These police were willing to sacrifice one of their own just to close a case.
Laura and Steve tell us the story of a Michigan murder case with an unusual suspect: a small-town police officer named Ray McCann. After Ray helped investigate the disappearance of a little girl, he was wrongfully accused of her murder. In pursuit of their only suspect, police turned Ray’s whole life into an interrogation room.
Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions is a production of Lava for Good™ Podcasts in association with Signal Co No1
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Laura Nirider Welcome to Wrongful C onviction: False Confessions. I'm Laura Nirider.
Steve Drizin And I'm Steve Drizin.
Laura Nirider Today we'll tell you about a Michigan murder case with an unusual suspect: a small-town police officer named Ray McCann. After Ray helped investigate the disappearance of a little girl, he was wrongfully accused of her murder. Cops turned on one of their own in one of the worst cases of tunnel vision we've seen. In pursuit of their only suspect, police turned Ray's whole life into an interrogation room.
Steve Drizin One of the things we've tried to do this season is to show that you don't need a full confession in order to bring charges against somebody. A false admission that implicates you in the crime or a false statement of fact, a lie in this case, could bring the weight of the system down against an innocent person. And all of that stems from what happens in the interrogation room.
Laura Nirider Police have so much power over what you say in the interrogation room and the way in which what you say can be used against you in courts. It's that power and the misuse of that power; that's what Ray McCann's case is all about.
Steve Drizin We've seen tunnel vision in other cases, but I've never seen tunnel vision that was this extreme, this long-standing, and that included coercion both in and outside of the interrogation room.
Laura Nirider You have the police officers lying, right? The police officers don't get charged. It's Ray who gets charged. I mean, this is asymmetric warfare.
Steve Drizin Right. And becomes even more asymmetrical when they charge him with perjury. Ray McCann, a reserve police officer who... All he wanted to do was assist police. All he wanted to do was to be a police officer. They ran him over like a truck.
Laura Nirider Today's story starts in Constantine, Michigan, a small town of 2,000 people in the southern corner of the state. Constantine is an old-fashioned dairy farming community, the kind of place that looks like time stopped a half-century ago. The town's historic main street is lined with shops that have been kept immaculate for decades. Annual events like the Car Show and BBQ Cook-off are marked on everyone's calendar. But in the autumn of 2007, this Michigan town was hit by a crime that no one could have expected. It was November 8th, 4:45 in the afternoon, only an hour before sunset. Eleven-year-old Jodi Parrack left her friend's house on her bike and headed for dinner at home a half mile away. But when Jodi didn't arrive on time, her mom called the police and word spread fast. As the sun went down and temperatures plummeted, too, it seemed like the whole town was out searching for Jodi. Joining the search was Ray McCann, a 40-year-old family man born and raised in Constantine. Ray was a reserve police officer who hoped, one day, to join the Michigan State Police. He wasn't a full-fledged cop, but he was allowed to carry a badge and do basic police work, like making traffic stops and searching for missing people. In this particular missing person case, Ray's son was good friends with Jodi, so Ray didn't have to be asked twice to help look for her. Along with many of his neighbors, Ray threw on a coat and went out to look for Jodi. He searched high and low, at the baseball field, at the Dollar General, even at a local riverside walking trail called the Tumble Dam Path. Others searched elsewhere, but no luck for anyone. No Jodi. Around 10:30 at night, Ray met up with Jodi's mom to talk about where they should look next. That's when Ray McCann asked if anyone had searched the cemetery. No one had. So Jodi's mom headed that way, followed by Ray in another car. The cemetery is where they found Jodi. She'd been sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Her bike was lying next to her on the ground. Jodi's mom bent down, tried to embrace her daughter's body, but Ray knew this was a crime scene that shouldn't be disturbed. He gently guided her away from Jodi's body and sat her down in her car. The police arrived quickly at the scene, but as they hunted for leads, they locked almost immediately onto Ray McCann as a suspect because Ray had been the person who suggested searching the cemetery. Based on that coincidence, police questioned Ray that night. He adamantly denied involvement in this horrible crime. Somehow, though, Reserve Officer Ray McCann became the sole suspect, the only person police focused on for the next five years.
Steve Drizin When someone discovers a body, they're going to be a person of interest in a police investigation because of their proximity to the crime. It's a basis for wanting to question somebody about what they were doing on the evening in question, but they focused on him as the sole and exclusive suspect, and they did so because they grew desperate. This is a crime that is absolutely devastating to this community. And police did everything in their power to close that vise on Ray.
