An Illinois man wrongfully convicted of the 1957 kidnapping and killing of a 7-year-old girl was granted a certificate of innocence this week after serving four years of a life sentence, making it possible for him to sue the state.
Jack McCullough was found guilty in 2012 of the murder of Maria Ridulph, who was kidnapped on December 3, 1957 while playing in the snow outside of her Sycamore home.
Maria and a friend had been approached by a young man who offered them piggyback rides, the friend told CBS.
“He stopped to talk to us... told us that his name, his name was Johnny,” Kathy Chapman told 48 Hours.
Maria jumped on the man’s back, went home to get a doll, returned and then Chapman left to get mittens. When Chapman came back, both Maria and the man were gone.
Maria’s remains were found months later in a forest.
McCullough, who lived in the community and was 18 at the time of Maria’s disappearance, was cleared as a suspect in the 1950s, but investigators again focused on him after one of his half-sisters told authorities their mother said on her deathbed that she believed he may have killed Maria, CBS wrote.
The former police officer always maintained his innocence, telling cops that he had been 40 miles away when Maria disappeared.
But evidence was kept out of McCullough’s trial that supported his alibi, officials said.
A report from DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack said evidence, including phone records, showed McCullough had been in Rockford, about 40 miles northwest of Sycamore, to enlist in the Air Force at the time of the abduction.
It would have been impossible for McCullough to have kidnapped Maria and driven to Rockford in time to make a documented telephone call and meet with recruiters, Schmack said.
“I truly wish that this crime had really been solved, and her true killer were incarcerated for life. 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 at the time. “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.”
McCullough was ordered to be released in April 2016, and on Wednesday, DeKalb County Associate Judge William Brady granted him a certificate of innocence.
But the judgement did not dissuade Maria’s sister, Pat Quinn, from believing the right man had been charged with her sister’s murder.
“Do I feel Jack McCullough killed my sister?” Quinn said outside the court, CBS wrote. “Yes, I do.”
McCullough is undecided on whether to file a lawsuit or seek compensation, Aisha Davis of the Chicago-based Exoneration Project said.
“We’re all very glad that he doesn’t have to worry about this being over his head, and he can finally move on,” she said.