CONSTANTINE, Mich. (WOOD) — Long before he left Constantine, before Jodi Parrack’s murder in 2007, Ray McCann Jr. was a welcomed customer at Meek’s Mill, the only breakfast joint in a town with more pot shops than bars.
He’d been an all-area football player at Constantine High School, No. 61 in his senior year, was married, had two kids, was a Rocket football coach and referee, a reserve police officer and had no criminal record.
But by the time cold case detectives were done, the man who wanted only to help search for a missing girl instead became wrongfully known as a suspected child killer.
McCann, now 56, left the village of 1,974 people and never came back. He served 20 months behind bars, was exonerated and just last month won a $14.5 million wrongful conviction verdict. He has no plans to return to Constantine.
“I remember everything about it,” Meek’s Mill owner Tracy Johnson said of Jodi Parrack’s disappearance in November 2007.
There was a frantic search for the missing 11-year-old girl before the discovery of her body in the Constantine Township Cemetery on the edge of town. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Jodi’s murder was the first in the village in 30 years.
“It was just a crazy day here in town I think, for a lot of people,” Johnson said.
Johnson had heard — wrongly — and still believes that it was McCann who discovered the body.
“It would have been, ‘He’s guilty, he found her,’ you know,” she said of the talk around town. “He’s the one who found her. It was just so much chaos, a hundred different stories, so you didn’t know what to believe.”
It was actually Jodi’s mom, Jo Gilson, who discovered the body, after McCann, who was helping with the search, suggested checking the cemetery.
Facts or not, McCann’s reputation was on its way to ruin.
“Yeah, I remember,” longtime resident Jim Connelly said while out walking his dog. “A lot of accusations going on, here and there, pointing fingers, and so forth, etc.”
“It makes everybody cautious and sad, I’ll tell you, because these things normally don’t happen in a small town like this, so it makes big headlines for people in this town,” Connelly continued.
Some in town heard the lies generated by cold case detectives targeting McCann: that police had solid evidence against him, including DNA. McCann was never charged with the murder, but eventually pleaded no contest to perjury. That was later overturned after a Target 8 investigation, but not before he spent 20 months in jail and prison.
“They wanted to pin it on somebody, or they wanted to get the population of the town off of their backs,” Connelly said.
Don King grew up with McCann, played high school football with him and then became director of Constantine Rocket football. McCann coached for a time before becoming a ref.
“He did a really good job,” King said.
But after Jodi was killed, people got worried about McCann being on the field, he said.
“Then some parents came up and said, ‘Hey, you know, with what’s going on, he shouldn’t be around the kids,’ so we had no choice but to kind of ask him to step away,” King said. “I don’t know that everybody thought he did it, but a lot of people thought he was involved somehow because that’s what the police were saying to everybody.”
King said detectives interviewed him and his wife five times and even followed them home once after they talked to McCann.
“They told us that they knew Ray did it, that they had everything but his DNA on her body, that they actually thought that he may have killed her at the Rocket football field,” King said.
Absurd, King thought.
“I didn’t think he would hurt a kid; that’s not him,” he said.
“He used to live right down here, on the corner,” King said, pointing to his right down the street, “and the guy that killed Jodi Parrack lived right over there. He lived a block away. That’s where he killed her, right over there.”
Daniel Furlong, after his arrest in another case and a DNA match, confessed to killing Jodi and dumping her body in the cemetery. He is spending 30 to 60 years in prison. He told police he acted alone and knew McCann only as the guy that police had been wrongly pursuing — to his benefit.
But even that hasn’t been enough to convince some.
“There’s still people on Facebook, to this day, that say, ‘Oh, he was involved, he was involved,’ but obviously he wasn’t,” King said. “When you grow up in a small town, you know everybody and they kind of turn their back on you, I imagine that’s pretty rough.”
The last time he saw McCann was shortly after his release from prison. McCann, he said, was working as a janitor at a Walmart. He said he would welcome him back as a football referee.
“I honestly wanted to reach out to him, but I don’t want him to think, ‘Oh, I’m reaching out to you because you’ve got a pile of money,'” King said.
A federal jury awarded McCann $14.5 million in late September in a lawsuit against the state police cold case detective, Sgt. Bryan Fuller, who pursued him. The jury decided Fuller violated McCann’s rights.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, which defended the state police detective in the federal trial, said the office hasn’t determined yet whether it will appeal the verdict.
Immediately after the verdict, McCann said he won’t return to his hometown.
“I’ll never move back there. It’s too hard on me,” he told Target 8 outside the courthouse. “It’s too many bad memories. It’s just too hard.”
Back at Meek’s Mill, restaurant owner Tracy Johnson is serving up eggs and coffee to her regulars. She said McCann is welcome any time.
“He would here, and he probably would by people,” she said. “So much has gone on and the outcome. I think he’d be welcomed back.”