Laura Nirider Now, it's not like there is any evidence against Ray. Police compared Ray's DNA to the DNA left on Jodi's body, but it didn't match. No physical evidence implicated him, and no eyewitnesses had identified him. But as Jodi's murder sat unsolved for years, pressure escalated on the authorities to come up with a culprit. After a new police chief was elected in 2010, new investigators were assigned to the case, and they immediately doubled down on prime suspect Ray McCann. Over the next few years, police interrogated Ray more than 20 times. Again and again, police asked him to describe what he did on the night of Jodi's disappearance, where he searched, who he talked to. During these interrogations, police gradually but relentlessly upped the ante. "The evidence against you is insurmountable," they told him.
Interrogator We know scientifically that you touched her body.
Ray McCann Oh God. No, I did not. And your people, whatever, can think that-
Interrogator It's not a thinking matter. It's proven.
Laura Nirider Now, that was a lie. But these kinds of lies can be extremely coercive; even on a cop, even on someone like Ray McCann.
Ray McCann You guys can do all your talking, talking, talking, talking. Well, you know what? I did my job that night. I wish I knew what happened to her because then I guess we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Steve Drizin The way they questioned Ray was for one purpose and one purpose only: to get him to give them information that they could use to charge him with this crime.
Laura Nirider And Ray called them out about that, too.
Steve Drizin Over and over again.
Ray McCann I don't know what you're trying to do. Get me to confess to something I didn't have no part of? And now, you guys are doing it again.
Laura Nirider That's the thing. He knew exactly what they were doing. He's a cop.
Steve Drizin You want me to admit to something I didn't do? I'm not going to do it.
Ray McCann You want a confession that I can't give you. I didn't find her, didn't put her there, didn't kill her. I didn't!
Laura Nirider But the more Ray insisted on his innocence, the more police became obsessed with proving him guilty. Here's the really twisted thing: Their obsession began to spread beyond the interrogation room. They blamed Ray for Jodi's death in the local media, ruining his reputation, and they viciously attacked his personal life. Police tracked down Ray's friends and relatives and worked to turn them against him. Police told Ray's family that physical evidence, DNA, proved he had killed Jodi, even though that wasn't true. And they went even further. For no clear reason, they told Ray's wife that he'd been unfaithful. They falsely told Ray's teenage son, the one who'd been friends with Jodi when he was younger, that his dad was a drug addict. They also told the boy that his dad was visiting online chat rooms; the worst kind, I guess, that these cops could imagine. Just listen to this.
Interrogator The computer shows activity in a chat room regularly of gay nature, homosexual behavior, talking about how this man-on-man sexual encounter is going to go and then how it did go.
Ray's son There's been no signs of any of that personally for me; that I haven't seen anything like that.
Interrogator OK. Is there any part of you at all that questions your dad's sexuality?
Ray's son Well, if what you're saying is absolutely honest to God true-
Interrogator I can tell you that I... It's your computer. I took it off of there.
Ray's son Yeah. Then, yeah, of course it's going to make me question it.
Laura Nirider None of this was "honest to God true." The cops were lying again, and that's bad enough. But the fact that they equated visiting gay chat rooms with raping and killing an 11-year-old girl... I'm sorry, but that's beyond offensive. In any event, until Ray confessed, police were hell-bent on taking his life apart, piece by piece. And I guess this cop thought that telling Ray's teenage son that his dad was gay would be a good way to accomplish that.
Steve Drizin Their purpose was to make life for Ray McCann in Constantine, Michigan, unendurable; to make his life so miserable and so painful that they could bring him to a place where he could confess to killing Jodi Parrack.
Laura Nirider Despite all this, years go by and Ray doesn't confess. Finally, the cops had to plan. They'll file charges against Ray and see if that gets him to admit guilt. An officer is caught saying as much during a taped interview with Ray's wife. " He's going to have to be charged," the officer says. "He'll get so scared he'll talk. It may just come to that."
Steve Drizin At a certain point in time, they should have realized that Ray had nothing to do with this. And there were all kinds of reasons for them to believe that, beginning with the DNA evidence. But they didn't care one bit about Ray. This was the first time that I had seen tunnel vision so take over law enforcement officers that they were willing to sacrifice the life of another officer to close a case.
Laura Nirider Now, the police didn't have any evidence against Ray that would allow them to charge him with murder, so they came up with a different plan and different charges. In 2012, police served Ray McCann with an investigative subpoena requiring him to answer questions yet again about the night Jodi disappeared five years earlier. Because of the subpoena, though, this time Ray had to give answers under oath.
