SYCAMORE – Jack McCullough, whose conviction in the 1957 kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph was thrown out earlier this year by a DeKalb County judge, wants to be declared innocent of the crime.
In a petition filed in DeKalb County, attorneys from The Exoneration Project – a free legal clinic at the University of Chicago representing the wrongfully convicted – are seeking a court hearing this week on McCullough’s request.
“Mr. McCullough did not commit the horrible crime for which he spent nearly five years of his life in prison,” attorneys wrote in a 29-page motion filed Oct. 11. “… Mr. McCullough desires to move on with his life and leave this conviction and its terrible consequences behind him.”
McCullough, 76, of Seattle, was convicted in connection with Ridulph’s killing in 2012 and sentenced to life in prison; his murder conviction was upheld by an Illinois appellate court in 2015.
He was freed in April after DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack concluded that FBI reports from the time of the girl’s disappearance, combined with new evidence showing the location of a Rockford pay phone from which McCullough is believed to have placed a collect call that evening, proved that McCullough had an alibi.
His conviction was vacated and charges against McCullough were dismissed – although not without the possibility they could be reinstated – by DeKalb County Judge William Brady.
At the time, Brady declined to declare McCullough innocent, saying he did not believe that prosecutors at the time acted with ill motives in prosecuting McCullough.
Clay Campbell was state’s attorney when McCullough was convicted in September 2012. Schmack defeated Campbell in the election the following November.
A certificate of innocence would clear McCullough of the crime once and for all, and could entitle him to compensation from the state of Illinois for false imprisonment.
The petition seeking to have McCullough declared innocent was signed by Russel Ainsworth, a partner at Chicago-based civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy. The firm has won several multimillion-dollar judgments for wrongfully convicted people in Illinois, including a $25 million jury award in 2012 for a man wrongfully convicted in a 1993 gang-related shooting in Chicago, and a $20 million settlement on behalf of a Waukegan man who spent 20 years in prison after being falsely convicted of rape and murder.
State law caps the amount awarded to those who were wrongfully convicted at $85,350 for those who serve five years or less behind bars – as McCullough did.
“The maximum amount of compensation available to Mr. McCullough is relatively small, given the magnitude of his loss, but significant for a man who left prison with very few assets to his name,” the court filing said.
McCullough also has the option to file a civil suit.