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Prosecutor recommends against perjury investigation in McCullough case

Jack McCullough touches the back of attorney Russell Ainsworth of the Exoneration Project as Ainsworth speaks to the media April 5, 2017, at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore.
Jack McCullough touches the back of attorney Russell Ainsworth of the Exoneration Project as Ainsworth speaks to the media April 5, 2017, at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – A special prosecutor said a Seattle detective being sued by Jack McCullough for perjury should not be charged.

At the request of then-DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack, Brian Towne from the State's Attorney's Appellate Prosecutor's Office was named to the case in early 2017, after McCullough's murder conviction in the slaying of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph, of Sycamore, was vacated April 15, 2016.

After Towne was indicted in September on charges of having his staff conduct political activity during office hours, donating thousands in public finds to LaSalle-Peru Township High School club, and using funds generated by a controversial asset forfeiture program for personal expenses, he was replaced by Charles Colburn of the State's Attorney's Appellate Prosecutor's Office.

Schmack asked for a special attorney in August 2016 to investigate Seattle police detective Irene Lau claiming she'd lied in DeKalb County Court, as well as any other investigators who worked with her on her testimony. Schmack said in court records that McCullough's son-in-law, Casey Porter, had received video of McCullough's interview with Lau on June 29, 2011, via a Freedom of Information Act request, and that McCullough never referred to Maria as "lovely, lovely, lovely," as Lau testified in court.

Porter wanted then-DeKalb County Assistant State's Attorney Julie Trevarthan, and the office on the whole, to be investigated in connection with the perjury accusation, and is flummoxed by Colburn's report, which states only Lau could have been criminally charged, and that other investigators are off the hook because of statute of limitations.

“Before I got that video, no one could reasonably know she committed perjury,” Porter said. “There’s the issue of when do you know about it? When does the statute of limitations begin?"

Colburn said the disclosure of the video does not affect the statutes of limitations, as they pertain to the local state's attorney's office.

Colburn said he couldn't comment on the federal lawsuit McCullough filed in April 2017, shortly after he was granted a certificate of innocence, through his Chicago-based lawyer, Russell Ainsworth. The suit targets DeKalb County, the city of Sycamore, former DeKalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell and assistant state's attorneys Victor Escarcida and Trevarthen, Sycamore police officers Daniel Hoffman and Tiffany Ziegler, as well as Illinois State Police Special Agent Brion Hanley, who was named the Illinois State Police's "Officer of the Year" in 2013 for his work as lead investigator on the case. It also names Seattle police detectives and the city of Seattle.

Ainsworth said in April 2017 that a successful lawsuit of this sort typically brings the plaintiff $1 million to $2 million for each year of imprisonment, but he claims McCullough's circumstances make his case unique.

McCullough has already settled with the city of Sycamore for the police department's involvement in his investigation, to the tune of $350,000. He's also entitled to about $85,000 in damages from the state for the five years he spent in prison.

In the perjury case, Schmack said Trevarthan claimed McCullough's interview with Lau wasn't recorded, whereas Porter claims Lau told McCullough in the interview he was being recorded – which was the case.

"If the court is going to allow police officers to lie in court, you've got real problems in DeKalb," Porter said.

DeKalb County Judge William Brady said he received Colburn's report over lunch Thursday, but that he and Chief Judge Robbin Stuckert had to go over the report before it was released Friday morning. Colburn's report is merely a recommendation, and the case will go back before Brady at 9 a.m. July 19.

Maria went missing Dec. 3, 1957, and her body was later found in Galena. McCullough, born John Cherry on Nov. 27, 1939, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was convicted Sept. 14, 2012, by Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock in a trial in which original police and FBI reports about the crime were barred, and witnesses relied on 55-year-old memories about the events of that night.

In a lawsuit he filed in 2017 against Illinois State Police, police departments in Seattle and Sycamore, and DeKalb County, McCullough accuses police and prosecutors of conspiring to frame him. Sycamore has reached a settlement with McCullough.

He said they created a false timeline for the crime in order to explain away the fact that FBI investigators’ reports indicated that he had placed a collect call from Rockford to his home at 6:57 p.m. the night Maria disappeared.

The FBI reports from the time of Maria’s disappearance were barred from the trial because the people who had created them were no longer living.

McCullough said they created a biased photo lineup leading to false identification by the only witness to the crime, Kathy Sigman, who was playing with Maria the night she was abducted near the intersection of Center Cross Street and Archie Place.

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