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Seattle man pleads not guilty in 1957 death of 7-year-old girl

SYCAMORE, Ill. -- A Seattle man pleaded not guilty Thursday in the 1957 kidnapping and killing of a 7-year-old Illinois girl whose body was exhumed this summer by authorities seeking evidence in the case.

Jack McCullough, 71, appeared via a video feed from the DeKalb County Jail to enter his plea in the more than 50-year-old death of Maria Ridulph of Sycamore. Judge Robbin Stuckert also granted the prosecution's request to test McCullough's DNA against evidence recovered from the girl's body.

McCullough responded "Yes, your honor," when the judge asked if he understood that he faces a sentence of life in prison. A grand jury in August indicted McCullough -- who went by the name John Tessier when he lived in Sycamore -- on felony murder, kidnapping and abduction charges.

McCullough was arrested in Seattle on July 1 and brought to Illinois on July 27 to face charges in one of the oldest cold-case murders in the nation to be reopened. He's being held on $3 million bail.

Maria was abducted as she played outside her home in December 1957. Her body was found the following spring in a wooded area about 120 miles away. Her case made national headlines, and President Dwight Eisenhower and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover reportedly requested daily updates on the massive search for her.

In a July 7 jailhouse interview with The Associated Press, McCullough said he didn't kill the girl and maintained the same alibi he gave when first questioned by investigators when he was 18: that he could not have committed the murder because he had traveled to Chicago that day for military medical exams before enlisting in the Air Force.