CONSTANTINE, Mich. (WOOD) — For years, Jodi Parrack’s mom was certain that a longtime acquaintance, Ray McCann Jr., had murdered her 11-year-old daughter.
That, she now realizes, was based on repeated lies told to her and others by detectives investigating the case.
Now, nearly two weeks after a federal jury awarded McCann $14.5 million for his wrongful conviction in the case, Jodi’s mom, Jo Gilson, wants to tell McCann she’s sorry.
She hasn’t spoken to McCann since the day in November 2007 that she discovered her daughter’s body in the Constantine Township Cemetery. Her only daughter had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
“She was pretty outgoing and funny, popular in school,” Gilson said. “She was like a tomboy that wanted to be a princess at the same time.”
“It changed everything in my life,” she said of her daughter’s death. “I mean, nothing’s more drastic than all of a sudden you don’t have one of your kids anymore. Everything changed.”
She started searching for her daughter after Jodi didn’t return home on her bike from a friend’s house. She reported it to police and later stopped at McCann’s, hoping to find her there. Jodi had a crush on McCann’s 11-year-old son, who went by Pokey.
“It’s kids stuff,” she said. “They were like boyfriend-girlfriend before and then they had broke up, but she wanted to be his girlfriend again.”
Jodi wasn’t there, so McCann, a Constantine reserve police officer, joined the search.
“I didn’t think nothing of it,” Gilson said. “I thought, ‘OK, cool, more people looking for her, the better.'”
She’d known McCann for years and was close friends with his sister.
“I knew him when we were younger and to me, he was like a fun, happy, haha, he wanted to have fun, have a good time,” she said. “I remember back when he was a DJ at the bar and I would go to the bar with his sister.”
“I never had a problem with Ray,” she said.
During the search, McCann suggested they check the cemetery.
“It was getting dark then,” Gilson recalled, “and that’s when I said, ‘We haven’t searched there. I don’t know where else to search. Let’s go get flashlights, and we’ll meet at the cemetery.’
“The bike was leaned up against the headstone and it was chrome. So when the headlights, we turned around the corner, the headlights shone on the bike. We saw the bike first, and she was laying on the ground. She had a black sweater on.
“I screamed. I fell on the ground, screamed, saying no God, no God, no God. I was like, no this can’t be real.”
McCann showed up, along with others.
“He was the one trying to tell me, ‘Leave her on the ground and get away from her,'” Gilson said.
That’s the last time she spoke to McCann.
The thought that he could be her daughter’s killer never occurred to her that night, she said. It was Michigan State Police cold case detective Bryan Fuller who convinced her that McCann was the killer, she said.
Fuller led the cold case team that took over the investigation in 2011. He focused on McCann, a married father of two who coached and officiated Rocket football and had no criminal record.
Gilson trusted Fuller. While other cold case detectives were investigating whether she and her family were involved in the murder, he focused on McCann.
“I knew it wasn’t me, and Fuller’s the only one throwing someone else’s name out there, so then of course, I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s got to be him, it’s got to be him. It’s not me,'” Gilson said. “The police were saying that they were catching him in lies. He was saying he was places he wasn’t at, and he’s the one that kept suggesting everyone check the cemetery, which is where we found her.”
Then, she said, she learned, second-hand, that police had solid evidence against McCann. Fuller, she said, told McCann’s sister that Jodi’s DNA was on McCann’s clothes and in his truck. She said she immediately called Fuller. Fuller, she said, admitted telling her that.
“So I took that as fact, and then I was like, ‘Well, how come they’re not arresting him?’ And he said, ‘We can’t arrest him without a warrant and it’s up to the prosecutor to do the warrant,'” Gilson said.
She was certain of McCann’s guilt.
“I was just sitting, waiting for them to do their job,” she said.
She said Fuller shared his theory: that McCann had dumped Jodi’s body behind a store first.
“And then, when nobody found her, he moved her to the cemetery,” she was told.
She said the detective also told her they found sand on Jodi’s body:
“Fuller told me the sand matched the sand in Ray’s fire pit in his backyard.”
More lies, she’s now left to believe.
Not until years later did she learn that Jodi’s DNA was not on McCann, not in his truck and that unknown DNA found on Jodi actually excluded him. There were other police lies, including that surveillance video proved McCann wasn’t where he said he was at one point during the search and that police had evidence McCann was in the cemetery before the body was found.
A Target 8 investigation in 2016, Making a Monster, revealed that cold case detectives had told the same lies to McCann during repeated interrogations.
“We know scientifically that you touched her body,” Fuller told McCann during one of those interrogations. “And we know without a doubt that you put her in that cemetery.”
The evidence, Fuller said, was insurmountable. In those taped interrogations, McCann denied any involvement 86 times.
Once, Jodi’s mom said, she confronted Fuller.
“There was even one point where they were lying to me,” she said. “And I even told Fuller, I’m like, ‘Why is everybody lying? Even the police are lying. How are we ever going to find out the truth if everybody’s lying?'”
Suspicion turned to hatred. She remembers spotting McCann outside a Walmart while riding in her sister’s car.
“And we had just pulled into the parking lot and we’re sitting, waiting for people to cross. Ray walked right in front of us, and I slammed on the gas, except I was on the passenger side. I told my sister to hit him, but she wouldn’t do it,” Gilson said. “That’s why I had to move. I moved to Hammond (Indiana) and I didn’t move back until Ray was arrested, because I was afraid of what I would do.”
In a press conference in 2014 after McCann was charged with perjury, Jodi’s mom had these words for him:
“Just to tell the truth, get it over with. He’s destroyed so many people’s lives.”
McCann was never charged with Jodi’s murder. But fearing he could face up to life in prison if he went to trial, he pleaded no contest to one of five perjury charges. He served 20 months in jail and prison.
Before McCann was released, Daniel Furlong, who had lived in Constantine, attacked a young girl near his new home in White Pigeon. After his arrest, tests showed it was Furlong’s DNA on Jodi’s body.
In response to the Target 8 investigation, wrongful conviction lawyers at Northwestern University and the University of Michigan took McCann’s case, leading to his exoneration.
Then, last month, a federal jury ruled that Detective Sgt. Fuller had violated his constitutional rights and awarded McCann $14.5 million.
“There’s no winner in this,” McCann said after the verdict. “Sixteen years. It was tragic what happened, you know. Unfortunately, a young girl lost her life. My heart goes out to their family.”
Jodi’s mom said the verdict, at first, upset her.
“It puts me back to that day again every time stuff’s brought up, and then I feel like it makes me mad that everyone says, poor Ray. Like, my life was ruined, too,” she said.”
The murder ended her marriage. She became suicidal. She only recently moved back to Michigan. She cleans houses now in Three Rivers. Every Sept. 2, family and friends celebrate Jodi’s birthday at her gravesite with fireworks and a paper lantern launch.
Gilson hopes to someday sit down with McCann.
“I don’t even know,” she said when asked what she would tell him. “I don’t. I don’t even know really, like, I’m sorry.”
“I said some mean things because I believed it was true,” she said.
“I was going to do whatever it took to do that (get justice), and I did hurt a lot of people’s feelings, but I felt like, ‘I don’t care if you’re feelings are hurt. My daughter’s dead.’
“But him going to prison is a lot worse than just having your feelings hurt.”
When reminded that she didn’t send him to prison, she said: “No, it wasn’t my lies that put him there. I was told it was his lies that put him there by the one that was lying the whole time, apparently.”