By Mateusz Janik | October 25, 2022
BLOOMINGTON — A hearing can be scheduled on one piece of Barton McNeil’s potential evidence as he seeks exoneration on murder charges, a McLean County judge has ruled, but most of McNeil’s arguments supporting a new trial were dismissed.
McNeil is currently serving a 100-year prison sentence on murder charges in the June 15, 1998, suffocation death of 3-year-old Christina McNeil. He has long maintained his innocence and argued that his ex-girlfriend, Misook Nowlin, committed the murder. Nowlin is serving a 55-year prison sentence on murder charges for the 2011 strangulation death of her 70-year-old mother-in-law, Linda Tyda.
Following an earlier concession by state prosecutors this year, Yoder approved a hearing for two affidavits from the daughters of Nowlin, who supposedly confessed to the murder of Christina to her ex-husband, Don Wang.
Yoder’s ruling, dated Oct. 11, dismissed a number of McNeil’s arguments; he is expected to appeal.
McNeil’s lawyers, from the Exoneration Project and the Illinois Innocence Project, have maintained that evidence to convict McNeil was based on “junk science.” They argued that nothing about the autopsy findings supports the basis that Christina was smothered and that newly discovered evidence disputes the state’s initial report.
His lawyers also asked for a hearing on allegations that Christina had been sexually molested, an allegation that authorities cited to bolster the murder investigation.
Yoder dismissed both medical claims, saying they failed to meet the standard of new evidence.
Other arguments included forensic results showing Nowlin’s DNA on the bedding used by Christina. Yoder said she could not be excluded as a source of DNA, noting the romantic relationship between the two.
McNeil has argued that he washed the bedsheets earlier on the day of the daughter’s death, as shown in a line item of a credit card statement submitted in court.
Hours before Christina’s death, Nowlin and McNeil ended their relationship at a restaurant where staff reported witnessing the two arguing.
McNeil’s cousin, Chris Ross, blasted Yoder’s decision, describing it in a statement as “both appalling and egregious.”
“Judge William Yoder has now put a blight and stain on the county of McLean and the entire American criminal justice system and how we citizens believe it should work,” Ross said in the statement. “If Bart does not deserve a new trial, who in the state of Illinois ever would?”
The follow-up hearing will focus on statements from Nowlin’s daughters, but no date has been set yet.