling a campaign promise,” Schmack said in court Tuesday.

Just the appearance of an impropriety, however, would be enough to appoint a special prosecutor to look at the evidence and determine whether the state was correct in its decision, Brandwein said.

“This is something different than a state’s attorney getting elected and saying, ‘Judge, I reviewed the file, I did what I was supposed to do, and my decision is there’s not enough evidence,’” Brandwein said. “That’s not what we have here. We have an absolute appearance of impropriety. “

Attorneys Thomas McDonell and Jim Kaplan attended court Tuesday on behalf of the MacArthur Justice Center, a public interest law firm that is part of Northwestern University School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic. The firm filed a friend of the court brief in the case Monday. The brief claims Schmack has no conflict of interest in the case and no special prosecutor is warranted.

Brady will take into consideration the MacArthur Justice Center’s filing, but would like the case to come to a close soon, he told Brandwein on Tuesday.

“I’ve been addressing this issue now for six months. It’s at a point in time here I would certainly expect there be some resolution to these issues, and I’m going to hold you to that,” Brady said.

Regardless of the judge’s decision July 12, the hearing is a victory for the Ridulph family, Brandwein said.

“Obviously, we don’t know what the end result’s going to be, but at least they’ll get to have their day in court and have a judge make a ruling based on the evidence.”

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