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Request For Special Prosecutor In Maria Ridulph Death Is Dismissed

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Katie Finlon
/
WNIJ

A DeKalb County Judge has dismissed a request for a special prosecutor to take over disposition of the murder case against Jack McCullough.

Judge William Brady ruled Friday that a supposed bias by DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack did not amount to an actual conflict of interest, and therefore no special prosecutor was warranted. 

Schmack, whose handling of the case prompted the request, said afterwards,"I believe that the judge ruled correctly."

McCullough's 2012 conviction for the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph was dismissed this year after Schmack said he'd determined McCullough couldn't have committed the crime.

Maria Ridulph's brother, Charles Ridulph, claimed Schmack was biased and already had decided to drop charges against McCullough even before examining the evidence.  Ridulph requested that a special prosecutor take over the case. Schmack denied any bias and said no special prosecutor was warranted. There had been several court appearances before Judge William Brady leading up to Friday's hearing. 

According to Ridulph's lawyer Bruce Brandwein, former Assistant State's Atty. Julie Trevarthen, who was involved in the original murder case, said she had heard Schmack say in a private conversation that the McCullough prosecution in 2012 was "ridiculous."  She said Schmack referred to the fact that the FBI had cleared McCullough during the original investigation in the 1950s. Brandwein said Schmack's comments showed he was biased and predisposed to dismiss the case against McCullough. 

But Schmack said at the hearing that, if he had wanted to free McCullough, he could have done so at any time in the past three years. Instead, he acted only after repeated appeals by McCullough and when ordered by a court to review the evidence. 

Judge Brady agreed with that argument. He said suspicion and speculation were not enough to disqualify a state's attorney in a case. He said appointing a special prosecutor has to be clearly warranted by the evidence, and what was presented did not meet that requirement.  

Background

Seven-year-old Maria Ridulph was abducted from her street and later killed in December 1957, and Jack D. McCullough -- known at the time of the abduction as John Tessier -- was convicted in September 2012 of the crime and sentenced to life in prison.

DeKalb State's Atttorney Richard Schmack, in response to McCullough's appeal from prison, conducted an examination of all evidence in the case earlier this spring and reported in March that there was evidence to validate McCullough's alibi that he was in Rockford at the time of the crime. That evidence had been excluded from the original trial. 

Judge Brady vacated the conviction, and McCullough was set free. Schmack dropped the charges against McCullough, who returned to his home in the Seattle area.

At that hearing, Ridulph's attorney, Bruce Brandwein, says Schmack made comments on the McCullough case before his election.  This showed impropriety, in his opinion, and might warrant a special prosecutor.  

Schmack argued that if Ridulph's allegations are true, then the conflict of interest would have been known three and a half years ago.

  • Susan Stephens, Katie Finlon, and Guy Stephens contributed to this report.
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