December 7, 2017 By Amy Spooner
The victory came too late to avoid 20 months behind bars, the loss of his job and marriage, and ostracization in his community. But thanks to the work of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at Michigan Law and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, Raymond McCann II’s record has been wiped clean of a perjury conviction related to the 2007 murder of a young girl in southwest Michigan.
St. Joseph County (Michigan) Circuit Court Judge Paul E. Stutesman today granted McCann’s Motion for Relief from Judgment, which the two innocence clinics had jointly filed on his behalf. St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough stipulated that the motion should be granted and the charges dropped.
“It is ironic that after serving time in the county jail and being threatened with a potential life sentence, Ray McCann pled no contest to a charge of perjury when, in fact, he had told the truth and the charge itself was based on police fabrications,” said Michigan Innocence Clinic Director David Moran, ’91. “I am grateful that Mr. McDonough chose to do the right thing and exonerate him.”
McCann’s exoneration marks the end of a nightmare that began on November 8, 2007, when 11-year-old Jodi Parrack was reported missing in the small town of Constantine, Michigan. McCann, a reserve Constantine police officer who at that time was on sick leave, agreed to help participate in the search. He became a person of interest in the case after he asked the girl’s mother if anyone had searched the local cemetery. Parrack’s body was found there a short time later.
McCann was not the only person to suggest searching the cemetery and repeatedly insisted that he had not been involved with the crime. Yet a Michigan State Police detective questioned him nearly 20 times over a period of several years and falsely told McCann he had evidence tying him to the murder—including that McCann’s DNA was on Parrack’s body and Parrack’s DNA was in McCann’s truck. The detective also falsely claimed that he had surveillance video contradicting McCann’s account of where he was that night. Additionally, the detective lied about McCann to his family members and friends, even telling McCann’s teenage son that McCann was a drug addict, in an apparent attempt to turn his family and friends against him and get McCann to confess. “The tactic worked,” said Moran. “He was publicly identified as the prime suspect, lost his job, was estranged from his son, and his wife divorced him.”
In 2012, the Michigan State Police detective told McCann’s ex-wife that he wanted to see McCann locked up to increase the pressure on him. The detective then persuaded the county prosecutor to issue a subpoena to require McCann to testify under oath concerning his whereabouts at the time of Parrack’s disappearance. The prosecutor then charged McCann with perjury during a murder investigation, which carries a potential life sentence. All of the charges stemmed from minor discrepancies between McCann’s recall of the events surrounding Parrack’s disappearance five years earlier and the recollections of others.
One of the perjury counts stemmed from McCann’s testimony that he had searched for Parrack at the Tumble Dam, a ruin where kids often hung out. McCann said under oath that he had parked at the trailhead to the Tumble Dam and was prepared to search for Parrack there when he got a call and went elsewhere. The Michigan State Police detective testified under oath that he had video footage from a surveillance camera on a nearby factory that proved McCann was never there that night.
After spending 11 months in jail awaiting trial and facing a potential life sentence, McCann pled no contest to the count involving the Tumble Dam, believing that he had no chance of being acquitted if there was a video that contradicted his recollection, especially in a community that was convinced he had murdered Jodi Parrack. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison in 2015.
While McCann was in prison, a man named Daniel Furlong attempted to abduct another young girl in nearby White Pigeon, Michigan. The girl got away and led authorities back to Furlong, who eventually admitted to killing Parrack eight years earlier. A subsequent DNA test confirmed Furlong’s DNA was on Parrack’s body. Under interrogation, Furlong insisted he did not know McCann and had believed that law enforcement’s obsessive focus on McCann meant he was off the hook for Parrack’s murder.
After McCann was paroled from prison, the Michigan Innocence Clinic and Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions filed the Motion for Relief from Judgment on the grounds that Furlong’s confession demonstrated McCann’s innocence. In addition, the motion argued that the conviction should be vacated because McCann’s no contest plea was induced by the police detective’s false testimony that a surveillance video showed McCann never went to the Tumble Dam. In fact, the video showed nothing of the sort.
“That perjury count was supposedly based on objective evidence,” said Moran, “but our students did truly amazing work that proved the video did not contradict Ray’s account at all.” The first thing the team—Kate Canny, ’16; James Mestichelli, a 3L; Valerie Stacey, ’17; and Amanda Kenner and Rebecca Wyss, both 2Ls—established was that darkness made it impossible to ascertain which cars were in the area. “It was obviously a lie that the officer had watched the video and could confirm that Mr. McCann wasn’t there. You couldn’t see anything because it was pitch black,” said Moran. On closer inspection, Stacey also realized that the video wasn’t facing the direction of the path to the Tumble Dam. She figured it out using Google street view and maps of the area, and then previously unreleased daytime footage from the same camera proved that Stacey’s hunch was right—the surveillance camera was facing an area about a block away from where the Tumble Dam path was.
“I have to believe that the Michigan State Police detective believed Ray was the guy and he just had to crack him. But we are very, very fortunate that while so much attention was focused on our client, Daniel Furlong didn’t, to our knowledge, kill any other little girls,” said Moran.
After Prosecutor McDonough watched the video footage last week, he agreed to drop the charges. “We’re grateful that Mr. McDonough looked at the video and realized that Ray had been convicted based on false police testimony about what was in that video,” Moran said. “And we thank Ken Kolker of WOOD-TV, who brought this case to our attention.”
The Michigan Innocence Clinic, established in 2009, works to free those who have been wrongly convicted and focuses on cases where there is no DNA to test. Raymond McCann is the 17th client to be freed by the clinic's efforts, and is the clinic’s 14th full exoneration. McCann’s case also marks the Michigan Innocence Clinic’s third partnership with the Center on Wrongful Convictions, all of which have resulted in exonerations.
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