‘Crimes conceived in hell don’t have angels at witnesses’

By Alan Kozeluh

Jack McCullough, 72, was found guilty Sept. 14 in the 55-year-old kidnapping and murder case of Maria Ridulph.

The gallery lept to its feet in applause before James Hallock, Kane County associate judge, could finish reading the verdict.

The state built its case on circumstantial and physical evidence concerning the condition of Ridulph’s body in combination with the testimonies of McCullough’s inmates, a forensic anthropologist, a childhood friend of Ridulph and family of both McCullough and Ridulph.

In closing arguments, Interim Public Defender Tom McCulloch pointed to a lack of direct physical evidence linking McCullough to the crime. He also questioned the credibility of some of the witnesses.

“Jailhouse informants are not inherently reliable,” he said of McCullough’s inmates. He suggested that there would be a benefit to the prisoners in coming forward with any information: “Such a witness has a motive to falsify.”

McCulloch also attempted to cast doubt on state of mind of the other witness’s. In the case of Ridulph’s friend, Kathy Sigman-Chapman, he called into question her identification of McCullough from a photo of him from around the time of the murder.

“Why is it that 50 years later this process is more accurate or more reliable?” said McCulloch.

Julie Trevarthen, DeKalb County assistant state’s attorney, said it should be no surprise that McCullough would confide in untrustworthy people.

“Crimes conceived in hell don’t have angels as witnesses,” Trevarthen said.

Hallock acknowledged the arguments of both sides in his verdict. He had confidence that the prosecutors had not promised the inmates anything in exchange for their testimony, but said that alone does not make the testimony credible.

“It is the function of the court to weigh the credibility of all witnesses,” Hallock said.

The other witnesses he did not discount, as he said, “The court finds the other witnesses were credible although their memories were clouded by the passage of time.”