2014 February 26 News Article – State agrees to some DNA testing in 1998 murder case

February 26, 2014 4:45 pm  • Edith Brady-Lunny

BLOOMINGTON — Lawyers for a Bloomington man convicted in 1999 of killing his daughter said Wednesday they will expand their request for DNA testing of evidence they believe will point to the child’s real killer: a woman serving 55 years for killing her mother-in-law in 2012.

Barton McNeil is serving 100 years for the 1998 death of his 3-year-old daughter, Christina.

McNeil’s lawyers with the University of Illinois-Springfield’s Downstate Innocence Project said they will file an amended petition soon seeking to add a window screen from the victim’s bedroom to the list of items they believe should undergo forensic testing.

McNeil has maintained his innocence in the 1998 death, claiming his former girlfriend, Misook Nowlin, was responsible for smothering the girl. Nowlin was convicted in 2012 of strangling her mother-in-law, Wenlan Linda Tyda, during a September 2011 dispute in Bloomington.

Defense lawyer John Hanlon asked Judge Scott Drazewski for a quick turnaround on a hearing date to finalize the initial testing.

Noting that McNeil is represented by the Innocence Project — a group that assists people with innocence claims — Hanlon said “we would like to keep things moving for his sake.”

Meanwhile, State’s Attorney Jason Chambers said the state will agree to DNA testing on blood and urine stains found on the victim’s bed sheet, but will oppose other testing that he is not convinced will produce new evidence. Chambers said he may be persuaded to support more testing depending upon what the first round of tests show.

Calling Nowlin “a convenient and unsympathetic person you can point to” as a possible suspect, Chambers said it’s likely Nowlin’s DNA could be detected at McNeil’s home given their prior relationship. The prosecutor acknowledged, however, that if Nowlin’s DNA is matched blood stains on the bed sheet “then we might be willing to test some of the other items.”

For McNeil’s lawyers, the similarities between the girl’s manner of death in 1998 and Tyda’s murder 13 years later should convince the state to approve the testing.

“We have a case where not only can we say our person is not guilty, we can say here’s the person who did it,” said Hanlon.

The cost of the DNA testing expected to be completed by Orchid Cellmark in Texas will be covered by the Innocence Project, said Hanlon.

A March 26 hearing is set to review the case.

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12) Comments
  1. Report Abuse
    markv66 – 3 hours ago
    After reading up on Mr. McNeil’s situation, I believe Bart is an innocent man. The due process he received at the time of his trial appears to be inadaquate at best. If there is more evidence, let it be known.
    Col Henry Drummond
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    Col Henry Drummond – 10 hours ago
    It would seem, in retrospect, that this case needs significant further investigation.Obviously, mistakes can be made in the legal process. The people running the system have a difficult job, and many citizens appreciate that they try their best to get it right.
    When mistakes are made, and innocent people are harmed, we as a society must move quickly to redress the wrongs.
    Can you imagine what Mr. McNeil has been through? His crazy ex-girlfriend murders his daughter, and instead of having time to mourn her death, he is presented with a mountain of an obstacle in having to defend his innocence.

    If this is true, and there seems to be significant evidence pointing in that direction…Wow….just wow. One can only begin to imagine what Mr. McNeil has been through.

    Should anyone involved in this process read this comment, as a taxpayer, might I ask that this matter be expedited and moved forward at minimal cost? It would seem that if this is true, it is going to cost us a goodly sum. If so, then we should move it along as quickly as reasonably possible, in order to minimize costs to the taxpayer, and redress the wrong.

    Let’s get this moving!

