By Jim Hagerty
An Illinois man who has served almost 20 years in prison for killing his daughter maintains that his ex-girlfriend committed the crime.
Barton McNeil, 58, is serving 100 years in prison in the death of 3-year-old Christina McNeil. He said he found her in her bed the morning of June 16, 1998 after an overnight stay in his Bloomington apartment. She had been suffocated. The autopsy also produced evidence of sexual assault. McNeil was arrested the next day and convicted of first-degree murder in 1999 after a seven-day trial. Today, he is represented by lawyers from the Illinois Innocence Project, who say they have evidence that McNeil’s former girlfriend, a woman named Misook Nowlin, is the killer.
The case is featured on the Suspect Convictions podcast hosted by journalist Scott Reeder. The series includes Barton’s original 911 call and interviews with him from inside the Menard Correctional Center.
From the onset, McNeil asked investigators to examine the screen from the window leading to his daughter’s room because it had been cut by an intruder. That intruder was Nowlin, he alleges, the woman he dated for three years and claims had a violent history with the child.
Although police did investigate Nowlin and discovered she and McNeil ended their relationship the day before Christina was killed, she was never considered a serious suspect. Detectives even allowed McNeil to speak with her at the Bloomington Police station. But when she didn’t admit involvement in Christina’s death, police let her go.
Detectives later learned that McNeil was scheduled to testify against Nowlin the day after the toddler’s death. In that case, she was convicted of unlawful restraint for refusing to leave her apartment during a domestic dispute. The investigation, however, remained focused on McNeil.
In an even stranger twist, Nowlin, otherwise known as Misook Wang, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2013 in the death of her mother-in-law, 70-year-old Linda Tyda. According to prosecutors, Nowlin in 2011, lured Tyda to a rural area near Bloomington-Normal and strangled her to death. Authorities say the killing and burial of the body happened while Nowlin’s 6-year-old son sat in her car.
McNeil’s new lawyers say there are similarities between the two killings. The have new physical evidence, too, Nowlin’s DNA from hairs found in Christina’s bed. The hair was fresh, lawyers claim, because the bedding had been recently washed and that Nowlin hadn’t been in the apartment for several days before the murder.
“Our results indicate Misook was all over the bed sheets, the pillowcase, and her hairs were on the pillow where Christina was found dead,” Illinois Innocence Project lawyer Gwen Jordan said in Episode 9 of Suspect Convictions.
Nowlin is currently serving her 55-year sentence at the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois. R.