SYCAMORE – A judge put an end Friday to a victim’s family’s push to have a special prosecutor review the evidence that DeKalb County prosecutors used to free the man convicted of Sycamore’s most sensational crime.
DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge William Brady ruled that State’s Attorney Richard Schmack had no conflict of interest when Schmack concluded Jack McCullough was innocent of the 1957 murder of 7-year-old Sycamore girl Maria Ridulph.
Brady denied a request from Charles Ridulph, Maria’s older brother, to have a special prosecutor review how Schmack handled the case. Charles Ridulph had claimed Schmack had a conflict of interest in the case. However, the judge found there was no conflict.
Brady said that despite his personal feelings, he had to follow the law and dismiss the case.
“This is a case where, if it was to be for personal favoritism, it would certainly fall on the side of the Ridulphs, people who have suffered through a lifetime of immeasurable tragedy. People who have conducted themselves in a fashion that would make their parents proud. It would not be hard for me to say they’ve earned this right,” Brady said. “But, I can’t run from my responsibilities because of my personal animus, my personal feelings. I have to consider the case based on the law.”
The law, he said, didn’t call for the appointment of a special prosecutor. His decision ends the case’s six-year journey through the court system.
McCullough, 76, of Seattle, was convicted of the crime in 2012, but was released from prison in April when Brady granted Schmack’s request to vacate the 76-year-old man’s murder conviction. Schmack said that after an exhaustive review of the evidence in the case he concluded that McCullough was in Rockford at the time of Maria’s disappearance from the corner of Center Cross and Archie Place.
Charles Ridulph claimed in May that Schmack promised during his 2012 campaign for DeKalb County state’s attorney to drop murder charges against Jack McCullough. Ridulph’s attorney, Bruce Brandwein, argued that the promise created a conflict of interest that required a special prosecutor to be appointed. Schmack denied he had a conflict of interest in the case. Brady agreed.
At Friday’s hearing, Brandwein had planned to call witnesses to try to prove Schmack’s involvement in the 59-year-old cold case was undermined by a campaign promise. Those plans were scrapped when Brandwein’s key witness, former DeKalb County Assistant State’s Attorney Julie Trevarthen, said she was too sick to make it to court.
Brandwein initially asked for a continuance so Trevarthen could be present to testify. However, Brady said the matter could proceed. He said he would consider Trevarthen’s affidavit and other court documents in making his decision. After a short recess, the judge spoke at length about the constitution and how he arrived at his conclusion.
After Friday’s hearing, Schmack said “the judge ruled correctly.”
Ridulph said he was disappointed by the ruling, but saw no reason to appeal the decision given the limited circumstances under the law for appointing a special prosecutor. He also said the state’s laws regarding special prosecutors should be broadened.
Even if Schmack, a Democrat, loses his position to Republican challenger Rick Amato in the November election, Ridulph said the case against Jack McCullough was unlikely to be retried.
McCullough lived near Maria Ridulph when the 7-year-old girl disappeared from the corner of Archie Place and Center Cross Street on Dec. 3, 1957.
McCullough was 18 and known as John Tessier at the time of the crime. He has long maintained he was visiting Air Force recruiters in Rockford at the time Maria disappeared, and that FBI reports from the time prove this.
Schmack said phone records from the time verified McCullough’s claim that he placed a collect call from the downtown Rockford Post Office at 6:57 p.m. that night, making it impossible for McCullough to have been in Sycamore at the time witnesses told police Maria was abducted.
After he was released from prison, McCullough returned to his home in Washington.