Bart McNeil’s plea for new trial moves slowly through McLean County Court

Barton McNeil
Barton McNeil(Heart of Illinois ABC)
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 9:06 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25News Now) - After spending nearly 25 years in prison, advocates for Bart McNeil are urging the court to consider evidence that may exonerate him.

McNeil was convicted of killing his three-year-old daughter, Christina in 1999. He’s maintained ever since that he did not do it. 25News has extensively followed McNeil’s story since 1999, including the discovery of new evidence.

The Illinois Innocence and Exoneration Projects have taken up McNeil’s case in hopes of clearing his name. A motion for a new trial was filed in February 2021. Advocates claim there is new evidence that suggests McNeil’s ex-girlfriend at that time, Misook Nowlin, committed the murder. Nowlin and McNeil had fought at a restaurant the evening before Christina was killed. In fact, McNeil broke-off his relationship with her that night. Nowlin was also convicted of strangling her mother-in-law in 2011.

Progress has been slow. Presenting new evidence takes a three-step process in Illinois courts. The evidentiary hearing was moved to the second stage last October. Still, the new evidence has not gone before the judge and much of it won’t, based on his ruling. In a status hearing Friday, Judge William Yoder set oral arguments for June 6 at 1:30 p.m.

The third stage evidentiary hearing is when the new evidence coud finally go before the judge. It’s unclear how long it might take to get to that hearing, but some think it might happen later this year.

The delay so far comes from scheduling conflicts between defense attorneys, prosecutors, and the judge. The main prosecutor was not present at Friday’s hearing, sending a proxy in her place to schedule the next court appearance.

Advocates feel the case has been moving at a snail’s pace and feel the state is dragging its feet. For them, every day the case is delayed is another day an innocent man sits in prison. It’s something that is frustrating McNeil supporters who say Misook Nowlin admitted killing Christina McNeil to her ex-husband, Don Wang.

“Why is this such a slow process?” Advocate Tom Gorman said. He became interested in the case after seeing several media reports on it. He also advocates for reform across the court system in its entirety. Gorman asked, “Why is this such a seemingly low priority for the state to admit any kind of mistake?”