Suspect Convictions Episode 11: Fighting For Their Cousin | WGLT

Suspect Convictions Episode 11: Fighting For Their Cousin

Jan 5, 2018

GLT is partnering with true crime podcast Suspect Convictions to explore the 1998 murder of 3-year-old Bloomington girl Christina McNeil.

Her father was convicted of the crime but has long maintained his innocence, claiming an ex-girlfriend was the real killer—the same woman later convicted in a separate murder. New episodes air Fridays on GLT’s Sound Ideas. You can also subscribe to the podcast.

On this week’s episode of Suspect Convictions, you’ll meet Barton McNeil’s two cousins who’ve worked for years to prove his innocence.

Grace Schlafer from Indiana and Chris Ross from California have interviewed witnesses, poured over documents, and questioned detectives. They were instrumental in getting the Illinois Innocence Project involved in McNeil’s fight for exoneration. The Illinois Innocence Project is expected to file motions soon in hopes of winning McNeil a new trial.

Barton McNeil is currently serving his prison sentence at Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois.
Credit David Proeber / The Pantagraph (Pool)

“Grace and Chris are fabulous advocates for Bart,” said Gwen Jordan, an attorney with the Illinois Innocence Project. “It’s unusual the amount they’ve put into gathering evidence, following up on leads, doing investigations, in addition to providing Bart with the much-needed support.”

Schlafer and Ross believe McNeil was wrongly convicted of smothering his 3-year-old daughter, Christina, to death in June 1998. Schlafer’s quest for McNeil’s freedom began long before McNeil’s ex-girlfriend, Misook (Nowlin) Wang, was arrested in a second Bloomington murder 13 years later. McNeil has long claimed Wang was the real killer back in 1998; Wang denies these accusations. Both remain in prison.

Schlafer admits her cousin isn’t a saint. In the mid-1990s, McNeil met Misook Nowlin while they were both working at a Red Lobster in Bloomington-Normal. Both were married to other people; they had an affair. McNeil’s wife was nine-months pregnant with Christina at the time.

But that doesn’t make him a murderer, she said.

“Do I think Bart was a precious little soul? He was just like the rest of us,” Schlafer said. “We all have our evil thoughts and doings, and I don’t mean evil thoughts of murder, but I mean evil desires like other women. Do I think he was right going with Misook in the first place? I think loyalty to your wife is what you vow to, and I’m not for that. Did he look other ways? Yes. Was he wrong? Yes.”

Ross helps run the website, a depository of court documents, news articles, and a timeline related to McNeil’s case. And with Ross’ help, McNeil has been listening to each episode of Suspect Convictions. Ross plays the latest episode for McNeil during their phone calls, then Ross posts a letter from McNeil on reacting to each one.

Ross first became involved in the case around October 2011. That’s when McNeil, after hearing about Wang’s arrest in her mother-in-law’s death, called into Bloomington-Normal radio station WJBC from prison. Ross and others in McNeil’s family sprang into action. 

“It’s shattered my faith in the criminal justice system here in America,” Ross said.

Listen to Episode 11:

On Next Week’s Episode: Two true-crime experts—one a podcaster and another a blogger with Huffington Post—join Scott and Willis to discuss who they think killed Christina.

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.