Constantine — A legal victory by Ray McCann last month came too late to avoid prison, too late to salvage his marriage and too late to escape being shunned by his small town.
But it cleared his name and that, he says, is enough.
On Dec. 7, St. Joseph County Circuit Judge Paul Stutesman erased a perjury conviction against McCann related to the murder of an 11-year-old girl in 2007.
Stutesman made his decision after St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough dropped his opposition to McCann’s bid to set the record straight. McDonough did so after reviewing a surveillance video that had been used against McCann before his conviction in 2015.
During a preliminary hearing in 2014, police testified that the security video from a nearby creamery showed McCann lied about going to a dam trailhead during his search for murder victim Jodi Parrack. But in reopening the case earlier this year, McCann’s lawyers said the video was too dark to show anything and, even if it could, it wasn’t pointed at the trailhead.
For McCann, 50, the exoneration was a long time coming. The perjury charge was part of a police investigation that focused on him as the murder suspect. He remained a suspect until the real killer was caught in 2015.
“I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” he said.
Besides the symbolism of his legal victory, it will also have practical effects. Since his release from prison in 2015, where he served 20 months, he has had trouble finding jobs and apartments because of the felony conviction.
Now that the stain has been removed, he’s eyeing an automotive-related job in Tennessee, he said.
McDonough couldn’t be reached for comment about the case.
A spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police said Detective Bryan Fuller, who testified during the 2014 hearing, had recently reviewed the video 100 times and acknowledged that it’s inconclusive whether it shows McCann’s vehicle.
“Due to the low-quality images, it cannot be determined conclusively,” said the spokeswoman, Shanon Banner. “But it’s possible that McCann’s vehicle is captured on the video.”
Fuller’s original testimony wasn’t the only time the Michigan State Police misstated something during its eight-year investigation of Parrack’s murder. As investigators homed in on McCann as a murder suspect, they repeatedly lied to him about evidence tying him to the homicide, according to video recordings of the interviews released by police.
They falsely told him they had “scientific evidence” that showed he had touched Parrack’s body, and that they had video showing him around town when Parrack went missing.
Police also repeated the lies to McCann’s family and friends, according to the video recordings, in an apparent effort to encourage them to talk.
They told McCann’s 16-year-old son, Pokey, that his dad was lazy, possibly selling drugs and may have been using his computer to seek gay sex.
“The police crossed a lot of lines,” said Dave Moran, one of McCann’s lawyers. “They lied to his wife, lied to his son, lied to his sister.”
Moran is director of the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school, which, along with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University law school, represented McCann.
In June, the two legal centers, which use law school students, filed motions to request that the perjury conviction be set aside.
It was a UM law school student who first noticed the security video camera wasn’t pointed at the dam trailhead, Moran said. Valerie Stacey, who has since graduated, used maps and Google Street View to discover that the camera was pointed at a spot one block from the trailhead.