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McCullough found guilty

Published: Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 11:42 a.m. CDT
(Kyle Bursaw – kbursaw@shawmedia.com)
Jack McCullough is escorted into the DeKalb County Courthouse by Sheriff's deputies Ray Nelson (back left) and David Rivers (front right) on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. McCullough was found guilty today of the kidnapping and murder of Maria Ridulph on Dec. 3, 1957.

SYCAMORE – Jack McCullough has been found guilty today in the Dec. 3, 1957 kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Sycamore girl Maria Ridulph.

Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock gave the verdict of the landmark cold case trial at the DeKalb County Courthouse. The prosecution and defense completed their closing arguments Friday morning.

Sentencing has been set for Nov. 30.

The defense's case was brief in the five-day bench trial, as McCullough did not take the stand in his defense. There were only three witnesses, including one of McCullough's half-sisters, Mary Hunt, who was very short with the defense when questioned.

Arguing what was largely a circumstantial case, the prosecution, led by DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell, rested its case on Thursday morning. Prosecutors argued McCullough, 72, of Seattle, was responsible for the disappearance and death of 7-year-old Maria, who was abducted from her Sycamore neighborhood by a man who introduced himself as "Johnny." McCullough, formerly known as John Tessier, was arrested in July 2011 in Seattle.

McCullough’s half-sister, Janet Tessier testified their mother, Eileen Tessier, implicated McCullough in 1994.

“She grabbed my wrist and said, ‘Those two little girls, the one that disappeared, John did it,’ ” Janet Tessier testified in DeKalb County court Tuesday. “ ‘You’ve got to tell somebody.’ ”

That same day in court, three prosecution witnesses testified that they did not recall seeing McCullough in Sycamore around the time when Maria disappeared, although most people in town were engaged in the search for her.

Maria's brother Charles Ridulph provided emotional testimony Monday as the state's first witness. Charles Ridulph described his younger sister, the neighborhood where the family lived and the searches that ensued after Maria went missing Dec. 3, 1957.

Her remains were discovered five months later in Jo Daviess County.

The state had a handful of inmates as witnesses, who testified they had or overheard conversations with McCullough providing details of the day in question.

On cross-examination, defense attorneys questioned prosecution witness Kirk Swaggerty's intentions in sharing the information on the conversations with McCullough. Interim Public Defender Tom McCulloch pointed out that Swaggerty has a pending motion to reconsider his 36-year sentence and, within that motion, mentioned helping detectives with the McCullough case.

Swaggerty testified that he asked McCullough if he would be pleading guilty or taking the case to trial, he said McCullough told him he could probably get probation if he pleaded guilty, because it was an accident.

The prosecution also had a forensic anthropologist, Krista Latham, testify that three deep cuts to bones of Maria's throat and chest area looked to have been made by a knife blade.

Latham identified various photos taken during the autopsy and commented on the remarkable preservation of Maria's remains. The bones were then taken to Latham's lab in Indianapolis, where greater study of them showed three deep cut marks near the throat and chest area.

These cuts were different from those made with a scalpel or saw during an autopsy, she said, and instead were consistent with being made by a larger blade like a knife.

McCullough was indicted Aug. 19, 2011, by a grand jury on charges of murder, kidnapping and abduction of an infant.

The charges were based on the Illinois Revised Statutes as they were written in 1957.

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