Innocent Jack McCullough will be released from prison today

Jack McCullough will be released from prison in Illinois today after serving four years of a life sentence for kidnapping and murdering 7-year-old Maria Ridulph. The crime was committed on December 3, 1957, but no one was prosecuted until 2012, when DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell convicted McCullough.

Campbell’s successor, DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack reviewed the case after defeating Campbell in an election. He concluded that McCullough could not have committed the crime because he was 40 miles from the scene of the crime when it was committed. According to Illinois Bell telephone records McCullough called his family collect from an Air Force recruiting office in Rockford, Illinois at 6:57 pm. Maria Ridulph disappeared between 6:45 p.m. and 6:55 p.m.

Schmack also challenged the accuracy and reliability of an eyewitness identification of McCullogh by Maria’s friend with whom she had been playing in the snow when a young man offered to give Maria a ride on his shoulders. First, she identified McCullogh more than 50 years after the incident. Second, the photo was unnecessarily suggestive since McCullough’s photo stood out from the others in a photo array of six photographs because they were professional yearbook photographs and each person was wearing a suit coat.

Yet another example of the unreliability of eyewitness identifications.

Fortunately, an honest and ethical prosecutor corrected the wrongful conviction.

Read more here.

9 Responses to Innocent Jack McCullough will be released from prison today

  1. gblock says:

    I’ve had some thoughts concerning the confirmation process (and lack thereof) for the current Supreme Court vacancy. The Constitution describes that the President makes Court appointments with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, but doesn’t specify the process involved in this “advice and consent”. However, the current process has been in place for a long time.

    Because of the refusal of the Republican leadership to proceed with the confirmation process, would it be possible for someone to use a modified procedure? For instance, could the senior Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee announce that “we will be holding the hearings on the nominee at a certain time. Everyone on the committee is welcome to participate. If you don’t, then the message that we have is that you abstain.”

    I realize that this is still highly unlikely, because doing something like that would invite the Republicans to use similar tactics at a future date. Then again, what the Republicans are currently doing invites the Democrats to up the ante at a future date, but that hasn’t stopped them.

    • Senator Pat Leahy (D) from Vermont is the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under Senate Rules, he lacks the authority to convene the Judiciary Committee or to set the agenda. Any action that the Democrats might take in this matter would be unofficial and useless because it would take a majority of the Senate to approve the president’s nomination.

  2. gblock says:

    Professor, I’m rather puzzled as to why, of all the things going on in the country, you chose this case to comment on, especially since the information provided, both in your writeup and in the link that you provide, is really rather minimal. What lesson or lessons are we to draw from this case, beyond “shit happens”?

    Their finding the alibi seems surprising. After so many years, how did McCullough remember that his trip to the recruiting office happened the same day as the murder? Was he on the police’s radar at the time of the original investigation – perhaps as one of several suspects? And why was the documentation of this alibi apparently not found until four years after he was tried? Didn’t he plead Not Guilty at his trial, and wouldn’t this prompt a search for any evidence that might tend to exonerate him?

    • Good questions. Unfortunately, I don’t know the answers. The news coverage left quite a lot to be desired. Appears that the conviction was obtained by a combination of a prosecution that did not disclose exculpatory information (telephone records) and an incompetent defense lawyer who did not independently subpoena the records.

      I generally try to follow the post-conviction exonerations and report on them when I learn about them.

      McCullough, who is from Seattle, is planning to sue the cops for the wrongful conviction. Thanks to Scalia & Friends, prosecutors have absolute immunity from civil suit, even if they acted intentionally.

      • gblock says:

        ” Thanks to Scalia & Friends, prosecutors have absolute immunity from civil suit, even if they acted intentionally.”

        A dangerous policy, especially since prosecutors may be directly or indirectly rewarded for a high conviction rate, even if obtained by improper means.

  3. gblock says:

    It seems really strange that they would prosecute the case so long after the crime took place on what seems, from the articles, to be such flimsy evidence.

  4. pie says:

    “Fortunately, an honest and ethical prosecutor corrected the wrongful conviction.” – Are there unethical prosecutors shrugging off questionable convictions with possibly more innocent people wrongfully convicted behind bars?

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