by: Benjamin Fries
Posted: Nov 21, 2023 / 04:57 PM CST
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — Imprisoned for nearly a quarter of a century, Barton McNeil’s case was heard again at the McLean County Courthouse on Tuesday.
McNeil was sentenced to life in prison in 1999 for the murder of his three-year-old daughter Christina, although it was reduced to a 99-year sentence.
Since his conviction, he has remained steadfast in his innocence. This evidentiary hearing happened after McNeil’s petition for a new trial.
McNeil is in the process of overturning his nearly 25-year-old first-degree murder conviction through the post-conviction process, a form of appeal that goes through the trial court, not an appellate court.
Suspect number one in his defense counsel’s mind is his ex-girlfriend, Misook Nowlin-Wang. She is currently serving a 55-year sentence for murdering her mother-in-law, Linda Tyda, in 2011 and had previously served time for domestic violence and child abuse charges.
Nowlin-Wang took the stand today but pleaded the Fifth Amendment for each of the defense counsel’s questions.
Other testimonies included Michelle Spencer, Nowlin-Wang’s daughter, who saw McNeil as a “father figure”. She contends that Don Wang, Nowlin-Wang’s ex-husband, told her at the celebration of life ceremony for Tyda, who was Wang’s mother, that Nowlin-Wang admitted to killing Christina.
However, an interview conducted by a Bloomington detective around the same time as that celebration of life showed that Wang denied ever saying that. He did mention in that interview that he believed Nowlin-Wang had the “capability” of murdering Christina.
The defense contended that they needed “reasonable probability” that would show that a jury would more than likely find McNeil innocent. However, McLean County’s first assistant prosecutor Brad Rigdon asserted that the defense needs more than that for a new trial.
Rigdon added that Nowlin-Wang pleading the fifth is not immediately a “negative inference” and the fact that Don Wang denied saying that Nowlin-Wang admitted to murdering Christina, means the process should stop right here. He emphasized the fact that Tyda was Don Wang’s mother.
Karl Leonard represented the rest of the defense counsel in his final appeal to Judge William Yoder. He said that there “was never enough evidence” against McNeil as there was no witness or forensic evidence.
He also contended that it was in Nowlin-Wang’s best interest to answer questions instead of pleading the fifth.
Overall, he’s glad about how the hearing went.
“We obviously still have to wait for the court’s ruling, but I think today’s a big day for Bart and a chance, finally, to present some of the evidence that he has showing his innocence,” he said.
He was joined in the courthouse lobby after the hearing by the rest of his defense team, and several supporters of McNeil, including family and friends.
For Larry Mize, who has been McNeil’s friend since high school, today showed progress but he’s still frustrated.
“It’s a little ridiculous that an innocent man sits in prison while everybody drags their feet and decides what they’re going to do next and what they’re going to file next. While they’re shuffling papers, his life is wasting away,” Mize said.
While there is no official date for a ruling, Judge Yoder said he will write his opinion as soon as possible.
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