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Crime & Courts

State's attorney unsure whether to fight Jack McCullough request for certificate of innocence

SYCAMORE – The State’s Attorney’s Office is still investigating into whether it will change positions on the 2012 murder conviction of Jack McCullough, Assistant State’s Attorney James Walsh said during a hearing Monday.

McCullough, 76, of Seattle, was convicted of the 1957 kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph and sentenced to life in prison.

He was freed in April after former DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack concluded that FBI reports from the time of the girl’s disappearance, combined with new evidence showing McCullough placed a collect call from Rockford 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.

Brady addressed the motion to bar the State’s Attorney’s Office from changing positions under current State’s Attorney Rick Amato on Monday. He said the burden would be on the state to present new evidence, not just a new opinion.

“Let’s say he walked into the police station and confessed; how can I stop them from changing their position?” Brady asked. “They may have to present new evidence as to why they are changing positions.”

Russell Ainsworth, an attorney with the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School who is representing McCullough, said the state would not be inconsistent in changing positions if it were based on new evidence.

Ainsworth also submitted a list of three witnesses, including McCullough, who will testify during an April 6 evidentiary hearing for his certificate of innocence. Other witnesses will include Nancy Steblay and Jan Edward Swafford, Ainsworth said.

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.

Ainsworth said he would like to go forward with presenting evidence in favor of his client’s innocence regardless of the position of the State’s Attorney’s Office.

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