BLOOMINGTON — Lawyers for a man serving life in prison for the 1998 death of his daughter argued Friday that forensic tests on crime scene evidence — including her clothing and a spider web on a window screen — could clear his name and expose the child's true killer.
Bart McNeil, now 54, has suggested to authorities that his former girlfriend, Misook Nowlin, should be questioned as a suspect in the child's death. Christina was smothered in her bed, according to medical reports.
The possibility that Nowlin could be a suspect gained more attention after her conviction in the 2011 strangulation death of her mother-in-law, Linda Tyda, whose body was found in a shallow grave in a forest preserve near her home in the Joliet area.
Bloomington police had talked with McNeil at Menard Correctional Center in early 2012 but determined his theory about Nowlin was not worth a follow-up investigation.
Lawyers for the Illinois Innocence Project told Drazewski on Friday that DNA tests on nine items collected from Christina's bedroom could advance his innocence claim.
Judge Scott Drazewski took the petition for testing under advisement. Prosecutors and defense lawyers both were asked to provide relevant portions of the trial transcript within two weeks for his review.
The state previously agreed to test on blood and urine stains on a bed sheet and Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer Patton agreed testing also should be done on the child's T-shirt and the bed sheet.
Defense lawyer Gwen Jordan argued McNeil was barred from introducing evidence of an alternative suspect at his trial. Advances in forensic testing make it likely that new evidence could be obtained from a latent fingerprint taken from a window screen, clothing and bed linen, she said.
"We don't have to prove a smoking gun," said Jordan, only that new evidence could be produced.
That new evidence could involve another look at a spider web noticed by detectives who investigated the murder. McNeil's theory that a person came through his daughter's window was dispelled by prosecutors in the first trial, based on the argument that a web would have been disturbed.
Spider expert John Blackledge with the University of Akron testified Friday that webs are often broken and rebuilt in a short period of time.
Forensic scientist Deanna Lankford with Orchid Cellmark testified that her firm is able to perform the range of DNA tests.
Calling the testing "a fishing expedition" by the defense, Patton argued Nowlin's DNA could be expected at the home where she visited.
Jordan argued that legal standards today would require testing on all the evidence. McNeil is entitled to take advantage of the new technology, she said.
The Illinois Innocence Project will cover the costs of the tests.