Originally convicted and sent to prison for the murder of Maria Ridulph, Jack Daniel McCullough was given a certificate of innocence on Wednesday from Judge William Brady. Now that he has been officially exonerated for a crime he didn’t commit, the 77-year-old is demanding compensation from the state of Illinois for sending him to jail.
McCullough was arrested in 2011 and convicted in 2012 for the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph, a 7-year-old girl. After a review of the case, McCullough was released from prison in 2016 when prosecutors began to question his guilt in the crime.
By overturning his sentence and issuing the certificate earlier this week, Judge Brady declared the original murder conviction a mistake by the state. On Friday, the previously guilty McCullough filed a wrongful conviction federal lawsuit against Illinois, accusing law enforcement officials and prosecutors of framing him for the murder of Maria Ridulph.
According to filed documents, McCullough claims evidence against him was created by the state to make him look guilty in the murder of Maria Ridulph. He also says witnesses were influenced and any evidence that revealed his innocence was carefully hidden. Furthermore, the lawsuit accuses law enforcement agencies as well as the then-Dekalb County State Attorney Clay Campbell of trying to attain notoriety by solving the infamous cold murder case.
“After four years of incarceration, and over seven years of struggles and difficulties as a result of defendants’ misconduct, plaintiff has been made free — as a formal matter — from his wrongful conviction,” the suit states, as reported by CNN. “Although exonerated, Mr. McCullough must now attempt to resume his life despite the horrors he endured while imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.”
In addition to Campbell, other named defendants in the case include lead investigator Brion Hanley and analyst Larry Kot, both with the Illinois State Police. Former assistants from Campbell’s office, Julie Trevarthen and Victor Escarcida, as well as Seattle, Washington police officers Cloyd Steiger, Michael Ciesynski, and Irene Lau were also listed in the suit.
On December 3, 1957, Maria Ridulph disappeared while playing outside near her home in Sycamore, Illinois. At the time, she was reportedly kidnapped by someone named “Johnny.” Three individuals, including Jack McCullough who sometimes went by the name Johnny, were subsequently linked to the crime. Tragically, Maria’s dead body was discovered five months later.
Once the FBI got involved in the case, McCullough was cleared as evidence surfaced that proved he was not even in Sycamore at the time of Ridulph’s disappearance. He was in Chicago filling out paperwork to join the U.S. Air Force on the same day. A collect call made by McCullough to his home verified he was out of town. Also, three Air Force recruiters substantiated his story.
The murder of Maria Ridulph remained unresolved. In 2008, the cold case was re-opened after McCullough’s sister, Janet Tessier, called Illinois police claiming her mother was convinced he was the perpetrator. Two years later, one surviving witness picked McCullough’s image from a photo lineup.
McCullough was arrested in June 2011 and convicted in September 2012 after a four-day trial. Despite acknowledging there were “harmless” errors made in the murder trial, an appeals court upheld McCullough’s conviction.
When Richard Schmack took over Campbell’s state attorney job, the murder trial was reviewed at the request of McCullough’s attorneys. Schmack agreed with the FBI evidence obtained more than 50 years ago and determined McCullough was innocent.
McCullough, who now lives in Seattle, is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages from all government agencies involved as well as individuals who helped wrongfully convict him of murder. Thus far, none of the law enforcement agencies nor Campbell have offered any comments on the pending litigation.
The murder of Maria Ridulph may still get solved. Not long after McCullough’s conviction was overturned last year, prosecutors reviewed an anonymous tip pointing to another suspect. However, some people in Sycamore still believe McCullough is responsible for the crime.
[Featured Image by Barbara Rodriguez, File/AP Images]