Convicted child killer maintains innocence, says new evidence could prove ex-girlfriend guilty
By WEEK Reporter
July 31, 2014 Updated Aug 1, 2014 at 10:49 AM CDT
MENARD, Ill. –June of 1999 Bloomington man Barton McNeil was convicted of killing his 3-year-old daughter Christina McNeil.
For years McNeil firmly believed his ex-girlfriend Misook Nowlin committed the crime, but his claim fell on deaf ears. It turns out, years later in 2012, his ex-girlfriend was convicted of killing her husband’s mother.
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With a turn of events and additional DNA testing, McNeil’s defense says it could prove his innocence.
On June 16 1998, Barton McNeil’s life had changed forever. It was that day he found his 3-year-old daughter dead.
The original 911 transcripts reads:
911 operator: 911. What’s your emergency?
McNeil: I need an ambulance! I need it fast! …My daughter’s dying I think!
The death of Christina would eventually condemn him at the Menard Correctional Center, a maximum security adult male prison. His conviction: two counts of first degree murder and 100 years in prison.
“If this is my fate, God forbid I live this long,” said McNeil. “I’m sentenced to death by prison.”
All for a crime he says he did not commit. It is a murder mystery that begins in Bloomington-Normal, after a break up argument with his former girlfriend, Misook Nowlin.
“She was stalking me at every turn. She would demand I spent time with her. She threatened to kill herself,” said McNeil. “She had this maniacal jealousy of Christina, the primary object of my affection.”
The morning after the breakup, McNeil was horrified by what he saw.
“I woke to find my daughter dead in her bedroom,” explained McNeil.
She was suffocated — bruises around her body.
The original Bloomington Police crime scene footage shows the window screen had been cut above the latches.
“I’m absolutely convinced of this… that her killer was already in the room for the purpose of killing my daughter,” said McNeil.
However, the court said the evidence did not qualify as proof. Cobwebs and dust showed an undisturbed area. The decision reads, “There is no evidence that someone else entered the home at any time.” McNeil’s cousin, Chris Ross, has been studying the case for years.
“The prosecution was able to put in place this Motion in Limine that made it impossible for Bart to utter Misook’s name in his defense,” said Ross.
Any evidence regarding Misook had to be thrown out. The successful Motion in Limine disallowed McNeil a defense that another person committed the crime. Legal authorities say McNeil was, therefore, the only one who could have been in the apartment and was guilty by default. McNeil was losing hope.
“I’m staying here probably until I die,” said McNeil.
Then, a turning point. In 2012, Misook Nowlin was convicted of killing her mother-in-law. Nowlin’s husband had been wanting a divorce.
“It was an intricately planned crime,” said Ross.
She lured her husband’s mother, Wenlan Tyda, to a location where she strangled her to death.
“Had this murder not come to the attention of the public, Bart would be sitting in prison without hope and awaiting his eventual death,” said Ross.
As of now, he is and will be. But Nowlin’s conviction in the Tyda case also caught the attention of the University of Illinois Springfield’s Innocence Project.
“They’re extremely selective, they maybe take one in every hundred letters they receive,” said Ross.
Two lawyers and a team of law students are fighting for McNeil’s freedom. They have already petitioned for the approval of DNA testing of new evidence–blood stains, fingerprints and more. It is evidence lawyers believe could clear McNeil’s name.
“Justice will only be served if my daughter’s killers will be prosecuted for what they did,” said McNeil.
Friday McNeil will have a hearing at the Mclean County Courthouse that will determine what evidence will be tested further.