SYCAMORE – While a former Sycamore resident was “relieved to tears” at being found not guilty on charges he raped his half-sister 50 years ago, the DeKalb County state’s attorney called the verdict a “miscarriage of justice.”
Jack D. McCullough, 72, was charged with one count of rape and four counts of indecent liberties with a child.
He also faces separate charges in the 1957 kidnapping and killing of 7-year-old Sycamore girl Maria Ridulph; those charges were not part of the two-day bench trial held this week.
DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert delivered her verdict in the rape case about 11 a.m. Thursday at the end of a hearing at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore. In explaining her ruling, Stuckert said the state did not meet the burden of proof in proving the charges.
But State’s Attorney Clay Campbell said prosecutors were barred by Stuckert from presenting information that could have aided their case.
The rape case centered on allegations made by the accuser – McCullough’s half-sister Jeanne Tessier – who was 14 at the time she said she was assaulted. The Daily Chronicle typically does not name people who say they were raped, but Tessier has given permission to have her name used.
Tessier testified Tuesday that on a warm day in 1962, McCullough, then 22 and known as John Tessier, pulled up outside the family’s 227 Center Cross St. home in a red and white convertible, took her to 751 Carlson St., led her to a dark room in the house, and raped her on a cot on the floor.
She said McCullough offered her to a couple of friends, and two other men raped her. A third man who sat in the room and did not rape her told her afterward to put her clothes back on.
McCullough did not testify.
Although Jeanne Tessier was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read, relatives of hers were, including sister Katheran Caulfield and brother Bob Tessier. Caulfield sobbed and bent over in her chair when the verdict was read.
Stuckert said the state did not ask questions of certain witnesses that may have offered further clarification – such as why Tessier said she felt she was in danger after getting into the convertible with McCullough – or asking a longtime resident of 751 Carlson St. what that neighborhood looked like in 1962, instead of showing an aerial photo from 2009.
Regarding testimony from the victim in a 1982 case in Milton, Wash. – McCullough was charged with statutory rape and pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful communication with a minor – Stuckert said there are many reasons for a plea agreement, and she would not speculate on the outcome of that case.
Stuckert said the state produced no evidence that McCullough held a position of trust with his half-sister. The evidence was strikingly void of specifics about their relationship, she said, and prosecutors “simply did not ask.”
Stuckert brought up the length of time that had passed before the rape was reported – Tessier made her charges to police when they interviewed her in 2009 while investigating the Ridulph case – and said a failure to speak generally discredits the complaining witness and may amount to a nonexistence of fact.
There may have been a good reason on Tessier’s part, but the state did not ask Tessier why she did not report the rape for more than 40 years, Stuckert said. The state also failed to ask how she was affected by the sexual assault.
In 50 years, Stuckert said, memories can fade and witnesses can relocate or die. But one thing that has not changed since 1962 is that all defendants are presumed innocent until the state meets its burden of proof.
In this case, the state failed to do that, she said.
After Stuckert delivered her verdict, family members of Tessier walked out of the courtroom with tears in their eyes and hugged each other.
DeKalb County public defender Regina Harris, McCullough’s attorney, said she thought Wednesday the case could go either way. She said the case was more about the law than facts.
“I’m gratified that the force of the law was on our side,” Harris said.
After the verdict was read, McCullough was “relieved to tears,” she said.
With Tessier family members standing behind him in front of the courthouse, Campbell called the verdict a “miscarriage of justice.”
He said prosecutors had a litany of evidence they wanted to provide, but Stuckert barred them from addressing much of it – including that Tessier said she had been sexually assaulted by McCullough since she was 4 years old and that other siblings also said they were assaulted by him.
Campbell said Stuckert questioned why he did not ask Tessier for the reason she did not report the rape earlier. Had he asked that question, he said, he would have been in direct violation of court order.
At a hearing in March, Stuckert determined potential testimony regarding McCullough’s past sexual activity would be allowed from only one of six witnesses the state wanted to call – the victim in the 1982 Washington case. Campbell said that ruling prevented prosecutors from bringing up other alleged sexual conduct among he and his sisters.
Harris said she understands Campbell’s perspective, but she said there were other ways the kind of information Stuckert sought could have been presented without violating court orders.
Stuckert’s disregard for the testimony from Tessier and the victim in the 1982 case sends a sad message to sexual assault victims, Campbell said.
Tessier’s brother, Bob Tessier, called the decision a “travesty of justice” and said the family was very upset. He said Jeanne Tessier was vindicated during Campbell’s closing arguments because his statements lifted the burden the family has felt.
Campbell said prosecutors will continue to prepare for the other trial that brings charges of kidnapping and murder against McCullough. Harris said she’s fairly certain that case will go to trial this year, possibly in late summer or early fall.
Maria Ridulph’s older brother – Charles Ridulph, who observed this week’s trial – said he prays justice will be served in the murder trial.
“We are confident that that will be the result,” Ridulph said.
He noted Thursday’s verdict may be a blessing in disguise because prosecutors may be more aware of what needs to be presented during McCullough’s murder trial.
Though the Constitution bars a retrial of McCullough on these charges, Campbell said he’ll review other options he may have about the ruling. He would not elaborate on those options.
McCullough was arrested July 1 in Seattle and indicted Aug. 19 by a grand jury on charges of murder, kidnapping and abduction of an infant in the Ridulph case. She was abducted from her Sycamore neighborhood Dec. 3, 1957, and her remains were found nearly five months later in rural Jo Daviess County.
The state’s attorney’s office has argued any statutes of limitation in the two cases were put on hold because McCullough was not a resident of Illinois from Dec. 11, 1957-Nov. 1, 1961; Nov. 30, 1962-May 1, 1969; and Oct. 31, 1970-present.
McCullough is being held in the county jail on more than $3 million bond.