BY: The Exoneration Project

Jack McCullough: Certificate of Innocence

Matthew Apgar (mapgar@shawmedia.com) / Daily Chronicle
Matthew Apgar (mapgar@shawmedia.com) / Daily Chronicle

Sycamore, IL Last week Jack McCullough took the stand for forty minutes, asking a DeKalb County judge to issue him a Certificate of Innocence in the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph. Today, his pleas were heard: Judge William Brady granted Jack a Certificate of Innocence that will ensure that he is not retried, and will make him eligible for state services, including a possible $85,000 of state compensation for the five years he was wrongfully incarcerated. Most importantly to Jack, it is a clear communication from the court of his innocence, and a resounding declaration that the injustice he underwent is being recognized and investigated, and therefore less likely to be repeated.

“I am innocenct, proven innocent, and I want my name back. My name has been in all the papers coast to coast. I’ve been put forward as a monster and people still believe I am a monster,” 77 year-old Veteran Jack McCullough testified.

On the evening of December 3, 1957, seven-year-old Maria Ridulph went missing. Her body was found five months later more than one hundred miles away.  The disappearance and murder of the second grader less than three weeks before Christmas continues to divide the quiet community.  In 2008, police thought they caught a break when Jack McCullough’s sister came forward to proclaim that their mother accused Jack of the Ridulph murder on her deathbed. Eager to close a case that had been open for decades, authorities obtained a positive line-up identification from Maria’s playmate at the time of the abduction, followed by corroborating stories from three jailhouse snitches. None of the evidence would prove to be sound.

In 2012, a newly elected State’s Attorney, Clay Campbell, tried and convicted Jack. Four years later, a new State’s Attorney, Richard Schmack, would complete his review of the “coldest case ever tried,” and find the evidence severely lacking. Pointing to an airtight alibi, then SA Schmack filed his findings with the DeKalb County court in accordance with a newly established 2015 ethics guideline ordering prosecutors to act when evidence of possible wrongful convictions arise.

Jack was eighteen years old when Ridulph was abducted, and just eleven days shy of enlisting with the Air Force.  Jack, who went by John in his youth, lived in the neighborhood where Ridulph was abducted.  Ridulph’s playmate told police that the abductor went by “Johnny,” and though Jack did not fit the initial description given by the friend, he was questioned alongside many others in the area. After passing a polygraph, he was dismissed as a suspect and released. (Even in 1957, the FBI verified his alibi.) After many failed identification attempts for different suspects, Ridulph’s friend would identify Jack 53 years later in a suggestive line-up that defied police protocol and flew in the face of common sense. Bolstered by jailhouse snitches who claim they were promised rewards in exchange for testimony, the case against Jack McCullough was never anything more than a house of cards. It is a true injustice for the Ridulph family and the Sycamore community, but like Jack, we hope that the willingness of former SA Schmack and Judge Brady to revisit and redress this past wrong speaks of a brighter future for the DeKalb County justice system.