February 26, 2014 4:45 pm • Edith Brady-Lunny
Barton McNeil is serving 100 years for the 1998 death of his 3-year-old daughter, Christina.
McNeil’s lawyers with the University of Illinois-Springfield’s Downstate Innocence Project said they will file an amended petition soon seeking to add a window screen from the victim’s bedroom to the list of items they believe should undergo forensic testing.
McNeil has maintained his innocence in the 1998 death, claiming his former girlfriend, Misook Nowlin, was responsible for smothering the girl. Nowlin was convicted in 2012 of strangling her mother-in-law, Wenlan Linda Tyda, during a September 2011 dispute in Bloomington.
Defense lawyer John Hanlon asked Judge Scott Drazewski for a quick turnaround on a hearing date to finalize the initial testing.
Noting that McNeil is represented by the Innocence Project — a group that assists people with innocence claims — Hanlon said “we would like to keep things moving for his sake.”
Meanwhile, State’s Attorney Jason Chambers said the state will agree to DNA testing on blood and urine stains found on the victim’s bed sheet, but will oppose other testing that he is not convinced will produce new evidence. Chambers said he may be persuaded to support more testing depending upon what the first round of tests show.
Calling Nowlin “a convenient and unsympathetic person you can point to” as a possible suspect, Chambers said it’s likely Nowlin’s DNA could be detected at McNeil’s home given their prior relationship. The prosecutor acknowledged, however, that if Nowlin’s DNA is matched blood stains on the bed sheet “then we might be willing to test some of the other items.”
For McNeil’s lawyers, the similarities between the girl’s manner of death in 1998 and Tyda’s murder 13 years later should convince the state to approve the testing.
“We have a case where not only can we say our person is not guilty, we can say here’s the person who did it,” said Hanlon.
The cost of the DNA testing expected to be completed by Orchid Cellmark in Texas will be covered by the Innocence Project, said Hanlon.
A March 26 hearing is set to review the case.
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