Man jailed for 1957 Sycamore murder to be freed, conviction overturned

By Suzannah Gonzales 
Reuters

CHICAGO – An Illinois man convicted in 2012 for kidnapping and murdering a 7-year-old girl in 1957 was on Friday ordered by a judge to be released from prison and his life sentence annulled based on previously unknown evidence that pointed to his innocence.

DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge William Brady also granted Jack McCullough’s request for a new trial. The judge said he would grant McCullough’s release on bond and ordered him to remain in Illinois.

McCullough was convicted of killing Maria Rudolph. She disappeared in December 1957 while playing near her home in Sycamore. Her body was found about four months later.

This week, DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmuck filed a petition to vacate McCullough’s conviction and McCullough’s lawyers requested a new trial, court documents said.

The requests followed Schmuck’s six-month review of evidence and a statement in March that said thousands of pages of improperly excluded police reports pointed to McCullough’s innocence.

McCullough was a teenager when Rudolph went missing and was an early suspect in the case. He told investigators he was on a train from Rockford to Chicago when the girl disappeared. He later joined the military, moved to Washington state and became a policeman in Lacey, a town east of Olympia.

McCullough was arrested in 2011 and he said he was innocent.

Records showed McCullough was in and around a Rockford post office when Rudolph disappeared, making a call from a pay phone and contacting a U.S. Air Force recruiting station, the prosecutor Schmuck said.

“It is a manifest impossibility” for McCullough to have been in Sycamore when Rudolph disappeared and also make a phone call in Rockford, Schmuck said.

In addition, McCullough was mistakenly identified in a photo lineup that “was suggestive in the extreme,” Schmuck said.

In 2012, the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office called McCullough’s sentence “appropriate for a defendant who stands convicted of this brutal crime.”

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