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McCullough won’t take the stand in 1957 Sycamore murder

Jack Daniel McCullough

Jack Daniel McCullough

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Updated: October 15, 2012 9:51AM

Offering his defense Thursday against charges he kidnapped and murdered 7-year-old Maria Ridulph more than 50 years ago, Jack Daniel McCullough called only three brief witnesses.

He wasn’t one of them.

“Do you choose to testify or not to testify?” asked Judge James Hallock, who is hearing the DeKalb County trial without a jury.

“Not to testify,” the 72-year-old McCullough replied calmly.

Hallock could issue his verdict as early as Friday following closing arguments in the notorious case, which went unresolved for decades after the Sycamore girl disappeared while playing in her neighborhood on Dec. 3, 1957.

Ridulph’s body was discovered in rural Jo Daviess County about five months later, but McCullough — who in 1957 was a Sycamore teenager named John Tessier — was charged only last year with the girl’s disappearance and death.

McCullough’s attorneys opened his defense by calling his half-sister to testify about a January 1994 statement allegedly made by their dying mother.

Mary Hunt said her mother, Eileen Tessier, abruptly made a cryptic claim to her and another sister as they sat by her bedside in a DeKalb hospital.

“He did it,” Hunt said, quoting what her mother purportedly told her.

Her mother offered no specific details about whom she was referring to, but Hunt added: “I knew who it was.”

Another McCullough half-sister testified earlier this week for prosecutors that her mother’s alleged statement specifically referred to Ridulph’s disappearance.

“John did it, John did it — and you have to tell someone,” Janet Tessier claimed her mother said.

A doctor called by defense attorneys testified Eileen Tessier in the final stages of her battle against cancer frequently was “disoriented” and “confused.”

Dr. John Pravhakar acknowledged he was relying on medical records for that information and had treated Tessier only briefly before she died.

Prosecutors relied largely on testimony from Ridulph’s childhood friend, Kathy Sigman Chapman, who identified a 1950s photo of McCullough as the man she saw with Ridulph just before the girl vanished.

Two other McCullough half-sisters said they never saw him the night Ridulph disappeared — though both said they heard their mother tell police he had been home then.

Three inmates who were jailed in DeKalb County with McCullough following his arrest also claimed he talked about the killing, though they offered differing accounts of what he allegedly said.

Two said he told them he strangled the girl with a wire. A third, convicted murderer Kirk Swaggerty, testified Thursday that McCullough said he accidentally suffocated Ridulph while trying to quiet her after she fell while he was giving her a piggyback ride.

Earlier, a forensic anthropologist testified that a study of the girl’s body following a 2011 exhumation showed she had suffered three stab wounds that were so deep they left “cut marks” on her breastbone and backbone.

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