Prosecutors will seek to dismiss Bart McNeil's request for new trial in 1998 murder
A hearing on new evidence that could clear Bart McNeil of murder was delayed on Friday by at least five months after a prosecutor said the state will first seek dismissal of McNeil’s petition for a new trial.
McNeil, now 62, is serving 100 years in the 1998 suffocation death of 3-year-old Christina McNeil. His case was featured on WGLT's podcast Suspect Convictions in 2018.
McNeil did not attend the brief hearing, but his legal team of five lawyers from the Illinois Innocence Project and the Exoneration Project attended the hearing and settled on a timeline with the state that puts the next hearing on May 12.
Prosecutor Mary Koll said in November that the state may be willing to move forward with a hearing on new potential evidence and bypass the routine filing of a motion to dismiss McNeil’s petition filed in February seeking a new trial. On Friday, Koll told Judge William Yoder the state would be filing the motion to dismiss.
The defense has attacked the evidence used by the state to convict McNeil in a bench trial held over several days in 1999. That evidence included claims that McNeil had sexually abused the child and discussions surrounding the time it takes a spider to weave a new web.
When McNeil summoned police back to his Bloomington apartment hours after the girl’s lifeless body was found in his bed, he directed officers to holes in a window screen. The state challenged the defense theory that an intruder had entered the bedroom window by showing photos of undamaged spider webs on the window casing.
McNeil suggested police investigate his former girlfriend Misook Nowlin as a suspect in the child’s death. The two had ended their relationship following an argument in a local restaurant the night of Christina’s death. McNeil told his former girlfriend he was not willing to testify on her behalf at a court hearing the following day related to a domestic dispute between the couple.
Nowlin was convicted in 2011 of suffocating her mother-in-law Linda Tyda after a family disagreement over money and questions about the fidelity of Misook’s husband.
Defense lawyers argue in the new petition that results of new forensic tests could implicate Nowlin as a suspect. Nowlin could not be excluded from DNA collected from a bedsheet.
McNeil’s conviction was the result of a rush to judgement, the defense has argued, by police who did not thoroughly investigate the case before focusing on the father as the main suspect.
Following Friday’s hearing, one of McNeil’s longtime friends became emotional when talking to reporters about the case. Jeff Boyer worked with McNeil and Misook at a Bloomington restaurant before Christina’s death.
“There’s a lot of us who knew Bart as a kind and loving person,” said Boyer. “There was never a moment I felt Bart was aggressive or harmful in any way."
Boyer said his impression of Nowlin differed from what he saw with McNeil.
“She was quite the opposite of his personality. She was combative and combustible,” said McNeil’s friend.