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Timeline set for hearings in Barton McNeil case as he seeks new trial

Tom Gorman
Edith Brady-Lunny
Barton McNeil supporter Tom Gorman, seated, spoke with media after a hearing. Behind him is Jeff Boyer, also an advocate for McNeil.

Lawyers for Barton McNeil will present their case at a June 6 hearing, contending that evidence that McNeil's former girlfriend confessed to killing his daughter is relevant to his efforts to secure a new trial on murder charges.

Christina McNeil was 3 years old in June 1998 when her father discovered her lifeless body in a bedroom of his Bloomington apartment. McNeil was convicted of strangling the child in what authorities argued was an attempt by McNeil to cover up sexual abuse of the child.

McNeil has denied any involvement in the child’s death, and has urged Bloomington Police to investigate his former girlfriend, Misook Nowlin, a woman with a history of violence and child abuse, as a possible suspect. In 2011, Nowlin was convicted of strangling her mother-in-law Linda Tyda after an argument. Evidence against Nowlin showed she planned the killing by luring Tyda to Bloomington on false pretenses.

On Friday, Judge William Yoder set a timeline for court filings ahead of the June hearing on McNeil’s claim that Nowlin admitted to her ex-husband, Don Wang, that she killed the child. McNeil’s lawyers with the Exoneration Project have filed affidavits from two women with information about the alleged confession.

In a separate court filing, the defense is seeking all materials related to the McNeil and Nowlin cases. Any investigative materials that may relate to Nowlin as a possible suspect in Christina’s death are among the items sought by McNeil’s legal team.

The affidavits are the only potential new evidence approved for a hearing, according to a ruling last year by Yoder on McNeil’s petition for a new trial. The Chicago legal team contends a jury should consider new questions surrounding scientific evidence used at McNeil’s bench trial. The fact that Nowlin’s hair and DNA were found on the child’s recently laundered bedding also should be heard by jurors at a new trial, the defense has argued.

After the hearing, McNeil supporter Tom Gorman called the police investigation “a railroading job from the beginning and here we are 20 years later.”

Gorman, of Peoria, supports the use of conviction integrity units used in several states to review murder convictions. He suggests Illinois’ governor and attorney general take action to establish the units in Illinois.

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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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