ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — Ray McCann’s wrongful conviction in the Jodi Parrack case was not caused just by overzealous detectives looking for a conviction, but also by a flawed law, says the Michigan Innocence Clinic attorney who helped clear his name.
David Moran said McCann’s case is prompting the Innocence Clinic to work with Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions to change Michigan’s perjury law.
“The fact that it’s there is dangerous,” Moran said Wednesday of the state’s law. “And it’s dangerous for the government to have too much power to abuse the rights of its citizens.”
Moran said a 2004 Michigan Supreme Court ruling allows prosecutors to file perjury charges even if the alleged lie is not pertinent to an investigation.
“A false statement about something that’s completely irrelevant to everything can now be punishable by perjury, and that’s what happened to Ray McCann,” Moran said.
While 48 states require that a lie is “material,” Michigan and Alaska do not.
“Michigan is a real outlier here,” Moran said.
McCann spent 20 months in prison for perjury in the 2007 death of 11-year-old Jodi Parrack in Constantine in St. Joseph County. The Innocence Clinic took up his case and exonerated McCann after Target 8 exposed how detectives, who believed he was the killer, lied to him repeatedly during 20 interrogations.
“They charged him with perjury for every little minor discrepancy between Ray’s recollection of the night seven years earlier and other people’s recollections of the night,” Moran said.
McCann pleaded no contest to perjury for testifying under an investigative subpoena that he had searched near an old dam for Jodi Parrack the night she vanished. A detective testified that surveillance video proved he was lying.
But attorneys, after viewing that video provided by Target 8, found the camera wasn’t even aimed at the dam.
McCann’s attorney said even if McCann was lying, it wasn’t crucial to the murder case.
“It was not material to Jodi Parrack’s murder and death,” Moran said.
“What Ray McCann’s case shows is that there is a tool here that can be abused,” he continued. “The fact that it can be done once means it can be done again, and it’s a simple enough thing to fix.”
He said it can be fixed by just adding the word “material” in one law, and “materially” in another.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, whose office was not involved in the McCann case, said he needs to look at the proposed changes before commenting on them.
He said his office often uses investigative subpoenas to force witnesses to testify and carefully uses perjury charges.
“We want to charge something that is pertinent to the case,” Becker said. “It’s not something that’s tangential; we want something that directly impacts the case and what they’re testifying to and it’s truly a lie. It’s not a matter if they’ve got something wrong because they’re mistaken. They are intentionally lying about something.”