I caught a news blurb about an old fellow that had been released from jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Jack McCullough, who is 76 years old, was released from prison after serving five years of a life sentence. Where all of this gets real curious is that McCullough was convicted in 2011 for a murder that occurred in 1957. McCullough was accused of murdering a neighbor girl back when he was 18 or so. Now, he was not accused in 1957 when the crime occurred, he was accused in 2011. He was brought back to Sycamore, Illinois, his childhood home, from Seattle, Washington where he was living, to stand trial. In a trial that has now been overturned, McCullough was railroaded into a murder conviction. It seemed that the community had to have a perpetrator for what they described as their “9-11”.
To say the evidence was shaky is a vast understatement. Many people who had given police statements at the time of the crime are no longer living. To that end, McCullough was not able to face his accusers. His attorney was not able to question the accusers or offer a rebuttal to their testimony. Old eye witness accounts were read into the record that loosely described McCullough at the time. Teenage behavior being what it is, it probably described every other teenager at the time too. Testimony about wearing your hair in a ducktail is not as relevant in the ’50’s as one might think it is today.
The Innocence Project states on their website, “Eyewitness mis-identification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide.” There are a bunch of reasons why eyewitnesses can get it wrong, which is why it is imperative that the physical evidence is unimpeachable. In this case, most of the physical evidence was missing or destroyed. A key piece of evidence, a doll that the killer was supposed to have touched, was missing. The DNA from the doll could have excluded McCullough, but it was no where to be found when the trial came about.
Probably the most damning point in this scenario is the fact that McCullough was forced to act as his own lawyer in his appeal process. The road to McCullough’s eventual freedom was started by a petition prepared by another inmate with paralegal training. The petition was denied, but caused the current prosecutor for Dekalb County, Illinois to review the case. When asked by the judge to comment on the appeal request, State’s Attorney Richard Schmack responded that he had found, “clear and convincing evidence”, that McCullough was innocent.
Well, the wheels of justice finally started rolling, and eventually McCullough was released. Interviews with McCullough detail that he will be, “living his life at one hundred mile an hour”, since he has so much time to make up. Truthfully, it was a wonder that McCullough had survived the length of time he did in prison, and not just because of his age. Prison inmates have a particular fondness for people that are accused of crimes against children. “Baby fondlers” they call them. I speculate that many prison inmates were abused themselves as children, and can imagine that they would have had a much different life had they not been abused. The inmates consider it a privilege to help society rid itself of child predators. McCullough is very lucky to have survived.
Currently, the Innocence Project has helped to free 341 wrongfully convicted people. Of those, twenty had spent time on death row. Just as important, the Innocence Project has found 147 actual perpetrators. Thank God there are people out there righting the wrongs of overzealous prosecutors and police. We need more of them.