A 76-year-old man who was sentenced to life in prison for killing a girl in Illinois 60 years ago was finally released after a prosecutor concluded that he was wrongfully convicted of the crime.
In 2012, the court found Seattle-resident Jack McCullough guilty killing 7-year-old Maria Ridulph, which occurred in Sycamore, Illinois in 1957.
However, following a six-month review of case documents last year, DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack discovered evidence that support McCullough's claim that he was in Rockford during the time of Ridulph's disappearance.
Schmack pushed for the court to issue McCullough's release, pointing out that he is convinced that the investigation was flawed and that McCullough was innocent. He said that the investigators were eager to prove that they had solved one of the oldest cold cases in U.S. history to go to trial.
Judge William P. Brady agreed with Schmack's findings and ordered for McCullough to be released from jail.
"I'm not blind to the importance of this proceeding to many people," Brady said.
As McCullough's family celebrated his release, Ridulph's sister and brother who were also present at the proceeding displayed little emotion over the court's decision.
Janey O'Connor, McCullough's stepdaughter, picked him up a few hours later from a prison near the courthouse. McCullough was released on a recognizance bond but is not allowed to leave the state of Illinois until the state attorney's office makes a formal decision regarding a retrial.
O'Connor said that the first thing her stepfather wanted to do after his release was to grab a bite of pepperoni pizza, which he had sorely missed during his time in jail. He also wants to catch up with his children and grandchildren and shop for them to make up for all the birthdays and Christmases he had missed.
In a recent interview, McCullough expressed his disappointment about having been wrongfully convicted by the court.
"They didn't just punish me - they punished ... my whole family," McCullough said.
He added that he wrote to state officials and even to the president to ask them to intervene in his case but said his letters were left unanswered.
Ridulph's Disappearance And Death
Ridulph was playing with a friend outdoors on Dec. 3, 1957 when a man who was identified only as "Johnny" approached the two girls and offered to give them piggyback rides. Ridulph's friend went back inside to get mittens but when she came back, Ridulph and the man were already gone.
Ridulph's lifeless body was later found by forest hikers five months after she disappeared.
McCullough was implicated in after Ridulph's friend identified him in a lineup of six photographs. He was the one who stood out because he was the only one who didn't wear a suitcoat in his picture. The photographs of other men were also taken from professional yearbooks except for McCullough's.
Prosecutors also pointed to McCullough during his trial in 2012 as the man who referred to himself as Johnny, stating that he used to go by the name of John Tessier when he was younger. They added that McCullough, who was then just 18 years old, abducted Ridulph, choked her and stabbed her to death.
McCullough denied the allegations and said that he was in Rockford at the time of the crime in 1957 trying to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.
Schmack said found new phone records that supported McCullough's alibi. McCullough made a collect call to his family at 6:57 in the evening from telephone booth in Rockford located 40 miles away from where Ridulph was taken between 6:45 p.m. and 6:55 p.m.
Following the court's ruling, Charles Ridulph, Maria's brother, said that they would seek to have a special prosecutor take over McCullough's case. Judge Brady is expected to consider Ridulph's motion on April 22.