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McCullough found not guilty on rape charges

Following the not guilty verdict in trial of Jack McCullough on charges in a 1962 rape of his half-sister, DeKalb County States Attorney Clay Campbell addresses the media Thursday, with members of the Tessier family behind him, outside the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore.
Following the not guilty verdict in trial of Jack McCullough on charges in a 1962 rape of his half-sister, DeKalb County States Attorney Clay Campbell addresses the media Thursday, with members of the Tessier family behind him, outside the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – A judge has found a former Sycamore resident not guilty of charges that he raped his half-sister 50 years ago.

Jack D. McCullough, 72, is charged with one count of rape and four counts of indecent liberties with a child. He also faces separate charges in the 1957 kidnapping and killing of 7-year-old Sycamore girl Maria Ridulph; those charges were not part of the two-day trial held this week.

DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert delivered her verdict in the rape case about 11 a.m. at the end of a hearing that started at 10:30 a.m. today at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore. In explaining her ruling, Stuckert said the state did not meet the burden of proof in proving the charges.

The accuser, who was 14 at the time of the alleged rape, is Jeanne Tessier, McCullough’s half-sister. Shaw Media typically does not name people who say they were raped, but Tessier has given permission to have her name used.

Jeanne Tessier testified Tuesday that on a warm day in 1962, McCullough, then 22, pulled up outside the family’s 227 Center Cross St. home in a red and white convertible, took her to 751 Carlson St., led her to a dark room in the house, and raped her on a cot on the floor.

She said McCullough offered her to a couple of friends, and two men also raped her. A third man who sat in the room and did not rape her told her afterward to put her clothes back on.

McCullough did not testify in his own defense.

Several of Jeanne Tessier's siblings were in the courtroom when the verdict was read. At least one sister began sobbing and was bent over in her chair as the verdict was read.

Stuckert brought up the length of time that had passed before the rape was reported and said a failure to speak generally discredits the complaining witness and may amount to a nonexistence of fact.

There may have been a good reason on Tessier's part that the court should have heard, Stuckert said, but the state simply did not ask Tessier why she did not report the rape for more than 40 years. The state also failed to ask what happened to her as a result of the sexual assault.

In 50 years, Stuckert said, memories can fade and witnesses can relocate or die. Tessier grew to be highly educated and accomplished, she said. But one thing that has not changed since 1962, she said, is that all defendants are presumed innocent until the state meets its burden of proof. In this case, the state failed to meet its burden, she said.

Family members of Tessier walked out of the courtroom with tears in their eyes and hugged each other. Jeanne Tessier was not in the courtroom.

DeKalb County Public Defender Regina Harris, McCullough's attorney, said she thought Wednesday the case could go either way. She said she felt the case was more about the law than about facts, and Stuckert had to make a decision based on the facts presented to her.

"I'm gratified that the force of the law was on our side," Harris said. After the verdict was read, McCullough was "relieved to tears," she said.

Harris said a guilty verdict, rather than the not guilty, would have had a greater effect on the murder case against McCullough. Harris said she's pretty certain that case will go to trial this year, possibly in late summer or early fall.

With Tessier family members standing behind him in front of the courthouse, Campbell called the verdict a "miscarriage of justice." He said Stuckert specifically chastised prosecutors for not asking questions of witnesses that attorneys were barred by the court from asking.

He said prosecutors had a litany of evidence that they wanted to show the court, but Stuckert prohibited them from addressing much of it, including that Tessier had been sexually assaulted by McCullough since she was 4 years old and that other siblings, some of whom were present at the trial, also were assaulted by him.

Campbell said Stuckert called him out for not asking Tessier why she did not report the rape earlier. Had he asked that question, he said, he would have been in direct violation of a court order.

He also said Stuckert disregarded testimony from Tessier and the victim in the 1982 case in Washington, which sends a sad message to sexual assault victims.

Though the constitution barrs a retrial of McCullough on these charges, Campbell said he'll continue to review other options he may have with regard to the ruling. He would not elaborate on those options.

Campbell said prosecutors will continue to prepare for the other trial against McCullough, on charges that he kidnapped and murdered Sycamore 7-year-old Maria Ridulph in 1957.

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