John G. McDougall

May 8, 2014

All Posts, Obituaries

John G. McDougall, Delaware County, Pennsylvania’s first public defender and one of the most tenacious and dedicated defense attorneys who ever lived, died May 1 at an acute care facility in Havertown, Pennsylvania a month after injuring himself in a fall.

McDougall’s finest case was a 12-year-long battle to acquit Terence McCracken Jr., an 18-year-old high school senior who was arrested for and convicted of murdering a 71-year-old man named David Johnston during a robbery in a place called Kelly’s Deli on March 18, 1983. McCracken became a suspect because he wore a red sweatshirt that day and because he was the son of a Warlocks Motorcycle Club patch holder named Terence “Screw” McCracken.

The McCracken Case

Two weeks after the young McCracken was jailed a nearly identical robbery took place at a liquor store in a nearby town. Two men named William Vincent Verdekal and John Robert Turcotte were arrested in connection with the second robbery and a .38 caliber handgun in Turcotte’s possession proved to be the gun that killed Johnston.

But because McCracken’s father was a Warlock police assumed the young man must have been guilty of something and a local district attorney named William H. Ryan Jr. charged all three suspects with the murder and put McCracken on trial first. After a mistrial the young son of a notorious biker was convicted of second-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy. Astoundingly, charges against Verdekal and Turcotte were then dropped because no one could find any evidence that McCracken was connected in any way to the two guilty men. Even after Verdekal admitted that he had participated in the robbery at Kelly’s Deli and that McCracken had not, the prosecutor refused to reopen the case.

McCracken spent four years in prison before he was released while McDougall pursued his young client’s appeals. McCracken was finally acquitted in 1995 when he was 31. At that retrial the prosecution’s chief witness, a man named Michael Aldridge who had identified McCracken as being at the scene of the crime, recanted his testimony. After the acquittal District Attorney Ryan said the witness had changed his testimony because he had been intimidated by the Warlocks. “You cannot overestimate the fear factor in this case,” Ryan said.

The case is now frequently studied in law schools. It was merely the first of a very long list stunning defenses based on  McDougall’s distrust of the police and  his sensitivity to prosecutorial malice and incompetence.


McDougall was born in West Philadelphia, served in the Marine Corps, attended Drexel University on the GI Bill, and went to Temple University Law School at night.

He is survived by his sons Sean and Jonathan, his daughters Kelly and Colleen, his wife Jean, his sister and 12 grandchildren. His buried Tuesday in a private ceremony. His family asks that any memorial contributions in his name be made to the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys Fund for Criminal Justice, 1660 L St. N.W., 12th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036.

John G. McDougall was a friend in need to many innocent men and proof that one man can make a difference.

Requiscant In Pace

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23 Responses to “John G. McDougall”

  1. Sue Says:

    But then Terrence McCracken went on to stab and kill someone else in November 2004

  2. RtC Says:

    RIP Mr. McDougall. EVERY man wishes he had you as his lawyer.
    At least I do.(You’d have nailed these psychotic mo-fos lying against me!!)

  3. Whitepride Says:

    As much as I dislike and distrust lawyers I respect him for being one of the few who seek true justice. I’d like to think Mr. Mcdougall’s time in the Corps help shape his future and made him the honorable man he was. RIP and Semper Fi sir!

  4. Tooj Says:

    @Base, you bring up something interesting there considering “right and or moral”. I get the spirit of what you are writing and agree. No dis intended at all, I’m thinking on text. (out loud?)

    There is a concept that the only thing that is truly “wrong” with man is that he believes he knows the difference between right and wrong or good and evil. And that by enforcing that believed knowledge upon others he restricts his fellow man, which one could call “evil”.

    I write software for now, so I’ll use a vernacular I’m familiar with: I’m a firm believer that this world is a pretty big place and there are a lot of people on this pretty big place and those people are all having thoughts and choosing to take actions about what they do in regard to other people on this really big place and those people may respond and may take independent actions of THEIR own and the natural acts of living on a geologically active planet kick in and cause more thoughts and actions from the people on this pretty big place and wars and propaganda and COINTELPRO and media and more thoughts ideas actions reactions thunderstorms tornadoes hurricanes divorces buttsek (are you paying attention?) abuse kindness etc.

    That’s a lot of variables to try to take into account to come up with a single answer of “good” or “bad”. That’s some rough fucking Boolean logic right there folks. A real shit or go blind situation.

    I do what I can where I can and try to make rough judgments like most. The sheer magnitude of what goes on in the world and the fact that you can anonymously (almost) spend your life at the expense of others shows just how fucking cool it is that this one man spent his expertise, time and effort to change the life of one man that did not have the means to change it himself. VERY fucking cool.

