"This photo right there," she said, tapping the picture of John Tessier.
On cross-examination, McCullough's defense attorney pointed out that Tessier's photo differed from the others. But he couldn't shake Kathy.
"That picture was slightly different than other pictures, is it not -- is that fair to say?" he asked.
"No. It was the picture of Johnny," she said.
Eventually, Kathy acknowledged that the young man in the photo she chose wasn't wearing a suit as the others were. And she agreed that the background in his photo was darker.
But, she insisted, it didn't matter.
"I wasn't looking at background." She said she focused on the man's features.
Janet Tessier testified about her mother's dramatic deathbed statement, recounting the story in straightforward fashion, without drama or embellishment. Asked why she didn't prod her mother for more details, she responded that she was reacting as a daughter, not an investigator.
The defense countered with its own witness, Janet's sister, Mary Hunt, who'd also been at her mother's side when she was dying. Hunt reluctantly testified that she heard her mother say only, "He did it."
She could not say who "he" was, or what "it" was.
Informants from Cellblock G
Three jailhouse snitches who came forward -- two of them just days before the trial -- testified about conversations they had with McCullough at the DeKalb County Jail. They all said he admitted killing Maria.
But each gave a slightly different account of the killing, and all said Maria died by strangling or suffocation. They didn't name the cause of death determined by a forensic anthropologist: stabbing.
Jailhouse snitches are notoriously unreliable. They are criminals, or at least accused of crimes, so their credibility is suspect. Most inmates who offer testimony are looking to cut a deal for themselves by hanging someone else out to dry.
Kirk Swaggerty, Christopher Diaz and a third inmate who testified under the pseudonym "John Doe" had been locked up with McCullough on Cellblock G.
Swaggerty was the first to provide information. He wrote a letter to the state's attorney's office. His motive, he said, was to do the right thing. But he'd been convicted of a home invasion murder, and he also was asking the court for a reduction in his 33-year sentence. He said he'd been promised nothing. Whether he expected something was another issue.
McCullough admitted he had killed Ridulph, Swaggerty testified, but claimed it was an accident. He explained that Maria fell during the piggyback ride. "She wouldn't stop screaming and he was trying to keep her quiet and she suffocated."
He also heard a story McCullough volunteered during his police interrogation, and later in his interview with CNN: "He said that he had called the FBI himself because he had a dream that a guy named Johnny did this to the girl and that the guy Johnny lived a few houses away from the little girl."
But if Swaggerty is to be believed, McCullough took that story a step further:
"He then told me he was Johnny."
The other two inmates shared a cell. They said they came forward when McCullough told them he was looking for someone to kill Swaggerty because he was a "snitch."
Diaz was in custody on an immigration hold after being accused of having sex with a 14-year-old girl. He testified that he turned down the volume on his headphones as McCullough walked into his cell and started talking about his case: "He was saying about how he was giving the little girl, the victim, a piggyback ride and he -- he ran with her down this alley once the other girl that was there went inside the house to grab the mittens." McCullough returned the next day and talked some more. That time, Diaz testified, he said he strangled the little girl with a wire.
(McCullough insists that he was talking about the contents of an anonymous confession letter sent to Maria's father in 1964. The details in the letter do match this version of the killing.)
"Doe," another convicted home invasion killer, testified that McCullough told him he slipped while giving the child a piggyback ride. "The little girl hit her head and started crying or yelling ... He said it was an accident."
Then McCullough said he carried the child inside his house and choked her, "Doe" testified. Later, he said, McCullough changed his story, saying he "strangled her with a wire."