SYCAMORE — An Illinois judge on Wednesday granted a certificate of innocence to a Washington state man who was wrongfully convicted in 2012 of the 1957 kidnapping and killing of a 7-year-old girl, clearing the way for him to sue Illinois.
Jack McCullough said at a hearing last week that he’s been portrayed as a monster and that people still think of him as one, and that he wants justice.
DeKalb County Associate Judge William Brady granted McCullough a certificate of innocence, which would allow him to sue Illinois for damages for wrongly convicting him in Maria Ridulph’s killing.
A prosecutor concluded evidence backed McCullough’s alibi that he had been in Rockford when Maria disappeared nearly 60 years ago. A judge agreed, ordering McCullough’s release in April 2016 after he had served four years of a life sentence.
Maria and a friend were playing in the snow outside of her home on Dec. 3, 1957, when a young man approached and offered them piggyback rides. The friend dashed home to grab mittens, returning to find Maria and the man gone. Maria’s decomposed body was found months later in a forest.
McCullough was cleared as a suspect in the 1950s. He became a target of investigators years later after one of his half-sisters told authorities their mother said on her deathbed that she believed her son may have killed Maria.
A report from DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack described the investigation and trial of McCullough as deeply flawed, zeroing in on what he described as investigators’ erroneous statements to a grand jury that altered the known timeline of events to render McCullough’s alibi moot.
When he arrived in prison, several inmates vowed to kill him to avenge the child’s death. His cellmate tried to make good on the threats by plunging a shank into his face, eventually dislodging his eye.