By: Jacob Long, WMBD/WYZZ-TV
BLOOMINGTON – As we were first to report today, the Downstate Innocence Project is reviewing a 1998 Bloomington murder case.The case surrounds Barton McNeil, who was convicted in 1999 of murdering his young daughter, but has always said the real killer is his ex-girlfriend Misook Wang.Wang is now in jail, charged in the death of her mother-in-law in Bloomington last September.We talked to Downstate Innocence Project Director Larry Golden by phone Monday afternoon. He said his office received several requests to look at McNeil’s case.One request came from McNeil himself.
Golden said the case has met the project’s initial criteria. Now his team of lawyers and experts are working to gather all of the necessary legal documentation.
“We are now reviewing and evaluating the merits of that case with particular focus on the question of the potential for DNA testing,” he said.
Golden didn’t say what they might want to test for DNA, noting it is very early in the process.
He said the next development could come in 60 to 90 days.
Meanwhile, WMBD 31’s Jacob Long has been looking into McNeil’s case for months. He went behind prison walls for an exclusive interview.
Christina McNeil was just thee years old when her life ended.
She was suffocated to death in bed at McNeil’s apartment in the early hours of June 16, 1998.
McNeil was charged with killing her and convicted in 1999. He’s serving 100 years at Menard Correctioncal Center in southern Illinois.
During our interview, he told us the same thing he’s been saying since he says he woke up and found his daughter’s lifeless body.
“What evidence is there that I would just decide one day, well this is a good day to kill my daughter for no apparent motive, and I’ll do it on the heels of my bitter break-up with my estranged girlfriend,” he said.
The night of Christina’s death, McNeil he had been arguing with his estranged lover Misook Wang.
He said he was trying to break up with her, but she wouldn’t have it. He contends Wang murdered Christina out of extreme jealousy and hatred.
McNeil said, “What was I just making this up all these years? About Misook being a crazed, cunning maniac?”
Wang is now charged with killing her mother-in-law at a Bloomington sewing shop in September 2011.
Police argue she then buried the body at a nature preserve outside Chicago.
McNeil said in our interview this is no coincidence. He said there’s an undeniable correlation between Misook killing Christina during their break-up, and her killing her husband’s mother during a troubled time in their marriage.
“Misook’s subsequent murder of her estranged husband’s mother is the final word on my innocence,” he said.
McLean County First Assistant State’s Attorney Jane Foster was not part of the original prosecution, but she said she has reviewed the McNeil case.
Foster admitted during an interview with us it is strange Wang has turned up in tow separate murder cases, but she said there is nothing that ties her to Christina’s death.
“She was thoroughly investigated, and there was just absolutely no evidence that tied her to this murder. All of the evidence pointed to Barton McNeil,” Foster said.
Foster said McNeil’s conviction is based on circumstantial evidence alone, meaning there is no DNA evidence tying him to the death of his daughter.
She also argued McNeil changed his story many times about what he was doing when Christina killed.
“He claimed to be on the computer. He claimed to be sleeping, but yet none of the records supported his version of events,” she said.
Police reported at the time of Christina’s death that McNeil indicated his daughter had been suffocated before a cause of death was released.
Foster said he was the only one with access to Christina the night of her murder, and that there were no signs of forced entry at his apartment.
She said, “The police crime scene people examined the window. It was dusty. There were spiderwebs. It had not been disturbed.”
Yet crime scene photos McNeil showed us clearly show two holes cut in the screen to Christina’s bedroom window.
The Illinois State Crime Lab also said in 1998 Christina had several hairs in her hands. An analysis showed they likely were her own, but expert testimony from court shows it’s possible they came from someone else with similar characteristics.
“The only person who fits that, fits those characteristics is that of Misook Wang’s 8-year-old daughter Michelle Nowlin,” McNeil said during our interview.
He believes the two broke into his apartment together or the hairs were on Misook’s clothing.
He said he remembers waking up around midnight to Christina saying something to effect of ‘Michelle.’
“This suggests that Christina had been awakened by Michelle who was either in the room already or outside the window or something,” he said.
McNeil also points to Wang’s violent past. Court records show she has multiple domestic battery incidents on her record.
They include patterns of abuse against McNeil and her own daughter.
There is even court documentation that shows Wang threatened to murder her daughter Michelle at one time.
“I don’t know what else you need except a signed confession or here caught on tape doing this,” McNeil said.
He claims the information about Wang’s violent past was kept out of evidence in court. Foster said McNeil would’ve had every opportunity to present it.
Still, McNeil feels had a judge heard it, his daughter’s killer would be behind bars an Wang’s mother-in-law would be alive.
“You don’t dump Misook and live to tell about it, or your loved ones are going to pay for this,” he said.
Foster said Wang has an alibi for the night of Christina’s murder. Her public defender is not able to comment on the McNeil case.
Bloomington Police said Monday they have reviewed it, but they haven’t said if Christina’s death investigation is going to be re-opened.