Steve Drizin Ray did bring a lawyer with him. By this point in time, Ray's reputation in the community was so damaged, so tarnished, he couldn't go anywhere without people looking at him as if he had killed Jodi Parrack. So the lawyer advised him to go in and talk to the authorities as a way to maybe put an end to this.
Laura Nirider The police's subpoena strategy worked, it did put an end to the harassment, but not the end Ray had hoped for. After the interview on July 17, 2014, prosecutors accused Ray McCann of lying under oath and charged him with five counts of perjury. He was arrested and thrown into the local jail. So did Ray McCann lie under oath? Four of the five perjury charges were based on incredibly minor inconsistencies between the details Ray remembered about the night Jodi died five years earlier and the details that other people remembered.
Ken Kolker You know, what stands out to me in this story is how a completely innocent man, who is just out trying to help, got caught up in this web of lies that was spun by the detectives. It's unbelievable that that could have happened and frightening.
Laura Nirider That's Ken Kolker, a journalist based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He's been covering Ray McCann's case for years.
Ken Kolker I'm an investigative reporter, so my job is to just sniff around and look for things that seem wrong. You know, the perjury charges seem totally unfounded. I mean, if somebody asked me what I had for lunch, I might say Taco Bell, but maybe it wasn't. And is that really a lie?
Laura Nirider Here is one example of what Ray was charged with. Under oath, R ay McCann said that at one point while he was searching, he saw Jodi's mom with a blond-haired kid, and he thought Jodi had been found. He testified that he said to Jodi's mom, "Oh, good, you found her." Now, everyone agreed that a local seventh grader with blond hair named Katie was with Jodi's mom during the search. But Jodi's mom couldn't remember whether five years earlier, Ray had said, "Oh, good, you found her." One of these perjury charges was based on this so-called discrepancy. Here's another example. Police told Ray they found his DNA on Jodi's body, even though that was a lie. In a desperate attempt to provide some explanation, Ray made a guess. He thought back to the moment he and Jodi's mom discovered her little girl's body. He remembered guiding Jodi's mom away and helping her sit down in her car. Maybe, sometime later, the mother had been grieving over her daughter's body, he said; maybe his DNA had been transferred from Jodi's mom to the little girl. But five years after the fact, Jodi's mom didn't remember Ray pulling her away or taking her to the car or much of anything else from that terrible moment. So the cops charged Ray with another count of perjury.
Ken Kolker What's interesting is that Ray McCann was a reserve police officer and for some reason they turned on him. That's the suspect they're focused on. So they're just hammering and hammering and telling him far more lies than they claim he told them.
Steve Drizin Ray's history as a police officer may have offered him some protection against a false confession, but it couldn't protect him against another weapon in the police officer's arsenal: the weapon of perjury. In Ray's case, they turned a series of inconsistencies in his statements over a five-year period into perjurious lies. The penalties for perjury in Michigan are extreme, and they charged him with five counts of perjury.
Ken Kolker So under investigative subpoena, especially in a murder case, telling a lie to police is actually punishable by up to life in prison. The punishment is as bad as if you committed the crime.
Laura Nirider Four of those five charges were based on ridiculous inconsistencies like the ones we've talked about. The fifth charge, though, was different. The fifth charge was based on Ray's sworn statement that he'd searched for Jodi near that riverside walking trail, the Tumble Dam Path.
Ken Kolker They claimed, well, that's a lie because we've got video showing that nobody went to the Tumble Dam that time of night. We don't see your car. We don't see your headlights, or whatever. There was a video camera on this nearby creamery that supposedly was aimed right at the Tumble Dam. And the "lie" that they got him on was the fact that he said he was at the Tumble Dam, but the surveillance video proved he wasn't there.
Laura Nirider Police claimed that video proved Ray was lying. In fact, an officer even took the stand at Ray's first court hearing and swore that this video proved Ray had committed perjury. For his part, Ray couldn't figure it out. He knew he'd gone to the Tumble Dam Path that night to search for Jodi, but his trial approached and five possible life sentences loomed. Ray finally broke. He didn't confess to killing Jodi. Instead, on March 20, 2015, he pled no contest to that fifth perjury charge.
Steve Drizin A no contest plea is an admission that the state has sufficient evidence against you to convict you. So as a matter of law, it's treated within the system, just as any other guilty plea would be treated.
Laura Nirider For that plea of no contest to perjury, Ray received a sentence of 20 months in prison. In exchange, the state dropped the other four charges. They hadn't gotten Ray for murder, but they'd gotten him for something. And I guess that was good enough. Fast forward five months, after Ray entered his plea, to August 2015. Ray was in prison serving his perjury sentence and every day was horrific.
