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They knew I was innocent and put me in jail anyway - I'm lucky to have survived, says Belfast man McCullough cleared of schoolgirl murder

By Staff Reporter

A Northern Ireland man wrongly convicted of the murder of a seven-year-old girl in the United States has spoken how his history as a police officer made him a target in jail and how he was lucky to have survived.

Jack Daniel McCullough (77), who was born in Belfast, was convicted of murdering Maria Ridulph in 2012 and jailed for life.

She was abducted while playing with a friend near her home in Sycamore, about 50 miles west of Chicago, Illinois, in 1957.

"They knew I was innocent and they put me in prison anyway."

They knew I was innocent and they put me in prison anyway. Jack McCullough

The Belfast man was only a teenager at the time.

He wasn't convicted of the crime until more than half-a-century later, following a career in the US military and later as a policeman in Seattle.

He was accused of the crime after a member of his family contacted a police hotline.

Mr McCullough was found guilty after a week-long trial, and served five years.

But he had always protested his innocence, telling the authorities that he had been in another city when little Maria was abducted and murdered.

Last year evidence was uncovered supporting his alibi that he was in Rockford attempting to enlist in the US Air Force at the time of the brutal murder, which shocked the United States in 1957.

I'm innocent and I didn't want there to be any doubt. Jack McCullough

The FBI concluded that Mr McCullough could not have driven the 35 miles in a 22-minute time span and therefore could not have committed the crime.

Newly-recovered telephone records also corroborated his claims that he had been 40 miles away when the crime was committed.

Mr McCullough told CNN: "I'm innocent and I didn't want there to be any doubt."

"What was done to me was criminal.

"They knew I was innocent and they put me in prison anyway."

Mr McCullough said that because he was a former police officer convicted of killing a child, he had been made a target while in jail.

"You don't have a life. Your life is in danger every second that you're in prison," he said.

"I'm lucky to have survived prison. I am innocent, proven innocent, and I want my name back. My name has been in all the papers, coast to coast.

"I have been put forward as a monster and people still believe I am a monster."

Lawyers for Mr McCullough could pursue legal action for the wrongful conviction.

However, the family of Maria Ridulph said yesterday that they were disappointed by the judge's decision to grant Mr McCullough a certificate of innocence.

Mr McCullough was born in Belfast and moved to America with his mother at the age of seven.

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