CENTREVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — A judge opted against sentencing Daniel Furlong to life in prison Monday in St. Joseph County Circuit Court — a move made to push back his first chance at parole.
Judge Paul Stutesman instead sentenced the 65-year-old above the advisory guidelines to between 30 and 60 years in a state prison for the murder of 11-year-old Jodi Parrack.
Had he received a life sentence, Furlong could have been eligible for parole at age 80. Instead, his earliest chance for parole will be when he is 95 — “if you are to live that long,” Stutesman said.
“It ensures that you are going to spend all of your life in the Department of Corrections, unless you miraculously make it past 95 years of age,” he continued, acknowledging Furlong’s poor health.
Furlong’s attorney told 24 Hour News 8 he doubts Furlong will appeal the sentence. When asked if he thought Furlong was sorry, he thought for a moment before saying, “I don’t know.”
Furlong declined to address the court Monday when given the chance by the judge.
In his taped confession to the November 2007 murder, he was calm as he recalled luring Jodi into his garage, molesting her, driving her to the Constantine Township Cemetery and placing a plastic bag over her head, which suffocated her. Jodi’s mother later discovered her body.
At the time of the murder, Furlong lived just around the corner from the Constantine Police Department and not far from Jodi’s home. But he was never even a person of interest in the murder until after he attacked a 10-year-old girl in the nearby village of White Pigeon in August 2015. That girl escaped, and the incident turned out to be the break in Jodi’s case that investigators had been waiting for since her death.
Furlong was arrested and police took a DNA sample that matched evidence found on Jodi’s body and clothing. He was soon charged with Jodi’s death. He confessed to killing her and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in November 2015 under the terms of a plea agreement.
Jodi’s mother, Jo Gilson, read a prepared statement in which she denounced that plea agreement.
“How has this kidnapping, rape, torture and murder and finding my daughter’s body in the cemetery affected my life? For eight years, I had to live my life every day not knowing who killed my baby or why,” she said, visibly agitated.
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Gilson said she had to repeatedly defend her innocence and the innocence of her family members as detectives thought someone related to Jodi may have been involved in her death. As a result, she said, she now suffers from severe social anxiety and struggled for years to repair her faith in God.
“Jodi is forever gone and everyone who loves her will never be the same,” Gilson said. “I suppose I could go on and on about all the things Jodi will never get to do, but I would rather address the injustice she is getting.”
She said she asked St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough to charge Furlong with torture because she “wanted the person who killed Jodi to be charged with everything that he did to her not just some of the things.” She said McDonough told her he could, but that he wanted to talk to investigators first.
“The next time I heard anything about this case was when Furlong admitted killing Jodi because of a plea bargain offered to him,” Gilson said. “I was never aware of any plea bargain until I heard Mr. McDonough say it in court, and all I could do is sit there and watch.”
She said she was able to watch part of Furlong’s taped confession only after it was released to the media and that she believed he was not being entirely truthful, saying his statements didn’t line up with some of the evidence. She said she brought her concerns to detectives and McDonough but they “acted as though it didn’t matter.”
“But it does matter to me, it does matter to everyone who loves Jodi, and it should matter for Jodi to have justice,” she said.
She said she didn’t approve of Furlong’s plea deal, about which she was never consulted.
“I do understand the plea bargain was offered in hopes that Furlong would be honest about other cases,” she said. But, she qualified, “I don’t understand why Mr. McDonough would even think Furlong would be honest about other cases when he hasn’t even been honest about Jodi’s murder. This plea bargain has devastated my family. Jodi isn’t getting any justice, nor anyone else other than the state of Michigan.”
She went on to condemn the terms of the plea agreement that meant the girl who escaped Furlong — who she described as “the little girl who truly caught the killer” — would never get justice. Furlong was not charged in that case and received immunity from any other St. Joseph County cases in exchange for confessing to killing Jodi.
She asked the judge to reject the plea agreement and sentence Furlong to the maximum amount for all of the charges he originally faced.
McDonough agreed with Gilson that the girl who escaped Furlong was the “real hero in this case.” He said Jodi was the girl’s “guardian angel” on the day she encountered Furlong.
“This is a case that took eight years for us to solve; but for the bravery of a young girl, we would still be searching for Jodi Parrack’s killer,” McDonough told the court.
He said authorities made the plea deal “because we wanted to hear the truth.”
“We wanted to know what happened to Jodi Parrack on that night, and myself and law enforcement are satisfied that we do,” he continued.
Judge Stutesman said his sentence aimed to provide justice for both Jodi and the girl who escaped Furlong.
“It does reflect what occurred in this event, series of events. It reflects also that the other victim and her family are going to obtain the justice knowing that you will not be free to walk the streets, and that all those that have been touched by this will rest assured that you will not be out, preying on any other children,” he said.
After the proceedings, Jodi’s mother said she was satisfied with the sentence.
Constantine Police Chief Mark Honeysett said he believes the court handed down the harshest sentence it could, but he still wanted more.
“It seemed like he should hurt the way he hurt Jodi and her family,” he said.
Furlong is being looked at in the 1997 disappearance of 6-year-old Brittney Beers in Sturgis, but has denied he was involved. Regardless of whether that’s true, Honeysett said he thinks there are more victims.
“I’m willing to believe that he hasn’t killed anybody before, but it’s difficult to believe that there hasn’t been some victims somewhere along the line,” he said.
-24 Hour News 8’s Leon Hendrix contributed to this report.