A former police officer convicted in a decades-old murder case could go free

jack mcculllough

A military veteran and former police officer convicted of a murder that took place in 1957 could soon be released from prison, after an Illinois prosecutor announced on Friday that the man could not have committed the crime.

Jack McCullough, 76, was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for kidnapping, strangling and murdering 7-year-old Maria Ridulph nearly six decades earlier, in a conviction that drew national attention for being one of the country’s oldest cold cases to go to trial. 

State’s attorney for DeKalb County Richard Schmack said a review of evidence that had been excluded from McCullough’s trial indicated his innocence, the New York Times reported. Schmack will therefore not oppose the defendant’s motion to have his conviction dismissed.

“When I began this lengthy review, I had expected to find some reliable evidence that the right man had been convicted. No such evidence could be discovered,” Schmack said in a statement cited by CNN on Friday. “Compounding the tragedy by convicting the wrong man, and fighting further in the hopes of keeping him jailed, is not the proper legacy for our community, or for the memory of Maria Ridulph.”

In a 38-page court filing, Schmack said thousands of documents — including police and FBI reports — had been ruled inadmissible at trial and contained information that pointed to his innocence, not guilt. The most compelling piece of evidence was a collect phone call McCullough had made to his parents Dec. 3, the night Ridulph disappeared. Due to the time and location of the phone call, McCullough could not possibly have abducted the child, Schmack said.

Charles Ridulph, Maria’s brother, criticized the prosecutor’s decision and questioned his timeline of the night Ridulph was abducted.

“He’s thrown out all of the evidence that’s been presented in court,” Ridulph told The Times. “We feel helpless because we have no one representing us in these proceedings, no one representing the victim or us as victims in these proceedings because Richard Schmack, as the state’s attorney, is acting as the defense counsel.”

McCullough will appear in the DeKalb County court on Tuesday, when a motion will be filed by his public defender to dismiss the case. 

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