Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
alert top story

McNeil's lawyers urge court to hear all evidence in innocence claim in 1998 murder

  • 0
Barton McNeil

Barton McNeil, 55, photographed April 5, 2022, at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center. McNeil is seeking exoneration from his murder conviction in the 1998 death of his 3-year-old daughter, Christina, in Bloomington.

Share this article paywall-free.

BLOOMINGTON — Lawyers for a Bloomington man seeking exoneration from his 1999 murder conviction argue that an upcoming hearing should consider all of his innocence claims rather than the one that prosecutors conceded to earlier this month.

Barton McNeil, 63, is serving a 100-year prison sentence on murder charges in the 1998 death of his 3-year-old daughter, Christina McNeil.

His lawyers, from the Exoneration Project and the Illinois Innocence Project, filed a petition for post-conviction relief in February 2021 on grounds that newly-discovered evidence would likely have led to his acquittal at trial.

Christina McNeil

Christina McNeil pictured in November 1996.

McNeil has consistently said that his ex-girlfriend, Misook Nowlin, is responsible for his daughter’s death. He said the two broke off their relationship earlier that same night, June 15, 1998, and witnesses reported the two having an argument in public.

In an interview Friday with The Pantagraph, McNeil said he is more confident now in a judge ruling in his favor after hearing his lawyers' response Thursday. McNeil called the response "impeccable," as he heard his cousin read the court filing to him over a phone call Thursday at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center.

McLean County Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Koll previously argued that McNeil's petition should be tossed in part.

Prosecutors agreed to an evidentiary hearing on two affidavits backing McNeil’s argument that Nowlin confessed to the murder to her then-husband, Don Wang. An evidentiary hearing is within the final stages of a post-conviction relief process and it allows testimony, affidavit and deposition evidence.

Watch now: Oxygen Network to air program on Bloomington murder case

But prosecutors said in their April 1 filing that the majority of McNeil’s petition should be dismissed. That includes touch DNA evidence showing Nowlin’s presence at the murder scene, advances in science that refute stomach content analysis as a reliable measurement of time of death, and advances in the science of child abuse pediatrics to “confirm that there is no evidence whatsoever that Christina was sexually abused,” the initial petition said.

“To borrow a phrase that was used in my trial by prosecutors when they were rendering my wrongful conviction, 'It’s all about the totality of evidence,'" McNeil said, adding that he is hopeful for a court ruling in his favor.

His lawyers also accused Nowlin's involvement in the murder in Thursday's filing.

“Further, to the extent that Christina’s death was a homicide, the newly-discovered evidence indicates that another individual – not Barton McNeil – was responsible,” McNeil’s lawyers wrote. “This individual confessed to the murder, left her hair and DNA at the scene, behaved suspiciously on the night of Christina’s death, lied to police and the trial court, and was subsequently convicted of a separate, eerily similar murder.”

Nowlin was convicted and is serving a 55-year prison sentence in the 2011 strangulation death of her 70-year-old mother-in-law, Linda Tyda.

Court filings also have shown that McNeil had laundered his bed sheets earlier on the same day of Christina’s death, according to a credit card statement showing a laundromat receipt. However, Nowlin’s DNA was then found on the sheets during the investigation.

"The bank statement showed not only that I had picked up my laundry that day from the laundromat, but that I had done so about 10 days earlier, so this wasn't an unusual event for me to pick up my laundry," McNeil said, contesting that Nowlin's touch DNA would survive the cleaning.

He also said the forensic examiner for the Illinois State Police crime lab noted in her report that the sheets smelled clean. 

McNeil argues that the new evidence, in addition to the initial evidence, is "incontestable."

"Here you have a murder victim and two feet away you have an open bedroom window, ground floor, window fan is now on the floor. The window is teeming with intruder evidence and you have Misook's DNA," McNeil said. "I didn't need any of this stuff to tell me that Misook was behind Christina's murder because I knew it from day one."

McNeil’s lawyers are John Hanlon, Stephanie Kamel and Leanne Beyer, of the Illinois Innocence Project, and Karl Leonard and Lauren Myerscough-Mueller, of the Exoneration Project.

“The court should have the opportunity to consider all of the evidence, not just some of it,” McNeil’s lawyers wrote. “The court should not be called upon to ignore evidence, as the state requests.”

McNeil is expected to be brought to court from the Pinckneyville Correctional Center May 12 for a hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss his petition for post-conviction relief.