SYCAMORE – DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack said that Jack D. McCullough was falsely convicted of the 1957 murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph.
Schmack, in his answer to McCullough’s appeal for post-conviction relief, said the state joins in McCullough’s request to set aside his conviction because he was arrested under false pretenses and because evidence proves that he could not have been in Sycamore at the time Maria Ridulph was abducted.
“… The people are ethically compelled and constrained to admit the existence of clear and convincing evidence showing Defendant to have been convicted of an offense which he did not commit,” Schmack wrote.
The original conviction was secured while Clay Campbell, a Republican, was DeKalb County state’s attorney in September 2012. Schmack, a Democrat, defeated Campbell in the election that November. His assessment of the facts of the case proved far different from that of his predecessor and police investigators.
In a news release sent Friday, Schmack said that according to his timeline, which relied on police reports from the time, it was impossible for McCullough to have been in Sycamore on Dec. 3, 1957, at the time Maria was abducted.
Schmack said DeKalb County Sheriff’s reports from the time establish that Maria was abducted from near the intersection of Archie Place and Center Cross Street between 6:45 and 6:55 p.m., and that McCullough had placed a collect call from Rockford to his parents in Sycamore at 6:57 p.m.
He said that police reports from the time were improperly excluded from the trial, and prove McCullough is innocent.
“It is a manifest impossibility for [McCullough] to have been in Sycamore at 6:45 and also have made a phone call in downtown Rockford at 6:57,” Schmack wrote. “… It is absolutely clear that in 1957, the FBI, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department and the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office properly cleared him of involvement.”
McCullough, who was known as John Tessier at the time Maria Ridulph disappeared, was arrested in Seattle in July 2011 and convicted by a judge after a week-long trial in September 2012.
At trial, McCullough’s half-sister, Janet Tessier, testified that weeks before her death in 1994, their mother had told her “those two little girls, the one that disappeared, John did it. You’ve got to tell somebody.”
Two of McCullough’s other half-sisters, Katherine Caulfield and Jeanne Tessier, testified that they did not see McCullough at their house the night that Maria disappeared or the next morning.
But Schmack said that Caulfield, who testified that Maria had disappeared earlier than 6:45 p.m., was disproved by “newly discovered documents,” which prove that Maria’s abduction was not reported until 8 p.m. and so there could not have been anyone out searching for her at 7 p.m.
Schmack also said that Kathy Sigman, the last person to see Maria alive, incorrectly identified McCullough’s photo from the period, both from a photo array shown to her by investigators and at trial.
He said that the photos were displayed by an officer who knew which person was the suspect – a practice now not allowed – and McCullough’s photo was dissimilar from the others. He also said that she previously had identified someone else as the perpetrator, making her recollection unreliable.
“Her selection in 2010 of a black-and-white headshot of him as a teenager is clearly an unintentional and tragic mistake on her part,” Schmack said.
Casey Porter, who lives in Washington, has long pressed his father-in-law’s innocence in the crime.
On Friday, Porter said former DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell and Illinois State Police investigator Brion Hanley should be put in jail for their roles in the case.
“I used to think that it was just mistakes. I used to give people the benefit of the doubt,” he said Friday in a phone interview from Washington. “But Campbell went way over the line. It was a complete conspiracy. Once they had Jack arrested and they dug up the body, they had to go the rest of the way.
“Hanley and Campbell lied. They should be in jail.”
Meanwhile, Charles Ridulph, Maria’s older brother, called Schmack’s position “ridiculous.” Ridulph said Schmack was totally disregarding all the other evidence that pointed to McCullough’s guilt, including later police reports from 1958, which changed the original timeframe.
“A few months ago [Schmack] gave me a copy of his time frame, and I went through that and it just made me sick,” Ridulph said. “There’s a reason that none of [the old police reports were] allowed into evidence to begin with, because there were so many discrepancies and you couldn’t cross-examine it.”
Schmack said he had investigated the case hoping to find that it really had been solved, but he could find no evidence that it had been.
“When I began this lengthy review I had expected to find some reliable evidence that the right man had been convicted,” Schmack wrote. “No such evidence could be discovered.”