In 2012, Jack McCullough was convicted of a kidnapping and murder that occurred in Illinois in 1957. This was one of the oldest unsolved crimes in United States history to go to trial, involving the abduction and subsequent choking/stabbing of a 7-year-old girl who was playing on a street with a friend.
On the evening of December 3, 1957, Maria Ridulph and Kathy Chapman were playing when McCullough, who is a former police officer, approached them in a friendly manner. He was allegedly giving Ridulph a piggyback ride when Chapman decided to run home and get her mittens because it was cold. While she was gone, prosecutors claim he drug Ridulph into an alley where he proceeded to choke and stab her. Ridulph’s body was discovered about 120 miles away in a grove of trees off the side of the highway the following spring.
McCullough was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty. The guilty verdict was based primarily on Kathy Chapman’s photo identification of McCullough some 55 years later, and the allegations of McCullough’s half-sister that in 1994 when their mother passed away, she said on her deathbed that she knew her son killed the girl. McCullough was a suspect at the time of the murder, however he claimed that he had been traveling to get a medical exam in Chicago at the time. Police took him off the suspect list because he had an alibi.
In the appeal of McCullough’s conviction, the Illinois state appellate defender said that no one saw who abducted Maria Ridulph from the street corner, and that there is no forensic evidence indicating McCullough was the killer. In addition, the appeal documents allege that the case was developed by prosecutors on unreliable evidence, including the statement supposedly made by McCullough’s mother while on her death bed and under the influence of morphine and Haldol, and an identification made by Chapman of the defendant as a teenager in a photo more than a half a century later.
The appeal focuses largely on the judge’s decision regarding what evidence was excluded and what evidence was allowed. Judge James Hallock used an exception to the hearsay rule in allowing the defendant’s sisters to testify regarding what their mother allegedly said on her deathbed. In the mid 90’s, an investigation conducted by Sycamore police concluded that someone else committed the murder; that man is now deceased, however Hallock excluded this evidence at trial.
Michigan criminal appeals attorneys can certainly understand why a 74-year-old man who was convicted for a murder more than 50 years later based on hearsay and nostalgia would want to appeal. Considering murder is the most serious criminal charge anyone can face, any defendant deserves that it be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no forensic evidence in this case, no eyewitnesses who saw the girl being abducted, no real proof.
Appealing a conviction is a complicated process that requires the skill and knowledge of an experienced appellate lawyer. It is rare that an appeals court overturns a conviction, however to have the best shot at winning it is critical to have an attorney with a proven track record.