November 21st News Article The Pantagraph – McLean County judge hears new evidence in Barton McNeil case

Mateusz Janik
Nov 21, 2023

Chris Ross reads a statement from Bart McNeil on Tuesday at the McLean County Law and Justice

CLICK HERE to hear Barton McNeil comment immediately following Nov 21st hearing

BLOOMINGTON — A McLean County judge is weighing whether to allow Barton McNeil’s challenge to his 1999 murder conviction to proceed after his attorneys presented what they say is new evidence that implicates his ex-girlfriend, Misook Nowlin. 

McNeil, 64, is serving a 100-year prison sentence after he was convicted in the suffocation death of his 3-year-old daughter, Christina McNeil. McNeil has maintained his innocence and alleged that the murder was committed by Nowlin, who was later convicted of killing her 70-year-old mother-in-law.

During the hearing overseen Tuesday by Judge William Yoder, McNeil was represented by attorneys Lauren Myerscough-Mueller and Karl Leonard of the Exoneration Project and John Halon, legal director of the Illinois Innocence Project. 

Nowlin was one of three witnesses called Tuesday by McNeil’s legal team, who alleged that Nowlin told her then-husband, Don Wang, that she had killed Christina. Nowlin is serving a 55-year prison sentence for strangling Wang’s mother, Linda Tyda, to death in 2011.  Wang could not be found to testify, the attorneys said. The court did hear from Nowlin’s daughter and her daughter’s stepmother, both of whom

submitted affidavits in 2013 saying that Wang told them about the alleged confession. 

Nowlin repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during her testimony, but she did state that she never killed Christina. 

Michelle Spencer, Nowlin’s daughter, testified that Wang told her that Nowlin had killed Christina. She said that her stepmother, Dawn Nowlin, was also present during the conversation, which took place during a celebration of life event for Wang’s mother. 

Dawn Nowlin elaborated, testifying that Wang said his former wife had confessed after the two had gotten in an argument. 

Assistant State’s Attorney Brad Rigdon stressed that McNeil had already been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and he emphasized that the scope of the hearing was limited to the evidence of whether Misook Nowlin had confessed to Wang, who repeated the statement to others.  Rigdon’s sole witness was Steven Fanelli, a former detective with the Bloomington Police Department, whose testimony was supplemented by footage of an interview he

conducted with Wang on Feb. 16, 2012. 

During the interview, Fanelli asked questions about Wang’s relationship with Misook Nowlin, whether she had confessed to killing Christina and whether he had shared that information with anyone. Wang answered “no” to both questions, but did mention that she had said McNeil was accusing her of Christina’s death.

Myerscough-Mueller, one of McNeil’s attorneys, then showed another portion of the interview. In it, Wang said that if Fanelli had asked him whether he thought Nowlin had the capability of killing Christina, Wang would have said yes, because he knew that she had killed his mother.

Also mentioned Tuesday were child welfare records from the Department of Child and Family Services. Misook Nowlin was convicted in 1998 of felony child abuse for reported violence toward her own daughter almost two months after Christina’s death. 

Even if this information were to be presented to a jury, Rigdon said, it would not undermine the confidence in the verdict and it does not change the outcome because it would solely be seen “as hearsay upon hearsay.” 

Following the hearing, McNeil’s cousin, Chris Ross, and a handful of other friends and family members met on the main floor of the McLean County Law and Justice Center to address the media and answer questions.

“That was quite a hearing that we saw up there,” Ross said. “We certainly hope that the judge weighs all of this in and does the right thing.”

Larry Tyda, the husband of murder victim Linda Tyda, told reporters that it was difficult to watch Misook Nowlin on the witness stand. He said he believes that his wife’s death should have never happened.

When Nowlin was on trial for killing his wife, Tyda met Ross, he said. It was then that he learned for the first time about McNeil and Christina. 

“I’d like to see the judge really consider this and give this man a chance on freeing him or giving him a new trial,” Tyda said.

John Hanlon, director of the Illinois Innocence Project, said that if Yoder declined to grant a new trial to McNeil, attorneys would appeal to the 4th District Appellate Court in Springfield. 

“Barton McNeil is pretty remarkable in the sense of his attitude and strength,” Hanlon said. “He has the truth on his side that he is innocent and so that truth manifests with in terms of continued confidence that ultimately will be exposed for everyone.”

Judge Yoder took the case under advisement and said he will issue a written ruling.

 Contact Mateusz Janik at (309) 820-3234. Follow Mateusz on Twitter:@mjanik99


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