On December 8, 1986, the body of oil field worker Jerry Tobias was found in the back of his pickup truck in Gaylord, Michigan. His hands were tied with jumper cables, his bloodstained shirt was ripped and pulled over his head, blood was found on both sides of his head and there were scrape marks on his cowboy boots, suggesting he had been dragged.
An autopsy estimated he had died three days earlier. There were fresh needle marks on his arms and his body also contained a high amount of cocaine. A package of meat from Walt’s Butcher shop in Waters, Michigan, was found behind the seat of Tobias’s truck.
On December 12, 1986, police raided the butcher shop owned by Waters resident Laurie Moore and seized a chicken roasting spit. On March 2, 1987, Laurie Moore was charged with second degree murder in what Otsego County authorities said was a drug deal gone sour.
On December 17, 1986, Tobias’s body was exhumed and re-examined. A state pathologist said wounds on Tobias were consistent with being struck with the spit, although no blood was found on the spit.
Laurie Moore went on trial in November 1987. The case against him was circumstantial—no physical evidence tied him to Tobias’s death. Don and Becky Nelson testified that Tobias came to their home about 8 p.m. on December 5, 1986 and they gave him $200 to purchase cocaine. They said Tobias told them he planned to meet Laurie Moore at the butcher shop and that he would contact them later that night.
The following day, Becky Nelson saw Laurie Moore at the butcher shop and asked if he had seen Tobias. She testified that Moore told her that he had met Tobias around midnight, but no drugs had come through.
The defense called a board-certified forensic pathologist who testified that the spit was not the weapon that killed Tobias because there was no evidence of skull fractures, skin lacerations or swelling due to brain injury. He said that the hemorrhaging could have been the result of the freezing and thawing of the body. He also said that cocaine played a significant role in Tobias’s death.
Laurie Moore was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to seven to 15 years in prison.
Beginning in January 1987, Gaylord resident Debra Parmentier began telling authorities that she had information about Tobias’s death. Initially, she said that she had witnessed Tobias being stabbed to death in the meat market by Laurie Moore.
In June 1987, Parmentier expanded her story, telling an investigator for the Otsego District Attorney’s office that two other men also were involved—Mark Canter and Moore’s brother, Walter Moore. At the same time, Parmentier also made a number of other claims regarding international drug and gun dealing and the theft of weapons from a Michigan National Guard Armory in Grayling, Michigan.
At that time, her allegations were deemed fanciful by the investigator—Tobias had not been stabbed, for example—although he wrote up her assertions. During that time she was also interviewed by an agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as well as a northern Michigan radio talk show host. The contents of those interviews were passed along to the Otsego District Attorney’s office.
During that year, Parmentier also made a number of criminal complaints against her husband, Leonard, apparently arising from their contentious divorce. The complaints of rape, assault and harassment were viewed by police as baseless. A state police trooper who investigated some of these allegations noted that she had previous psychological problems. A psychological screening report prepared in connection with the divorce proceedings said that Parmentier had a history of telling lies.
After Laurie Moore was convicted, Parmentier got some traction with her story and in March 1988, Otsego County District Attorney Norman Hays reopened the investigation of Tobias’s death.
Parmentier’s version had evolved considerably. By 1988, she said that she was in the butcher shop with Laurie Moore, Walter “Terry” Moore
, Mark Canter
, and Donald Heistand, who all took part in the murder of Tobias. She said another man, Doug Brinkman, helped load Tobias into the pickup truck. She was placed in protective custody after she said her life had been threatened.
In April, 1988, Walter Moore, Canter, Heistand and Brinkman were charged with murder.
Walter Moore went on trial on July 15, 1988. Parmentier testified that she had been with Canter on the afternoon of December 5, 1986 when he picked up a package of cocaine and arranged to meet with Laurie Moore. She said that she, Walter Moore and Canter drove to Gaylord that night and that Walter Moore said that Tobias owed him $3,000 and owed his brother, Laurie, $4000 for cocaine.
Parmentier testified that they went to the butcher shop where they met Laurie Moore and Heistand and Tobias. An argument ensued because Tobias did not have the money. She said Walter Moore struck Tobias in the head with a sharpening steel and that Laurie Moore struck him with the chicken spit.
She said that the body was dragged into the freezer until Doug Brinkman arrived and they loaded it into Tobias’s truck and moved it near the Gaylord Fire Hall.
On September 12, 1988, Moore was convicted of second degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Canter went on trial next and Parmentier testified similarly. Through cross-examination, Canter’s attorney attempted to portray Parmentier as a liar and inventor of bizarre stories.