  2. Felix Katzenbaum
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    Felix Katzenbaum – 11 hours ago
    I just came across a website that tells Bart’s whole story (Freebart.org). Wow. It’s terrible how so many people are behind bars because their trial was rushed, investigations inconclusive, and twenty years of their productive lives cut off from education, business success, raising a family. I hope the DA allows the full DNA testing and that this young man can be exonerated for a crime he never committed.
  3. bob miller
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    bob miller – 17 hours ago
    Good point plainjane777 and other posters to this blog. Misook Nowlin was the other lead suspect in the 1998 murder of Christina McNeil. She obviously had the motive. It was 3 year old Christina that Bart was devoting most of his free time with picking her up from daycare for example. He was more than 50% her care giver on account his ex-wife Tita with whom he separated three years prior worked several jobs while Bart had worked over a dozen years at the local Red Lobster restaurant for which employees still recall Bart and speak favorably of him to this day as he was a good, responsible and well liked employee. Misook with whom Bart had separated from two months prior to the murder by getting his own apartment (prior to this Misook and Barton lived together) was jealous of the time Bart devoted to his daughter. Unlike herself who only desired to visit with her own then eight year old daughter every other weekend. Bart also had to pay his former wife monthly child support. Something that also annoyed Misook as it took away several hundred dollars each month that in dating Bart, might otherwise have benefited from such as more dinners out or clothes. Misook had several felony clothing theft convictions so the record shows that she definitely liked expensive designer clothes. She also had plead guilty to a domestic assault charge perpetrated by her against none other than Bart and Christina a year prior to the murder occurring (ironically Misook’s sentencing for that conviction was to occur the day Christina turned up dead… coincidence here too?) that warranted her taking the local AVERT anger management classes. Two months after Christina’s murder she violently assaulted her then eight year old daughter and was convicted of this Felony crime as well and again had to attend yet more AVERT anger management counseling. And as a result of Christina, Bart had to be in almost daily and constant communication with his former wife Tita McNeil with whom Misook resented. It is simple to see by anyone knowledgeable about the circumstances of this case that Misook was jealous of Christina. As even with an age difference such as this, being jealous of even a frail, innocent three year old child, especially for a person like Misook who holds no regard for the sanctity of life having murdered a 70+ year old defenseless mother-in-law. Age is of no consequence for a person like Misook. A thirty year old woman jealous of the attention being poured upon a three year old by her father. Removing Christina by murdering enabled Misook to get even with two people: Bart and Tita. Jealousy was a stated motive by McLean County prosecutors as playing the most important reason Misook murdered Linda Tyda. It was more important than her collecting on a life insurance policy her and her husband were beneficiaries on. So there is definite modus operandi similarities between the two cases at work that cannot be denied. As a result of Misook being a suspect in 1998, she, not Bart, was administered by the State of Illinois a Polygraph exam for which she failed all four key questions concerning the murder. Polygraphs are not admissible in court but are still in use today, as it was back then, for investigation purposes. Misook was asked by the Illinois State Police Examiner “Did you suffocate Christina on June 18th”?; “Did you suffocate Christina?”; Did you enter Barton’s apartment between midnight and 7 a.m.?” and “Were you at his apartment when Christina was suffocated”? The Examiner wrote in his final report “There were erratic and inconsistent responses on the subject’s polygraph records which preclude the examiner from rendering an opinion for these questions”. McLean County Prosecutors successfully argued before the Bench Trial Judge (Bart was not tried by a jury but instead what is known in legal parlance as a “Sole Fact Finder”) on this unusual case a Motion in Limine that prevented Barton McNeil, or his assigned Public Defender attorney, from ever so mentioning or making reference to his former girlfriend Misook during his trial. “Beyond reasonable doubt” is the standard of evidence required to validate a criminal conviction in our U.S. based adversarial legal system. So the question now needs to be raised: Has credible doubt now been cast on this conviction that Misook, who had the motive and capable premeditative mind to plan a murderous crime (as evidenced in the Tyda murder trial) could have been in error? With Misook now convicted I know that I and many others now have reasonable doubt concerning the validity of the murder conviction of Bart McNeil. With or without potentially new DNA forensic evidence findings, doubt now exists if for nothing else, the fact that Misook whom Barton always said was the very likely true murderer of his child, did in fact murder a person under similar circumstances in 2011 for which she was convicted in 2013. This can’t possibly be attributed as being just a mere coincidence. Either this wrongfully convicted man’s statements over the last fifteen years regarding Misook should be accepted as true today or anything and everything that can be forensically tested, that hasn’t been tested by the State prior, be tested. After all, in this request, nothing that will be tested is at County expense. What would be the point then of keeping any artifact from the crime untested in some storage facility somewhere? As I follow and understand this case, this will be Bart’s second appeal and as a result, his last. I feel there should be no argument over what can be tested or not tested when the stakes are so high: namely a wrongful conviction with the remainder of a potentially innocent man’s life involved. I and others encourage Jason Chamber do the right thing each and every step of the way that is to not stand in the way of the Innocence Project’s desires in seeking out the full truth in this incredible case. Once testing has been complete either there will exist new forensic evidence from this process or not. Even without new forensic evidence I now have my reasonable doubt the State got the right person and let the guilty one roam free to kill again. I am sure Linda Tyda if she were alive would desire all items that could be tested be tested as well and to send Misook Nowlin on an even longer sentence and greater notoriety as a female serial killer that she deserves. Studies of female serial killers have shown the usual motivation behind the serial killings is jealousy. Imagine that.
    1. Whatafoolbelieves
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      Whatafoolbelieves – 12 hours ago
      I am sorry, taxing read, no paragraphs. Juror fell asleep during testimony. Any assessment on what this will cost Mclean County Tax Payers?
      1. bob miller
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        bob miller – 9 hours ago
        Apology accepted. No idea what it will cost. Should price be a consideration in any instance involving a wrongful conviction? There was no jury in this case. Maybe if there had been, there would have been a different conclusion. As it would have taken just one person to be unconvinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” existed. Versus one juror. The judge that handled this case. Further to add Misook had no Alibi during the time period the crime was committed. There was no physical evidence linking Bart to the crime. He was convicted on circumstantial evidence alone. When Jason was elected all of the wealth of investigative records that showed Misook making conflicting statements to police, the failed Polygraph exams, etc., he would not have known about. Perhaps one of his next tasks should be to confer with the BPD that want to stand behind “their man”, the now retired Detective Shepherd, and following a more extensive review of the case, order a new investigation. That might be a good move on Mr. Chambers part. Good day.
  4. Maggie 1
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    Maggie 1 – February 27, 2014 6:02 pm
    In reading the history behind the murder of Linda Tyda in this same city, and the history behind what Barton McNeil stated 15 years ago about the woman who was accused of murdering Mrs. Tyda, it is an honor to see that Mr. Chambers is willing to let some DNA testing done in the Barton McNeil case of 1998-1999. It is the greatness of the Illinois Innocence Project and others like them that stand for what is right and work diligently to do so that there are so many exonerations coming forth in the past ten years or so. I believe that any court would only do justice and want to do everything possible to make a wrong corrected. Stop the ‘egg on your face’ feelings about wrongful convictions–especially in circumstantial cases, give them every opportunity to prove otherwise with the new tools we have today. In this instance, why wait to see what happens on bed sheets alone? Why not test it all. The Illinois Innocence Project has been there before and knows what they need. Besides that, they state that they will bear the costs of these tests. Let’s do it right and get justice for this man now.
  5. plainjane777
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    plainjane777 – February 27, 2014 9:10 am
    If I recall correctly, the other item is a fingerprint from the window. Although Nowlin is an excellent suspect in this case, it is a narrow view by the SAO to exclude the possibility of another alternative suspect. To put it bluntly, Chambers is NOT testing the fingerprint because he saying that it doesn’t matter if it was Nowlin’s, because she was frequently at the home. However, what if the fingerprint is from a known pedophile that lived in the neighborhood? Or anyone else for that matter. The source of the fingerprint cannot be established unless it’s tested. It should ALL be tested – why should he have to wait months until the SAO decides whether it should pursue further testing or not. What burden is this on McLean County if the Innocence Project is paying for it, and is willing to foot the bill for ALL of the items tested?
  6. whatwasthat
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    whatwasthat – February 27, 2014 7:35 am
    I hope they follow this lead to put questions to rest. If another innocent man is spending time in prison for a crime he did not commit, someone needs to step up and get him released.
  7. exrepub
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    exrepub – February 27, 2014 6:32 am
    I think when there is any question, they should automatically do DNA tests. Only common sense.
  8. Report Abuse
    willi – February 26, 2014 11:40 pm
    I distinctly remember Bart telling me over 15 years ago that his ex-girlfriend was the only person he knew that was crazy (and spiteful) enough to harm his daughter. Maybe the state and local law enforcement are hoping to avoid backlash from convicting the wrong person, rather than a convenient attempt to blame someone considered unsympathetic to a jury

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