(CNN) Charges have been dismissed against the man who spent nearly five years behind bars for the 1957 murder of a little girl.
But Jack Daniel McCullough still faces the possibility that some day a prosecutor could bring murder charges against him again in one of the nation’s coldest cases.
McCullough, 76, has been free since his murder conviction was thrown out a week ago. But the question of whether he could be tried again had been left unresolved. And so he was back in court Friday, hoping to be cleared for good.
Even the prosecution argued the charges should be dismissed “with prejudice” — meaning McCullough could never face trial again.
Instead, Judge William Brady simply dismissed the murder charge — leaving the door open for a retrial.
“I’ve only been doing this for 41 years, and I have never signed an order for dismissal with prejudice,” Brady said.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, who had taken a second look at the case and decided McCullough was innocent, indicated he will not refile charges.
The judge did dismiss a kidnapping charge against McCullough for good, though, because an appeals court had already reversed that conviction based on the statute of limitations.
Brady postponed ruling on a request by the victim’s brother — backed by hundreds of signatures on a petition, including that of Sycamore’s mayor — to appoint a special prosecutor.
Charles Ridulph, a 70-year-old church deacon, is certain McCullough killed his 7-year-old sister, Maria, and is looking to keep this cold case closed. The petition, which is circulating around town and on social media, urges residents of “old Sycamore” to “stand up” with Ridulph.
“We have lost all confidence in the impartiality and integrity of our criminal justice system,” the petition states, leveling sharp criticism at Schmack.
More than 200 people had signed the petition by the time it was submitted to the court Thursday afternoon. By Friday morning, the number had doubled.
Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy’s name tops the list, along with his personal appeal to appoint a special prosecutor to restore the community’s faith in the justice system.
A longtime friend of the Ridulph family, he called Schmack a “rogue” prosecutor “who refused to follow the law” and respect the decisions of the trial and appeals courts.
In delaying a decision on the request for a special prosecutor, Brady said, “I am not blind to the fact that there are many people who would want to see this case resolved through a trial. It doesn’t surprise me. But am I supposed to accept, is it whoever brings the most petitions is how I decide the case?”
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