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‘48 Hours’ episode on McCullough trial disappoints families

Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

SYCAMORE – Charles Ridulph and his family hoped CBS’ “48 Hours” special on a 55-year-old cold case would banish any question of Jack D. McCullough’s guilt.

The special, called “Cold as Ice,” followed McCullough’s conviction last year for murdering Charles Ridulph’s sister, 7-year-old Maria, in December 1957. She disappeared after a man named Johnny approached her and a friend, Kathy Chapman, playing outside. Chapman went inside to get mittens and when she returned, Maria and Johnny were gone.

Instead, Charles Ridulph said, the show focused more on the alleged rape of McCullough’s half sister – a charge on which McCullough was cleared – before posing the possibility McCullough was actually guilty of the rape and not of the murder for which he was convicted.

“I must say that my sister Pat and I were very disappointed in the program, but perhaps we were just looking for too much,” Ridulph said. “A one-hour program could not possibly accomplish all that we were looking for.”

The program included interviews with McCullough, those most closely involved with the case and witnesses who testified at the trial, but Ridulph said the show failed to lay out the evidence that establishes McCullough’s guilt.

He said the program failed to explain McCullough’s mother’s deathbed confession that indicated her son could have committed the crime, inconsistencies in the timeline of events McCullough said occurred the day of the kidnapping and the testimony from prisoners who said McCullough told them about Maria Ridulph’s murder.

“The show seemed to give the impression that there was little evidence to support the guilty verdict,” Ridulph said. “But, when you put all the pieces together, it leaves no room for doubt.”

McCullough’s stepdaughter, Janey O’ Connor, was also disappointed in the CBS show, for not raising questions about potential evidence that was not allowed at the trial.

O’Connor said there were unaddressed questions about Chapman’s photo lineup identification submitted to state police more than 50 years after the kidnapping.

“It makes more sense that Kathy [Chapman] could pick out the correct picture after [state police investigator] Brion Hanley refreshed her memory eight days before giving her the photo lineup,” she said. “The trial transcripts, which we have read, pose far more questions than CBS raised.”

By the end of the program, DeKalb County Public Defender Tom McCulloch said it was unlikely people changed their minds as to whether they believed McCullough committed the crime or not.

He said he was disappointed the producers changed their direction from looking at the complexities and legal challenges of a 55-year-old cold case to the family dynamic during McCullough’s upbringing.

“The direction of the story changed when they interviewed Jack,” McCulloch said. “Then it deteriorated into a discussion on his family issues ... and made it sort of cheesy.”

Prosecutor Victor Escarcida said he watched the show but did not worry about how the media decided to present the case.

“It was a program created for TV,” he said. “I don’t have a negative or positive reaction.”

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