Bart McNeil was in prison a dozen years when a newspaper clipping that renewed hope for his exoneration arrived in the mail.
With decades yet to go on his 100-year sentence in the murder of his 3-year-old daughter Christina, hope was a dim light at the end of a dark tunnel.
From the day he found his daughter’s lifeless body in her bed in 1998, McNeil pleaded with Bloomington police to investigate his former girlfriend Misook Nowlin’s possible involvement in the child’s death. Authorities instead charged McNeil with smothering his daughter. The motive: alleged sexual abuse of the child by her father, an accusation he has denied.
In 2011, Nowlin was charged with killing her-in-law. For McNeil, the charges against Nowlin opened the door to new scrutiny of his case by a team of lawyers with the Illinois Innocence Project. A petition filed earlier this year is a road map to the complex web of circumstances that potentially links Nowlin to the child’s death and the new evidence that challenges assumptions made about by police.
And speaking of webs, spiders also play a supporting role in this story. Did Nowlin disturb their web when she allegedly accessed the girl’s bedroom through a window? That’s just one of the questions raised by the defense team.
Nowlin’s case has been a topic for several true crime shows over the years. But for the first time, a production team has examined the possible connection between the McNeil and Nowlin cases. The Sept.25 two-hour season premier of Snapped on the Oxygen Network features interviews with McNeil and Nowlin and a detailed look at McNeil’s innocence claim.
McNeil’s family has arranged for the show to be aired at the Normal Theatre in Normal on Oct. 5. The 7 p.m. event includes a panel discussion afterwards with journalists who have covered the story (Scott Reeder and myself), forensic analysts and Chris Ross, McNeil’s cousin. Admission is free but seating is limited so early arrival is advised.
McNeil’s post-conviction process is in its early stages. His lawyers point to Misook as a viable suspect ignored by police. It is not necessary for the defense to prove Misook was involved in Christina’s death; they succeed if they persuade the judge that enough doubt and new evidence exists to justify a new trial.
With millions of true crime enthusiasts now aware of the questions surrounding McNeil’s conviction, the case has moved to the court of public opinion where the smallest details often matter most in the big picture.
Here’s a link to my story on WGLT on what’s happening with the McNeil case: