February 9, 2024 News Article The Pantagraph – McLean County judge denies new trial for Barton McNeil murder case appeal

Kelsey Watznauer    February 9, 2024

BLOOMINGTON — New evidence presented in Barton McNeil’s challenge to his 1999 murder conviction was not enough to convince a McLean County judge to give him a new trial.

In a written ruling issued last week, Judge William Yoder denied McNeil’s petition for post-conviction relief, following a third-stage hearing held in November.

McNeil, 64, is serving a 100-year prison sentence, having been convicted in the suffocation death of his 3-year-old daughter, Christina McNeil.

He has maintained his innocence and is now represented by Karl Leonard and Lauren Myerscough-Mueller of the Exoneration Project and John Hanlon, director of the Illinois Innocence Project.

McNeil has alleged his ex-girlfriend, Misook Nowlin, killed his daughter. Nowlin is serving 55 years in prison, convicted of killing her mother-in-law, Linda Tyda, in 2011. She has also sought a new trial for her conviction, but it was denied in August by McLean County Judge Scott Kording.

Hanlon said McNeil was “disappointed” in the ruling, and the legal team plans to appeal Yoder’s decision in the 4th District Appellate Court in Springfield.

In response to the ruling, McNeil said Yoder’s decision made the judge “a party to three murders.

“As a former McLean County state’s attorney, he fought to maintain my wrongful conviction in the service of Misook Nowlin’s getaway. In so doing, he facilitated Nowlin’s later killing of Linda Tyda. And as a judge, he is determined to unjustly take my own life despite his awareness of my innocence,” he said in an audio recording provided to The Pantagraph by his family.

At the November hearing, McNeil’s attorneys presented evidence they said implicated Nowlin in the girl’s death. She was one of three witnesses called during the November hearing by McNeil’s legal team, who say Nowlin told her then-husband Don Wang she had killed Christina. Wang could not be found to testify, the attorneys said.

Nowlin invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during much of her testimony, but she stated she did not kill Christina.

Nowlin’s other daughter, Michelle Spencer, and Spencer’s stepmother, Dawn Nowlin, also testified and had submitted affidavits in 2013 saying Wang told them Nowlin confessed.

First Assistant State’s Attorney Brad Rigdon’s witness, former Bloomington detective Steven Fanelli, testified about his interview with Wang conducted in February 2012, in which Wang told him Nowlin had now confessed to killing Christina.


In his ruling, Yoder wrote the “conclusive character” of the new evidence was the most important element of McNeil’s innocence claim.

However, the testimony from Spencer and Dawn Nowlin “is not conclusive evidence that, when considered along with the other trial evidence, would probably lead to a different result at trial,” Yoder wrote. “The evidence supporting the postconviction petition does not place the trial evidence in a different light or undermine the court’s confidence in the judgment of guilt.”

His ruling was based on the evidence related to whether Nowlin confessed to Wang, having previously ruled DNA evidence taken from the scene of Christina’s death would not be considered. McNeil said in the recording that DNA evidence shows Nowlin’s involvement.

“DNA doesn’t lie. The McLean County State’s Attorney along with Judge Yoder himself know perfectly well that the presence of Misook Nowlin’s DNA on the freshly laundered bed sheets could only be the result of her direct involvement in my daughter’s murder,” he said. “Who is more guilty of taking innocent lives? Who should really be behind bars?”

McNeil’s cousin, Chris Ross, criticized McLean County’s “slow and biased legal process” and said McNeil’s case should be the first case taken up by a statewide conviction integrity unit being developed by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

“It would determine him to be innocent and more importantly, find that Misook Nowlin should be charged with the first-degree murder of his 3-year old daughter Christina McNeil,” he said in a written statement, calling his cousin’s case “extraordinary.”

To listen to recording go to article URL: Pantagraph article

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