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Watch now: Post-conviction process in 1998 Bloomington murder case could be expedited

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Chris Ross, cousin of Barton McNeil who is serving a 100-year prison sentence for the 1998 death of his 3-year-old daughter, speaks about his support of McNeil's claim of innocence and his process toward exoneration.

BLOOMINGTON — Barton McNeil’s quest for exoneration and a new trial for his 3-year-old daughter’s 1998 death could be fast-tracked to an evidentiary hearing which would include testimony about his petition for post-conviction relief filed on his behalf earlier this year.

McNeil, 62, is serving a 100-year prison sentence on murder charges in the June 15, 1998, suffocation death of his daughter, Christina McNeil, in Bloomington. McNeil was found guilty of the charges in a 1999 bench trial.

McLean County Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Koll said in a brief status hearing Friday that prosecutors have recently learned of appellate court guidance that could allow the case to skip second stage review and move directly to an evidentiary hearing.

Judge William Yoder scheduled a hearing for Dec. 10 to check the status of the state’s attorney’s decision on whether to move forward to an evidentiary hearing or to ask for second stage review.

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Bart McNeil is hoping to prove his innocence in the 1998 murder of his daughter, Christina, by proving that his former girlfriend, Misook Nowlin, committed the crime.

McNeil’s lawyers, Stephanie Kamel and John Hanlon, of the Illinois Innocence Project and the Exoneration Project, filed a 65-page petition for post-conviction relief in February based on new evidence that was not available at the time of his trial.

An evidentiary hearing would allow the court to hear new evidence and expert testimony.

"I'm looking forward to my cousin having, finally after 23 years, truly his day in court," said Chris Ross, McNeil's cousin who flew to Bloomington from the San Diego area for Friday's roughly five-minute hearing.

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This July 28, 2017, file photo shows Bart McNeil explaining in Menard Correctional Center his efforts to prove his innocence in the 1998 murder of his daughter, Christina, by advancing his theory that his former girlfriend, Misook Nowlin, committed the crime.

The petition notes that “advances in the science of child abuse pediatrics confirm that there is no evidence whatsoever that Christina was sexually abused,” which prosecutors had alleged of McNeil during his trial, “and, therefore, the evidence presented to the trier of fact regarding McNeil’s alleged motive was entirely false.”

Court documents also said: “If Christina’s death was, in fact, a murder, the evidence indicates that McNeil’s ex-girlfriend, Misook Nowlin – who was convicted of a separate, hauntingly similar murder 13 years after McNeil’s conviction and whose hair and DNA have now been discovered at the scene of Christina’s death – is her killer.”

Nowlin, who now goes by the last name Wang, was convicted in 2012 of murdering her 70-year-old mother-in-law, Linda Tyda, by strangulation in September 2011.

Hours before Christina McNeil’s death, McNeil and Nowlin got into a heated argument at a restaurant because McNeil was breaking the relationship off, he told The Pantagraph in a recent interview.

McNeil then picked up Christina later that night at his ex-wife’s home, got her a McDonald’s Happy Meal, and put her to bed.

The petition indicates that later that night, evidence suggests that someone entered Christina’s room through a window. A window fan was knocked on the floor, holes were cut into the window screen, scuff marks were located outside the window, and some nearby plants were trampled.

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A window fan removed from his daughter's bedroom window is one piece of evidence Bart McNeil suggests offers proof that an intruder entered and smothered his daughter, Christina.

Prosecutors at the time, however, concentrated efforts on McNeil and suggested that he was the only person around at the time of his daughter’s death.

Prosecutors also said at the time that a spider web was found the next day – about 12 hours later – on the outside of the window, indicating there was no intruder.

In a 2014 hearing, an arachnologist disputed that argument when he testified in court that spiders can create webs within an hour.

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Christina's bike was parked in the front of the duplex at 1106 N. Evans St. in Bloomington where Bart McNeil was accused in the 1998 murder of his daughter.

“I’m very, very pleased that things are progressing well for my cousin,” said Ross, who also facilitates a website containing information and donations for his pursuit of exoneration.

“I’m here to support my cousin,” Ross said. “I will for every single future hearing until the point in time that there’s an order that he’s released, and I’ll gladly be there when he’s released from Pinckneyville Correctional Institute and be able to give this guy a hug, and he deserves to have his freedom back.”


Contact Kade Heather at 309-820-3256. Follow him on Twitter: @kadeheather

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