  5. Road Whore Says:

    @ Sieg:


    Ride Free

  6. Road Whore Says:

    Watched a show on parole boards yesterday, showing a brief interview with the parole board members and two different convicts…scary as hell. Just watching this brief show I wanted to take each member of the parole board and kick them repeatedly until they fell down, and then maybe kick them some more. These people were unconscious and clueless. If the Man ever decides to jack you up, you’re fucked!

    Ride Free

  7. Sieg Says:

    RIP Mr. McDougall.

    Doesn’t it pretty much say it all that in all the “justice system” in place in Amerika, a man such as this stands out?

    Our Nation has fallen, and fallen into the hands of it’s enemies.

    Time to start taking it back.


  8. Base Says:

    To reflect other commenters gracious and elegant post it truly is a shame that this sort of defender is the exception and not the rule. To often those assigned or hired to plead cases take the route of ease and what works best for them while the peoples lives left in their charge suffer. So many are ready to make a deal instead of finding the truth. They are oh so ready to get back to their café latte’s & big screen TV’s to watch desperate house wives, instead of doing what’s right and or moral.

    Condolences to all of Mr. McDougall’s family and friends. It truly is a sad day when a true warrior leaves this life.

    Peace be with him.


  9. RVN69 Says:

    Rest in Peace and Semper Fi Mr. McDougall you fought the good fight, you deserve your peace.

  10. sherides Says:

    Here’s hoping that his Legacy inspires at least one young Law Student to carry on in his footsteps.

    RIP Mr. McDougall

  11. Drifter Says:


    Condolences to the family…

    This Gentleman took his job seriously and never seemed to fall into the futile apathy that some beat down PD’s do, never became a minion of the state.

    Thanks Reb and Respects to You… :

    He doggedly delved into arcane details that prosecutors overlooked. In 1991, for example, Walter F. Phillips, a Chestnut Hill dentist, was charged with murder in the death of his wife, who prosecutors said died of a lethal injection of the narcotic papaverine.

    “Embarrassed prosecutors dropped the charges after Mr. McDougall gave them evidence that the drug was injected after death by a team readying Mrs. Phillip’s organs for transplant.”

  12. Tooj Says:

    And the current climate weeds a guy like this out before he can do such good. Mourn also the loss of adequate defense in future.

  13. Oldskewl Says:

    Glenn S. Says:

    Its sad that this man was the exception, rather than the rule, especially given the fact that a whole lotta prosecutors think they have God’s sword in their right hand.
    RIP, Mr. McDougal. My deepest condolences to your loved ones.

    Glenn, great post.

  14. Glenn S. Says:

    Its sad that this man was the exception, rather than the rule, especially given the fact that a whole lotta prosecutors think they have God’s sword in their right hand.

    RIP, Mr. McDougal. My deepest condolences to your loved ones.

  15. Phuquehed Says:

    He reminds me of that lawyer guy in the movie ‘Where the Bufallo Roam’, the one who was supposedly friends with Hunter Thompson. When he first shows up in the movie he gets in court and gives ’em hell and was the kind of lawyer who hated the piss-poor justice system we’ve become and would rather go to jail *with* his client, trying to defend him, than sit outside unable to help anymore.

    As far as I’m concerned, lawyers like that, meaning Mr. McDougall, are *true* heros. I don’t believe in the whole god and heaven and all that thing, but I *can* hope that it could be true for this man and those like him (I’m trying to say a Good Thing here, in case I’m screwing it up).

  16. Road Whore Says:

    R.I.P. John G. McDougall…may a hundred more just like you rise up to continue to fight against injustice.

    Ride Free

  17. Paladin Says:

    May you rest in peace Mr. McDougall. You will be missed.


  18. 10Gauge Says:

    Thank you Rebel for brining attention to another of America’s TRUE heroes. A man that will forever be remembered by those whose freedom he protected as well as those who chose to fight against him….Long may he run….

  19. rollinnorth Says:

    Thank you to John G. McDougall for showing us, as Rebel put it,”that one man can make a difference.”


  20. slycechyx Says:

    God speed.

  21. Jim666 Says:

    Not many men like this in law he may very well be one of thelast.

  22. Rahlow (Rusty) Says:


  23. UnaffiliatedObserver Says:

    McCracken sounds like a sad case.

    There are instances in which prosecutors follow their own judgment rather than the facts of the case at hand. If the prosecutor is convinced that the defendant should be removed from society, any pretext will do.

    Unwinding that kind of situation can take years. As a matter of fact, a guy could drop dead before something like that gets resolved.

    The PD deserves acknowledgment for that. Well done. RIP.

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