Ken Kolker He was a suspected child rapist and killer. And he talked about, you know, what other prisoners do to child rapists and killers... He got dragged off of his bunk one night, got smashed over the head with what he thinks was a padlock, and somebody tried to gouge his eyes out. I mean, that's what happened to this poor guy in prison.
Laura Nirider While Ray suffered, there was a development. A man named Daniel Furlong, who lived one town over from Constantine, lured a 10-year-old girl into his garage and attacked her. She escaped, thank God, and was able to lead police to Furlong's door. They arrested him and took his DNA. And what did it match? The DNA left eight years earlier on Jodi Parrack's body. Police questioned Daniel Furlong on October 18, 2015, and he admitted that he'd raped and killed Jodi. Furlong used to live in Constantine a few blocks away from the Parrack family. When he saw Jodi riding by on her bike, he lured her into his garage just like the other girl. That's where he assaulted and killed Jodi, and he did it all alone. Furlong told investigators he didn't know Ray McCann.
Ken Kolker We saw the videotape of police interviewing Daniel Furlong, and they were a lot nicer to him than they were to Ray McCann. They asked Furlong, "So what did you think when you saw that in a newspaper that they were focusing on Ray McCann?" And he thought, "Well, I'm in the clear."
Steve Drizin So in other words, the fact that the police had pursued this wrongful prosecution of Ray made Furlong feel enough comfort to strike again. And that blew me away.
Laura Nirider It was crystal clear: Ray McCann was never involved in Jodi's disappearance. All he did was try to help a distraught mom find her missing kid. The police's suspicions about Ray had been wrong from the start. In November 2015, Daniel Furlong pled guilty to killing Jodi Parrack by himself and received a sentence of 30 to 60 years. But the state wasn't ready to exonerate Ray McCann. Not yet. Ray had been convicted of perjury, and the state insisted that even if Ray hadn't committed murder, he had still lied under oath.
Ken Kolker I started in this case because we were doing stories about the real killer who confessed and was getting sentenced to prison, and nobody was talking about what happened to Ray McCann. It's like, well, what about this guy who had nothing to do with it?
Laura Nirider In December 2015, Ray was paroled from a Michigan prison after serving his sentence, he was still a convicted felon, a perjurer in the eyes of the law. It was right around that time that his case came across Steve's desk.
Steve Drizin Ray had been out of prison for a few months. He was having a hard time reintegrating back in the community. The police officers were still suggesting to the general public that he knew things about this crime, and he had spent 20 months locked up for something he didn't do. Thank God for Ken Kolker for taking the interest to tell this story about Ray, because if it wasn't for him, I never would have known about the case.
Ken Kolker I'd seen the work done by the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern. And I just reached out to Steve and said, "Here's an interesting case."
Steve Drizin I was so angry at what these law enforcement officers had done to Ray. And so I called up the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, and I said, "Will you work on this case with me?"
Laura Nirider The legal team's task was to prove Ray innocent of the only perjury charge he'd been convicted of. That was the charge where the police had sworn, under oath, that they had a surveillance tape showing the Tumble Dam Path; a video that they said proved Ray had lied about going there to search for Jodi. Well, Ken Kolker got ahold of a copy of that videotape.
Ken Kolker I remember going down to Ray McCann's home and meeting Steven Drizin down there. Yeah, that was like a... Could have been a scene in a movie, actually, standing around this dining room table with my laptop open, watching this video that would eventually lead to Ray McCann's case being dismissed.
Steve Drizin What we saw was that you couldn't see anything from the camera footage. It was simply too dark to make out what kinds of cars were on the street, whether there were any people on the street.
Laura Nirider You couldn't see the Tumble Dam Path at all, let alone who was walking on it. So the legal team actually went to the creamery, the business that had taken the surveillance video and looked at their security camera. The creamery owner assured them that the camera hadn't been moved since the night of Jodi's disappearance.
Ken Kolker The video camera wasn't even aimed at the dam. The surveillance camera that they claimed showed he wasn't there was aimed elsewhere. I wish I had been the one that noticed that.
Steve Drizin Under no circumstances could the creamery camera footage have proven that Ray was not at the Tumble Dam Path.
Laura Nirider The whole damn thing was made up.
Steve Drizin It was a lie. The video was essentially worthless as evidence.
Laura Nirider This video certainly didn't prove that Ray McCann had lied under oath. Instead, what it proved was that the police were the ones who had lied in order to convict him.
Steve Drizin Ray's wish had come true. He needed to have some kind of evidence to demonstrate that he didn't lie at all, but that the police officers were lying. And that camera footage proved it.
