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Crime & Courts

McCullough lawsuit continues after settlement with Sycamore

Sycamore agrees to pay $350K in exchange for charges being dropped

SYCAMORE – Jack McCullough has settled his lawsuit against the city of Sycamore to the tune of $350,000, while his federal lawsuit against other agencies involved with his arrest in the 1957 kidnapping and slaying of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph continues.

Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory said Friday that on the advice of the city’s insurance carrier at the time, Illinois Municipal League Risk Management, he signed the agreement, which ends all claims by McCullough against the city and its police officers. The settlement includes a dismissal with prejudice and a nonadmission clause, he said.

City Attorney Keith Foster said the insurance carrier covered the cost.

“There were no city funds paid on this at all,” Foster wrote in an email to the Daily Chronicle.

McCullough, 77, of Seattle was arrested in 2011 based in part on new evidence, including a supposed statement from his mother on her deathbed and a positive ID by the only witness to Maria’s abduction. He was convicted of the crime in 2012 and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2016, then-State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, citing phone records from the time that showed a collect call had been placed from Rockford to McCullough’s home in Sycamore at the time of the slaying, concluded that McCullough could not have committed the crime.

McCullough was freed in April 2016 and received a certificate of innocence, paving the way for the lawsuit, which claims that police and prosecutors conspired to frame him. He since has returned to Washington.

Russell Ainsworth, one of McCullough’s lawyers with Chicago-based Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, filed an agreement to dismiss the claim against the city with prejudice Oct. 12.

The payment was to be made within 30 days, records show.

“Settling early on was most advantageous to everybody,” Dominick Lanzito, a lawyer with the Chicago firm, said Tuesday.

Officials from the city of Sycamore were not the key decision-makers in the investigation, which was led by Illinois State Police. An amended complaint filed Sept. 25 by McCullough and his lawyers still names 12 defendants in Illinois and Washington, including state police Special Agent Brion Hanley, who was named the Illinois State Police’s Officer of the Year in 2013 for his work as lead investigator on the case. Former DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell also is named, as is DeKalb County and the city of Seattle. The suit is pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Rockford.

McCullough, who maintained his innocence throughout the case, alleges that Illinois State Police and Seattle police conspired with DeKalb County prosecutors to frame him. McCullough lived in Sycamore and was known as John Tessier at the time of Maria’s disappearance.

A 30-page motion to dismiss filed Monday on behalf of DeKalb County and its former employees says McCullough’s claims that prosecutors consulted with officers and conducted a fair and impartial investigation aren’t supported by facts and should be disregarded.

“When the amended complaint is stripped of its conclusory allegations, it fails to state a legally valid claim against the prosecutor defendants,” the motion reads. “ … The vast majority of the allegations that name the prosecutor defendants are simply vague and general conclusions, unsupported by any factual assertions.”

McCullough’s lawyers haven’t filed a response to the motion yet, but did ask the court Tuesday to deny the Seattle parties’ motion to dismiss charges.

McCullough, born John Cherry on Nov. 27, 1939, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was convicted Sept. 14, 2012, by Kane County Associate Judge James Hallock in a trial in which original police and FBI reports about the crime were barred, and witnesses relied on 55-year-old memories about the events of that night.

McCullough accuses police and prosecutors of fabricating evidence.

He said they created a false timeline for the crime in order to explain away the fact that FBI investigators’ reports indicated that he had placed a collect call from Rockford to his home at 6:57 p.m. the night Maria disappeared.

The FBI reports from the time of Maria’s disappearance were barred from the trial because the people who had created them were no longer living.

McCullough said they created a biased photo lineup leading to false identification by the only witness to the crime, Kathy Sigman, who was playing with Maria the night she was abducted near the intersection of Center Cross Street and Archie Place.

McCullough’s suit also claims that Hanley and others sought false testimony from jailhouse informants in exchange for favors, and then told them to lie about the arrangement.

Those three points also were cited by Brady when he ruled McCullough should be freed from prison.

Authorities have said they cannot comment on matters in litigation.

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