Man wrongfully convicted of 1957 murder appears in court to prove innocence

By Lindsey Salvatelli

SYCAMORE | Jack McCullough, the man wrongfully convicted of murder in the nation’s longest cold case, will take the stand during his certificate of innocence hearing next month.

McCullough was tried and found guilty in 2012 for the 1957 murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph of Sycamore. McCullough’s conviction was vacated last April by DeKalb County Judge William Brady after a review concluded McCullough could have not been responsible for Ridulph’s death.

If McCullough’s petition is granted, he will be eligible to receive up to $85,350 and cannot be tried again unless new evidence comes to light, according to Illinois State statutes.

Richard Schmack, former DeKalb County state’s attorney, supported McCullough’s petition; however, McCullough’s case was postponed after Rick Amato, DeKalb County state’s attorney who unseated Schmack in November, requested he be given more time to review the case.

McCullough’s attorney Russell Ainsworth filed a motion Monday to prevent the state’s attorney’s office from changing the position held by Schmack.

Amato was not immediately available for comment.

“Today we presented, the court with a witness list, a list of our exhibits of all the evidence we will present at that hearing to prove Jack’s innocence,” Ainsworth said.

Ainsworth said he intends to call in expert eye witnesses to take the stand during the April 6 hearing.

A man named “Johnny” was last seen with Ridulph before she disappeared Dec. 3, 1957, while she was playing with a friend, according to court documents.

An FBI investigation concluded that McCullough was in Rockford at the time of Ridulph’s disappearance.

The case went cold until 2008 when Janet Tessier, McCullough’s sister, contacted the Illinois State Police and said her mother, Eileen Tessier, told Janet that McCullough was responsible for Ridulph’s death just before Eileen died, according to court documents.

During the 2012 trial, records that had cleared McCullough in 1957 were not admissible in the hearing because the witnesses were either deceased or senile, among other issues, according to court documents.

Brady cited issues with an inmate’s testimony and the exclusion of evidence as the basis for his decision to vacate McCullough’s sentence.