Following the first day of her testimony, Parmentier, for the first time, disclosed that a witness named Sherry Payton was also present when Tobias was murdered. The trial was delayed for several days and resumed on November 10 when Payton came to court. The judge ordered all interviews of her be done with defense attorneys present. In her first interview, with defense counsel present, Payton denied any knowledge of the murder. But the following day, she was interviewed by Michigan state police—without defense attorneys present—she inculpated Canter in the murder.
Payton then testified that Tobias picked her up from her home shortly after 2:00 a.m. on the morning of December 6, 1986, and then drove to Walt's Butcher Shop where Canter, Parmentier, Terry Moore, and Laurie Moore were already present. Doug Brinkman walked in a few minutes later. Canter and Tobias began arguing and then Canter hit Tobias. When the others joined the argument, Payton left the butcher shop and walked home.
On cross-examination, Payton acknowledged her contradictory statements and also admitted that she was facing four unrelated felony charges which, pursuant to an agreement with the prosecution, were to be dismissed in exchange for her truthful testimony.
Canter’s ex-girlfriend, Wendy Brock, testified when Canter came home between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. on December 6, 1986, his hands were cut up and his mouth was bloody. She said she overheard Canter tell Brinkman in January 1987, “He was dead when we put him in the truck.”
In defense, Canter offered an alibi and attacked the credibility and motives of Parmentier, Payton, and Brock through several witnesses. A forensic psychiatrist examined Parmentier shortly before trial and testified that Parmentier had been hospitalized in various psychiatric institutions and suffered from an anti-social personality disorder that caused her to engage in habitual lying. Other witnesses also testified about Parmentier's reputation for "telling strange stories" and her propensity for not telling the truth.
Canter testified that he never met Tobias, denied being in the butcher shop, denied knowing Parmentier at the time of the crime and denied making any incriminating statements to or in the presence of Wendy Brock.
On December 10, 1988, the jury convicted Canter of aiding and abetting a second degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Heistand pleaded no contest to aiding and abetting a murder after the fact and was sentenced to three to five years in prison. Brinkman also pleaded no contest and received a similar prison term.
In December 1989, at the request of Canter’s trial counsel, the Michigan Attorney General began an investigation into Canter’s conviction. As part of this investigation, Sherry Payton was given immunity and she recanted her trial testimony, stating that she had no information about the Tobias homicide and that she was threatened to so testify by the Michigan State Police.
Based on the recanted testimony, Canter moved for a new trial because of newly discovered evidence. Canter’s motion was denied.
In the meantime, Moore moved for a remand in the court of appeals so that he too could file a motion for a new trial. This request was denied, but on April 16, 1991, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals decision and ordered the case remanded to the trial court.
Canter appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion for new trial. On December 21, 1992, the Michigan Court of Appeals remanded Canter’s case to the trial court. The court of appeals determined that Canter was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on claims of prosecutorial misconduct.
Following remand, and in connection with new trial hearings for Walter Moore and Canter, which had been consolidated, several thousands of pages of documents were finally disclosed to Plaintiffs, notwithstanding the assertion of District Attorney Hayes testimony that all exculpatory information had been disclosed before trial. These records included all the contradictory and fanciful statements Parmentier had given, her records of mental instability, as well as evidence that Parmentier had written threatening letters to herself and arranged for someone to shoot into a friend’s house so she could be placed in protective custody and give credence to her story.
In the summer of 1994, Parmentier was charged with eight counts of perjury. In February, 1995, Parmentier gave a lengthy statement that her testimony was false.
In January 1996, Otsego County Circuit Court Judge William Porter granted Canter and Walter Moore new trials. When Otsego County District Attorney Kevin Hesselink, Norman Hayes’ successor, decided to retry then, Porter ruled that Parmentier’s previous testimony would not be admissible and ordered a new preliminary examination.
Without Parmentier’s testimony Hesselink had virtually no evidence to support the charges against Canter and Moore. Therefore, the court found no probable cause, and the charges against Walter Moore and Canter were dismissed on May 24, 1996.
Parmentier soon thereafter disappeared to Utah, but was arrested there in 2003 and returned to Michigan where she pleaded no contest to three counts of perjury and was sentenced to time served—212 days—because she was dying of emphysema.
Canter and Walter Moore filed a wrongful conviction lawsuit which was settled for $4 million.
Heistand, who had served 25 months in prison and another six months on an electronic monitoring device, petitioned to withdraw his plea of no contest. That request was granted on July 21, 2001 and the charge against him was dismissed in 2002. Heistand filed a federal lawsuit as well, which was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2005.
Brinkman was released after serving his sentence, but was subsequently re-arrested on unrelated charges.
– Maurice Possley