Laura Nirider Based on that video, Ray's attorneys filed a motion for relief. And on December 7, 2017, the court threw out Ray's perjury conviction. Ray McCann was innocent of the murder and innocent of perjury. He was exonerated.
Ken Kolker The prosecutor decided not to fight it and to allow the judge to dismiss the case. And I just felt great for Ray. I mean, you can't take away the 20 months that he spent in prison, but, you know, at least he was able to clear his name.
Laura Nirider That was the end of Ray McCann's legal ordeal. But what happened to the officers who lied to convict him? OK, Steve, so I'm really hoping you're going to tell us that after Ray was exonerated, these cops were tried for perjury.
Steve Drizin I wish I could tell you that, but nothing has happened to these police officers. The prosecutor eventually ended up losing in his next election, but these police officers have never faced any consequences.
Laura Nirider They were the ones who lied, not Ray. They were the ones who should have gone down for perjury.
Steve Drizin That's the ultimate irony here.
Laura Nirider And what about Ray McCann? What's life like for him now? In many ways, it's still really hard.
Ken Kolker I mean, they took a lot away from this guy. He barely talks to one of his sons. His wife divorced him. He missed the birth of a grandchild. I'm sure there are people in that town who still think Ray McCann had something to do with it. And so, you know, his name is, in some people's eyes, is still mud in Constantine.
Laura Nirider The only thing Ray McCann ever wanted was to find the killer of Jodi Parrack. And that's been accomplished. Now, Ray's free to put his life back together as best he can.
Steve Drizin Ray?
Ray McCann Yeah.
Steve Drizin Oh.
Laura Nirider Hey, Ray, it's Laura. How are you?
Ray McCann Doing pretty good.
Laura Nirider So you're living up north in Michigan. You got snow on the ground yet?
Ray McCann Yeah, actually, we just got some yesterday. I went to go cut some wood and stuff and all of a sudden it started coming down.
Laura Nirider Tell me about your wife, Ray. I'm delighted to hear that you're married.
Ray McCann Yeah, we got married on April 12th, actually on my dad's birthday, in 2018.
Laura Nirider Well, that's a beautiful way to honor your dad. How did you meet your wife?
Ray McCann We worked together. She caught my eye right away.
Steve Drizin You must have caught her eye, too.
Ray McCann Yeah, I must have done something right. We were actually in southwest Michigan there for a while, and we made a decision to start a new life somewhere else because it just, you know, it was hard for me. It's been going a lot better since we made the move up here. It really has. I struggle at times. You know, I admit that. I go through a lot of depression. My wife knows I go through that, and she is there for me. I am so thankful for my daughter, Ashley. She was with me the whole time this was going on and still lives with me. And I just love, you know, the grandkids. They keep you busy, that's for sure.
Laura Nirider You're a good man, Ray, and a survivor. Steve and I are with you all the way.
Steve Drizin One of the jobs that we as innocence lawyers have is to try to tell the story of our clients in a way that can bring them back some measure of their reputation; to tell the story in a way that makes it abundantly clear that Ray McCann is innocent.
Laura Nirider We can't undo the trauma that Ray experienced, but at least we can establish that he never committed the crime he was accused of. In fact, a crime was committed against him.
Steve Drizin One of the arguments against allowing police officers to lie during interrogations is that it creates a culture in which lying is acceptable; not only during interrogations, but when police officers come into court and testify about cases. And that may very well have been what happened here.
Laura Nirider You're allowed to lie to get a confession. Why not lie to get a conviction?
Steve Drizin It's one of the strongest arguments for banning deception during police interrogations.
Laura Nirider When you allow police to lie, that sends a message that truthfulness is not essential to the task of enforcing the law. And of course it is. It's vital. And that's the story of Ray McCann. Join us next week when we take you to Ada, Oklahoma, to tell you about Tommy Ward. After detectives learned about a strange dream he had, Tommy was accused of a local woman's murder and found himself on death row. Tommy remains behind bars to this day, but a team of lawyers, including our Center on Wrongful Convictions, is fighting to end Tommy's nightmare. Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions is a production of Lava for Good Podcasts, in association with Signal Co. No1. Special thanks to our executive producers Jason Flom and Kevin Wortis. Our production team is headed by senior producer Anne Pope, along with producers Jaji Hammer and Jess Shane. Our show is mixed by Jeanne Montalvo. John Colbert is our intrepid intern. Our music was composed by J. Ralph. You can follow me on Instagram or Twitter @LauraNirider.
Steve Drizin And you can follow me on Twitter @SDrizin.