DIGGING DEEPER: Bloomington man convicted of daughter’s death more than two decades ago seeks freedom
BLOOMINGTON (WEEK) - He was convicted of killing his 3-year-old daughter more than 20 years ago in their Bloomington apartment.
Bart McNeil is hoping for a new trial.
And he has help.
Two legal teams are working together, compiling evidence they think could overturn McNeil’s conviction.
“I was proud. One of the few things in my life that I was really proud of is being a part of my child’s daily upbringing. I think she would’ve graduated from college some years ago, she would probably be married, I would probably be a grandfather,” said McNeil.
But he’ll never know.
McNeil sits in prison, at Pinckneyville Correctional Center.
He’s been there since 1999, after being convicted in his daughter, Christina’s death.
“I turned to the side, and I could see her gray face wide open, staring right through me,” McNeil said.
McNeil found his 3-year-old daughter dead in their Bloomington apartment.
“What could’ve happened? And foul play was the furthest thing from my mind,” he said.
But McNeil quickly realized something bad happened to his daughter.
“Christina was murdered, somebody came through her bedroom window last night,” said McNeil.
But investigators thought differently.
Police suspected McNeil in his daughter’s death. And he is now serving a 100-year sentence.
25 News Anchor Amber Krycka asked McNeil, “Did you kill your daughter?” He replied, “No.”
Through jail walls, McNeil conducted his own investigation.
He has hundreds of documents, and he insists he didn’t kill his daughter.
Now, he has the support of two significant legal teams who work on wrongful convictions.
The Illinois Innocence and Exoneration Projects have picked up the case.
They include three points as to why this conviction must be reviewed.
Just hours before Christina’s death, McNeil went out to dinner with his now ex-girlfriend Misook Nowlin.
They dated for three years.
But, McNeil said he was ready to end their relationship that night.
“I said I don’t want to see you anymore, don’t be calling me. We’re done,” he said.
McNeil said Misook was stalking him, and was a very jealous person.
“She was obsessing constantly over my relationship with my ex-wife, with my relationship with Christina,” McNeil said.
Nowlin described that night to a detective.
The detective said, “You were so upset you couldn’t write the check?” Nowlin replied, “yeah.”
While Christina’s death happened more than 20 years ago, it’s a memory that still leaves Robert Sims rattled.
“It’s one of those things that spooks you every once in a while,” he said.
He lived right across the street from McNeil, and said he remembers Nowlin banging on McNeil’s door, a few times.
“She went and beat on the door, I mean only way to describe her was a terror,” said Sims.
At the time of Christina’s death, Nowlin was also facing charges.
In 1996, she pleaded guilty to theft.
In 1998, she was convicted of domestic battery involving McNeil.
In a police report, it said she threw a computer monitor and broke it, and pushed McNeil in the chest.
Sentencing was scheduled for June 17th, 1998, the day after Christina was found dead.
McNeil refused to go to court with her, and he said Nowlin wasn’t happy about it.
“I think her intent was to frame me for my own daughter’s killing,” said McNeil.
After picking up Christina that evening, McNeil headed back to their apartment on North Evans Street, where he said he later tucked her into bed around 10:30.
Around midnight, McNeil said he walked by Christina’s bedroom, and heard her voice.
“I opened up the door and there’s Christina sitting upright in her bed smiling, excited about something,” said McNeil.
During that stormy night, McNeil said he fell asleep just before 3a.m.
The next morning, he would find Christina lifeless.
Paramedics and police officers arrived within minutes.
Investigators took pictures and videos of Christina and the bedroom where she was, and said there was “no sign of external injury to the body.”
Later that evening, McNeil returned to the apartment to pick up some clothes. That’s when he said he noticed something wasn’t right.
The window’s screen had been cut, and the bedroom fan was no longer in the window.
McNeil quickly called police, and begged them to come back.
He told police to arrest Nowlin.
Instead, they later arrested him.
According to reports, police said detectives viewed the screen and noticed and photographed spider webs that were inside the window frame area attacking from the window frame to the screen.
The coroner said Christina was suffocated, pointing to bruises on the back, around the mouth and head area, and had been sexually abused before her death.
The two groups said the coroner was wrong.
In a 60-page petition, they present new evidence that McNeil didn’t kill his daughter.
They said new DNA testing shows Nowlin’s presence at the time of Christina’s death.
It also said Nowlin’s DNA is present in six different areas of the fitted sheet.
McNeil gave 25 News his bank statement from 1998.
It shows he went to the cleaners June 15th, the day before Christina’s death.
McNeil said the sheets were clean when he put Christina to bed that night.
During the initial investigation, investigators also determined Christina’s time of death.
They concluded when she died, McNeil would have been awake and alone in the apartment.
But McNeil’s legal team said that estimated time of death could be wrong, because the science behind it is flawed.
The petition said Dr. Andrew Baker, a forensic pathologist and a chief medical examiner in Minnesota took at look at the coroner’s findings.
He said there’s “no evidence that Christina was smothered.”
He also looked at the original photos of Christina’s body and concluded there were no injuries to her back.
Dr. Baker also said a majority of the coroner’s examinations were performed after Christina’s body had been prepared by a funeral director.
Dr. Baker ruled the cause of death as undetermined.
McNeil respects the finding, but he still believes Nowlin was behind it.
Ten years later, a jury convicted Nowlin for killing her mother-in-law.
“The way she did it was a monster.”
Larry Tyda’s wife was killed by Nowlin in 2011.
He sai just a few days before her killing, they had words over the phone.
Then he said Nowlin showed up at their Crest Hill home.
“The doorbell rang, and Linda said don’t let her in, and don’t open it because she’s afraid of her, she was afraid of her all the time,” said Tyda.
That’s until Nowlin investigators said Nowlin lured Linda to the scene of her death.
McNeil’s legal team said Linda’s murder bears nearly a dozen similarities to Christina’s death.
McNeil sits, waits, and hopes the new information will make a difference.
“I think the evidence is very powerful,” McNeil said.
He said this is about more than winning his freedom.
“I want justice, not just for me, but for my daughter.”
McNeil’s hearing is Thursday, the 12th, in McLean County. The judge will decide whether to move forward with all the new evidence the legal team is asking the court to hear.
25 News did reach out to Nowlin, and we never heard back.
We also reached out to her attorney who said he can’t comment.
And, we reached out to Bloomington P.D. and a spokesperson says they comment.
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