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McNeil's post-conviction case could get fast-tracked to hearing on new evidence

Chris Ross
Edith Brady-Lunny
After a hearing on Friday, Bart McNeil’s cousin, Chris Ross, said the family is pleased the case has seen progress in recent months.

The state will determine its next move by early December in the post-conviction proceedings of a Bloomington man working to clear his name of murder charges.

Bart McNeil is serving 100 years in murder charges in the 1998 strangulation death of his 3-year-old daughter, Christina McNeil.

Prosecutor Mary Koll said discussions with defense lawyers Stephanie Kamel and John Hanlon prior to a hearing on Friday centered on whether the state would request dismissal of McNeil’s petition for a new trial, or skip such a request and move directly to a hearing on the potential new evidence outlined in the petition. Trends in appellate law were cited as the reason the case may move directly to an evidentiary hearing, said Koll.

Judge William Yoder set a Dec. 10 hearing to review the status of the case.

After the hearing, McNeil’s cousin, Chris Ross, said the family is pleased that the case has seen progress in recent months.

“Things are looking good for my cousin Bart McNeil,” said Ross, who traveled from California for the five-minute hearing.
Ross said he plans to be in the courtroom as much as possible as the post-conviction process unfolds.

“I wanted to be here standing in his place,” he said.

Bloomington Police focused on McNeil as the prime suspect in the case two days after the child’s death. He was convicted after a bench trial lasting about a week. During his interviews with police and public statements since his incarceration, McNeil has pointed a finger at his former girlfriend, Misook Nowlin, as Christina’s killer.

McNeil’s assertions about Nowlin, who had a history of violence against McNeil and her own daughter prior to Christina’s death, garnered public attention after Nowlin’s conviction in the 2011 strangulation of her mother-in-law, Linda Tyda.

McNeil’s post-conviction efforts have inched through the courts since the Illinois Innocence Project began working on his case nearly decade ago. In February, defense lawyers filed a 65-page petition seeking a new trial based on new evidence in the case.

Among the newly-developed evidence outlined in the petition are forensic test results on a hair collected inside the child’s pillowcase. The hair is consistent with Nowlin’s DNA, according to the petition. Nowlin also cannot be excluded from DNA collected from a bed sheet.

The state’s initial theory that McNeil killed the child to cover his sexual molestation of her also is challenged by the defense.

“Modern science completely repudiates ... testimony regarding any alleged motive,” said the petition.

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Edith began her career as a reporter with The DeWitt County Observer, a weekly newspaper in Clinton. From 2007 to June 2019, Edith covered crime and legal issues for The Pantagraph, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois. She previously worked as a correspondent for The Pantagraph covering courts and local government issues in central Illinois.
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