Belfast man innocent after being wrongly jailed of murder: 'People still believe I am a monster'
A Belfast-born man has been declared innocent after being wrongly convicted of kidnapping and murdering a seven-year-old girl.
Jack McCullough (77) was jailed after being found guilty of killing Maria Ridulph and spent more than four years behind bars.
A judge granted McCullough a certificate of innocence on Wednesday, saying he should never have been convicted of murdering Maria in Illinois in 1957.
McCullough said: "I'm innocent and I didn't want there to be any doubt.
"What was done to me was criminal. They knew I was innocent and they put me in prison anyway."
The former policeman also spoke candidly in court about how he was a target in jail.
He said: "When you put a policeman who is a convicted child killer in prison, you don't have a life.
"Your life is in danger every second that you're in prison. I'm lucky to have survived prison."
He was found guilty in 2012 but last year the charges were dropped when fresh evidence supported his alibi.
Receiving the certificate means the charges can never be refiled and it'll make it easier for him to seek compensation.
He testified last week that he was also keen to clear his name.
He said: "I am innocent, proven innocent, and I want my name back.
"My name has been in all the papers coast to coast. I have been put forward as a monster, and people still believe I am a monster."
Russell Ainsworth, McCullough's lawyer, also called Illinois "an epicenter for wrongful convictions".
He said: "It has to stop, we want, through Jack McCullough's struggle, for other people to learn that this can happen in our society.
"This is not part of bygone years and what happened in the '70s and '80. This is happening today. This is happening to people who are honest, law-abiding citizens."
Maria's surviving siblings still maintain they think he killed their sister and claim justice has not being served.
Her sister Patricia Quinn said: "It's been horrid, more horrid than when she was taken. At this point we just want to stand up and shout for all it's worth."
A special prosecutor has launched a probe to see whether a police interrogation tape could have deliberately been hidden from the defense team.
The conviction was looked at again after former State Attorney Richard Schmack said McCullough couldn't have kidnapped and killed Maria as he was 40 miles away at a military recruiting station.