Judge Denies Request to Immediately Free Convicted Murderer in Light of New Evidence

McCullough was found guilty in 2012 and sentenced to life in prison. Now, a prosecutor says that conviction may have been a mistake

In a Dekalb County courtroom, Friday, a judge balked at taking action in a case where both the defense and prosecution agree that a convicted murderer could not have committed the crime for which he was imprisoned.

Judge William Brady denied a request from Jack McCullough's lawyers seeking to have the convicted murderer exonerated and freed immediately on the basis of new evidence prosecutors say proves he didn't commit the crime.

Brady said McCullough would need to follow procedure for a potential exoneration and maintained the next scheduled hearing date of April 15.

"My courtroom, my rules," Brady said. 

McCullough's new attorney, Gabriel Fuentes, who is handling the case for free from the Chicago legal giant Jenner and Block, pressed the judge for McCullough's freedom.

"There are no disputed issues before the court," he noted. "This is an adversarial process, and the adversaries in this case agree."

The case took an unusual turn last week, when Dekalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack said newly obtained phone evidence proved conclusively that McCullough could not have been in Sycamore at the time 7-year-old Maria Ridulph was abducted in December of 1957.

"There isn't room for more deliberation," Fuentes said. "Another day, or another week, is another aggravation of a grave injustice."

But the judge refused to entertain the pleas, insisting that he wanted to follow a set process, which would take time.

"I have some obligation to make sure that I understand the position of both parties," he said. "I also have the opinions of a trial judge and an appellate court."

He conceded that the issues surrounded a "unique case."

"We are going to follow the law, but the law probably hasn't faced this specific factual situation," he said. "I don't know what my ruling is going to be---the words will be chosen very carefully, words are important."

At one point, Brady conceded he was "making it up as I go along."

"I go to bed at night, most recently, thinking about this case and what my role is," he said. "It is not lost on me, the importance of this case, to this community."

Indeed, few cases have haunted a city more than this one. Maria vanished from her Sycamore neighborhood on Dec. 3, 1957 and was found dead in the woods 50 days later. Jack McCullough, who was the young girl's neighbor at the time of the killing, was cleared by authorities at the time of the child's death, but charged in 2011 during a renewed attempt to solve the decades-old mystery.

McCullough, now 75, was found guilty based largely on the eyewitness testimony of another little girl, now a grown woman, who picked his photo from a lineup. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Maria’s brother Charles Ridulph filed an emergency motion Monday asking a special prosecutor be appointed in the case.

"We once again feel like victims," Ridulph said. "With no one speaking for us."

Some in McCullough's family still believe he committed the crime. 

"This man is a monster, there is no doubt," his half-sister Mary Hunt said outside the courthouse Tuesday. "We all know that he did it." 

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