KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A jury has awarded $14.5 million to a wrongfully convicted man, saying a Michigan State Police sergeant violated his constitutional rights as he pursued a perjury case against him.
The seven-person jury on Tuesday decided that Ray McCann Jr. was due $12.5 million in compensatory damages, plus $2 million in punitive damages to send a warning to other police officers that the tactics used against McCann were not acceptable.
“They can’t get away with something like this. They did me wrong, and they know they did,” McCann said. “I’m just glad it’s over.”
He sued Michigan State Police cold case detective Sgt. Bryan Fuller for wrongfully targeted him, believing he had sexually assaulted and killed 11-year-old Jodi Parrack in 2007 in Constantine.
The jury deliberated for about 4 hours and 15 minutes before coming back with its verdict. As it was announced, McCann leaned over and rested his head on his attorney’s shoulder.
“This whole thing’s been emotional,” he told Target 8 later, outside the courthouse, going on to thank his attorneys for their hard work.
The trial lasted a week before a seven-person jury heard closing arguments Tuesday morning.
“We’re not asking for sympathy; we’re asking what the law demands,” McCann’s attorney, Russell Ainsworth, told the jury. “You need to hold him (Fuller) accountable.
“What Fuller was doing was not an investigation; that was a persecution of Ray McCann.”
Fuller, who still works for the state police, was represented by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office. Assistant AG Mark E. Donnelly argued that the detective and other investigators “followed the process” in charging McCann with perjury and did not violate his constitutional rights.
The St. Joseph County prosecutor “wanted to charge Ray McCann with murder, but was talked down by the Michigan State Police,” the defense attorney said.
“He (Fuller) didn’t want to railroad Ray,” the assistant AG argued. “He didn’t know Ray. What he wanted to do was solve the crime.”
McCann was a reserve Constantine police officer who was trying to help search for the missing girl in the small town. His son and the girl were friends. McCann became a suspect after he suggested checking the cemetery, where her body was later found. For a time, police suspected that McCann’s 11-year-old son had killed Jodi and that McCann had helped cover it up.
Seven years after the death, a cold case team led by Sgt. Fuller reopened the investigation. When Fuller couldn’t get enough evidence in the murder case, he targeted McCann for perjury, McCann’s attorney said.
McCann was still serving his 20-month prison sentence for perjury when the real killer, Daniel Furlong, was arrested and confessed to Jodi’s murder.
The Michigan Innocence Clinic took up his case and exonerated McCann after Target 8 exposed how detectives lied to McCann repeatedly during 20 interrogations. Among the lies: that police had found McCann’s DNA on Jodi’s body. During those interrogations, McCann denied any involvement in the killing 86 times.
One of the keys to the original perjury case was surveillance video that police say proved McCann had lied about his whereabouts on the night Jodi disappeared. McCann told police he had parked near a path leading to a dam during the search. The video, police said, showed he was never there.
McCann’s attorney argued Fuller misled the prosecutor about the video, leading to the perjury charge and McCann’s no contest plea. The Michigan Innocence Clinic discovered the video wasn’t aimed toward that path, leading to the exoneration.
McCann’s attorneys said they believed the state would pay the $14.5 million but the assistant attorney general would not comment to Target 8. Leaving the courthouse Tuesday, Fuller and his attorney also declined to comment.
“It sends the message that officers need to follow the law,” one of McCann’s attorneys, Rachel Brady, said of the verdict. “They can’t make up evidence, they can’t deprive people of their liberty without evidence. And it sends the message that this has to stop. They can’t keep doing this.”
McCann told Target 8 that he will never move back to Constantine, the town where he grew up.
“It’s too hard on me,” he said. “Too many bad memories. It’s just too hard.”
But he said he was going to try to move forward with his life.
“I feel like I got some justice,” he said. “I want some closure. Before my mom died, she prayed I’d find peace. And that’s what I’m looking for. I’d like to find some peace.”
*Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Jodi Parrack’s age. She was 11 years old. We regret the error, which has been fixed.