February 26, 2024 News Article NPR WGLT – Barton McNeil case featured in Esquire article


WGLT | By Edith Brady-Lunny

Published February 26, 2024 at 2:52 PM CST

Photograph by Edith Lunny / WGLT

Barton McNeil (standing) is seeking a new trial for the killing of his 3-year-old daughter, Christina McNeil.

A 1998 murder conviction against a Bloomington father who has maintained his innocence in the death of his daughter is the subject of an investigative journalism piece this month in Esquire magazine.

Freelance journalist Matthew Bremner, who resides in Spain, learned about the Barton McNeil case while working in Argentina on a story about another wrongful conviction case. He set the information about the Bloomington case aside until an experience in his own life — the accidental injury of infant son — caused him to revisit the story about a father accused of killing his 3-year-old daughter, Christina McNeil.

Man seated in chair with legs folded and an open binder in his lap

Matthew Bremner

The article was a year in the making, with about 20 interviews and multiple trips to Illinois, including two visits to see McNeil at the Pinckneyville Correction Center.

Bremner described McNeil as “eccentric in a way, but he is consistently so. And I didn’t really feel him change. Obviously, I got to know him better, I got to know his likes and dislikes outside of the case. I got to know what his real feelings were. And from an emotional point of view regarding what happened to him, but in terms of my general feeling about him, I felt it remained relatively constant throughout and still does to this day, even after publication.”

The cases were featured in WGLT’s 2018 podcast Suspect Convictions.

From the beginning, the McNeil case had an added layer of complexity, based on his insistence hours after he discovered Christina’s lifeless body in her bed, that his former girlfriend Misook Nowlin should be considered a suspect in the child’s death. Police questioned Nowlin but focused their attention on McNeil, accusing him of suffocating the child.

Nowlin’s name surfaced again in 2011 when she was convicted of killing her mother-in-law Linda Tyda in Bloomington. And again, police dismissed Nowlin as a suspect in Christina’s death. The strong and consistent argument by McNeil and his legal team that a new jury should hear evidence of Nowlin’s alleged involvement made the story more compelling, said Bremner.

“It made Bart’s case more compelling, and it made it easier in a way, to investigate because there were less unknowns. I mean, there are a lot of unknowns in this case, but there is at least someone that I could go to for answers, even if those answers turned out to be evasive in the end,” said the author.

The evasive answers, said Bremner, came during his telephone interview with Nowlin, a conversation that followed half a dozen requests to her for an interview through the state’s prison email system. Bremner described Nowlin’s demeanor during the process of setting up the interview as “aggressively cautious.”

“She spoke to me for about an hour and half. The first 25 minutes of the phone call were how she didn’t really want to speak to me and how she might hang up faster if I asked the wrong questions. After that was overcome, I was able to put all the allegations that exist out there, and that Bart and other people have, and she answered them in her way,” said Bremner.

Nowlin continued to deny her involvement in Christina’s death.

The title of the Esquire article poses the question: “Who killed baby Christina?”

Bremner said his role as a journalist is to share existing and potentially new evidence with readers who will make their determination on his guilt or innocence.

But Bremner added, “I will say that there is, in Barton’s case, a huge amount of very compelling evidence to suggest he’s innocent, too much to be discounted. And so, I hope without getting too definitive on what I think or feel, I hope that the piece in some way can contribute to someone in the authority thinking, OK we need to look at this case again, we need to give it another shot because I think, at the very least, it deserves that, given all of the inconsistencies and strange things that are going on inside this case.”

A McLean County judge recently denied McNeil’s petition for a new trial based on what the defense considered newly discovered evidence developed since McNeil’s bench trial. The case now heads to the Fourth District Appellate Court for a review of the judge’s ruling.

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