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State opposes Barton McNeil's request for records and confession evidence ahead of June hearing

Bart McNeil
David Proeber
The Pantagraph (Pool)
Barton McNeil was convicted of the 1998 suffocation death of his daughter, 3-year-old Christina McNeil, in Bloomington.

Lawyers for Barton McNeil should not be allowed to introduce evidence to support his claims that his former girlfriend confessed to the murder that put him behind bars for life, the state argued in a motion filed in McNeil’s petition for a new trial.

McNeil was convicted of the 1998 suffocation death of his daughter, 3-year-old Christina McNeil, in Bloomington. McNeil found the child in her bed during an overnight stay at his apartment. The day her body was discovered, he told Bloomington police he suspected foul play and urged investigators to talk with Misook Nowlin. The case was featured in WGLT's 2018 podcast Suspect Convictions.

After a decade in prison, McNeil renewed his assertions about Nowlin, following her arrest for strangling her mother-in-law, Linda Tyda. The Illinois Innocence Project and the Exoneration Project are representing McNeil in his efforts to secure a new trial based in part on a confession Nowlin allegedly made to the girl's murder.

In a recent court filing, Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Koll opposed a defense request to introduce corroborating evidence of the alleged confession at a June 6 hearing. Nowlin made the incriminating statement to her ex-husband, Don Wang, according to an affidavit the defense intends to use to support McNeil’s innocence claim.

Allowing the requested evidence would permit the third-stage, post-conviction hearing “to become a retrial of the entire case,” Koll argued.

The prosecutor noted that Judge William Yoder ruled in October that other defense claims of new evidence failed to meet the legal standard for consideration, namely that the potential new evidence must be so conclusive that it would likely change the outcome in a retrial.

The state also pushed back on a defense motion for all law enforcement records related to the investigation into Christina’s death. Lawyers are seeking information gathered before and during McNeil’s trial and since his conviction.

After Nowlin’s arrest on murder charges in the Tyda case, Bloomington Police and the McLean County State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed their initial opinion that McNeil was responsible for his daughter’s death. McNeil’s lawyers are asking for records, including those that may be in the state’s attorney’s office, that may relate to their investigation into Nowlin as an alternative suspect in Christina’s death.

The records request is “overly broad” in light of the narrow scope of the confession claim and the defense has failed to show good cause for seeking the records, Koll argued. The state is obligated, said Koll, under Illinois Supreme Court rules to disclose “new, credible, and material evidence creating a likelihood” of innocence during post-conviction proceedings.

McNeil has accused authorities of ignoring information he provided early in the investigation about Nowlin’s background of abusing her own daughter and a history of domestic violence. Hours before Christina died, the couple ended their relationship following a clash at a Bloomington restaurant.

McNeil’s legal team also disputes accusations that he molested his daughter, suggesting instead that Nowlin may have entered the home through a window and suffocated the girl in retaliation for the breakup.

Edith Brady-Lunny was a correspondent at WGLT, joining the station in 2019. She left the station in 2024.