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Crime & Courts

State’s attorney: Investigate perjury claim in Ridulph murder case

Schmack wants special prosecutor to look for misconduct in prosecution of Jack McCullough

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack wants a DeKalb County judge to have a special prosecutor investigate if a Seattle police detective committed perjury, and other possible misconduct in the prosecution of Jack D. McCullough.

In a motion filed Monday in DeKalb County Circuit Court, Schmack said video evidence contradicts statements made both by DeKalb County prosecutors and by Seattle police detective Irene Lau in pre-trial proceedings and McCullough’s September 2012 trial.

“Any prosecution of Detective Lau would almost certainly involve inquiry into the handling of the entire investigation and prosecution of Jack D. McCullough, and such inquiry would clearly involve interviews with past, and perhaps, current employees of the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office,” Schmack wrote in the request. “… There exists an actual conflict of interest in said office investigating its own conduct, since such an investigation could conceivably lead to wrongdoing by others beyond the allegations against Detective Lau.”

Schmack declined to comment further Tuesday, citing his conflict of interest in the case.

McCullough, 76, of Seattle, was arrested by Seattle police in 2011. He was found guilty in September 2012 of the 1957 murder of 7-year-old Sycamore girl Maria Ridulph. McCullough was freed in April of this year, his conviction vacated and the charges against him dismissed after Schmack determined that phone records and FBI documents from 1957 and 1958 proved McCullough was in Rockford and could not have been in Sycamore on Dec. 3, 1957, at the time Maria was abducted from the corner of Archie Place and Center Cross Street, near her home.

At issue is a 1-hour, 18-minute video recording of an interview McCullough gave with Lau in a polygraph room at a Seattle police station in June 2011. The video was obtained by Casey Porter, McCullough’s son-in-law, according to court documents. Porter said Seattle police provided the video in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Porter also said that Lau’s testimony should be considered perjury, Schmack wrote in the motion.

Court transcripts show Lau, a 22-year police veteran at the time of the trial, testified that McCullough had described Ridulph as stunningly beautiful, and  “lovely, lovely, lovely.” Lau testified that McCullough talked about Maria “as if he was talking about someone he had been deeply, deeply in love with.”  

About 9 minutes into the interview, the video recording shows McCullough sounds like he describes Maria as a “loved little girl,” although the words are somewhat garbled. He also calls her “an adorable little girl,” with “great big brown eyes,” and says that everyone in the neighborhood loved her. He does become somewhat animated when describing her, a point former DeKalb County State's Attorney Clay Campbell made sure to elicit during trial testimony. At a later point in the interview, he also forcefully denies having abducted Maria, following it by saying "I loved that little girl, like the whole neighborhood loved that little girl."

Campbell couldn't immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Janey O'Connor, McCullough's stepdaughter, said Lau's testimony and statements didn't match the video.

"It's scary," she said in a phone call from Washington. "[Police officers] are trusted above everyone else."

She said she wants a special prosecutor to look into the prosecution of her stepfather, including Lau's testimony.

"I don't believe this is the first time this has happened," O'Connor said. "When people get away with something like this, why would they not do it again?"

She said she wants those responsible for the prosecution to be held accountable.

A Seattle police spokesman confirmed that Lau retired in 2013. The Seattle Times reported that Porter has filed a complaint against her with the Seattle Police, which may investigate it as a matter of public integrity. Seattle police said they could not comment further on the situation.

In the filing, Schmack claims that Julie Trevarthen, who at the time was a DeKalb County assistant state’s attorney, told the court Aug. 14, 2012, that there was no video or audio recording of the interview.

The motion concludes with Schmack asking a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the perjury claim, and “any other allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing in connection with the investigation of the kidnapping and murder of Maria Ridulph, and the prosecution of Jack D. McCullough, and to bring charges and prosecute same, if … such criminal charges are warranted.”

Trevarthen didn't return a phone call or email seeking comment Tuesday.

• Daily Chronicle News Editor Brett Rowland contributed to this story.

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