TAWAS CITY – For one year, 10 months and 19 days, Michele Palmer says she has relived in her head – and her nightmares – what she could have possibly done to save her sister, the late Gina Marie (McCauley) Ferguson, 55.
It was on Sept. 8, 2018, when Gina was stabbed to death by her husband, Jerry Michael McCauley, now 58, at the home they once shared in Grant Township.
McCauley was sentenced on Monday, in Iosco County’s 23rd Circuit Court, after pleading “guilty but mentally ill” last month for the offense of homicide-murder in the 2nd-degree.
Iosco County Circuit Court Judge David Riffel gave McCauley a sentence of 300 months to 60 years, with credit for 688 days served.
This came after he heard from Jennifer Izworski, who was appointed by the court to represent McCauley; Iosco County Prosecuting Attorney James Bacarella; McCauley; and Palmer, who was also joined by several of Gina’s family members and loved ones.
Izworski spoke first, sharing that she was initially appointed to represent McCauley in a domestic violence case involving him having assaulted Gina.
Izworski said Gina was a very adamant advocate for her husband – who was in a psychiatric hospital at that time – citing his medical history, as well as increasing concerns about his mental well-being over the previous few years.
She told the court she thought it was unusual that McCauley was in the facility for a month.
She said it was explained to her that it took almost three weeks just to stabilize him and get him out of the highly delusional state he was in when he arrived, after the assault. Gina picked him up after that stay in the hospital.
“Again, she was his biggest advocate, I believe, said Izworski. It was approximately a month after that, when Gina was killed.
Izworski was then assigned to represent McCauley in that case, and she says she was very concerned about his mental state.
He was immediately reported to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Center for Forensic Psychiatry which, as reported, determined that McCauley was incompetent to stand trial.
Due to the significant backlog in that mental health facility, Izworski said she believes it took nine months before he could be treated there. “The center was able to, after a strict medication regimen and adjustments, get Jerry to a place where he was at least competent.”
A criminal responsibility examination was eventually performed, and McCauley was determined to be legally insane at the time this offense occurred.
She told the court he did not want to put the family through a prolonged trial.
Izworski said that, to her, McCauley has changed significantly since he started in the forensics center due to strict medication regimen. She added that all of her interactions with McCauley have been ones where he is calm, respectful and has been concerned about finding the best possible resolution – not for himself, but for everyone else.
“I can only say that Jerry is remorseful. I think at the time that this offense occurred, he was not the person that he was known to be,” she said.
When asked by Riffel if he wanted to say anything on his own behalf, “I would just like to say that, when this happened, this was not me and I totally, totally am just crushed – as we all are over this terrible ordeal that has taken place,” McCauley said.
He added that there is nothing he can say to show the remorse he feels, and the hurt he feels in his heart, body and soul over taking Gina’s life. “Something that I would not have done, but yet, I did it. So, I just want to say to her family, I still love them all.”
McCauley said he understands the hurt, anger and animosity directed towards him. He apologized to the family, adding that they had beautiful times together.
“When this happened, I couldn’t help it; it just happened,” he said, noting that he didn’t even know how it happened.
Afterward, he said he was hurting so bad in his heart that he needed to tell the authorities, so he went to the state police and gave them everything he possibly could.
McCauley said that at the time he spoke with detectives, he wasn’t aware of how sick he was. “But I was sick; so sick. And I guess there’s not much more I can say, your honor. Just please seek help, everybody, through God. He is a merciful God. Get yourself some help.”
Speaking on behalf of the victim’s family was Palmer, who said Gina was her only sibling. “And she was brutally stabbed 33 times.”
When referring to her nephew Caleb – McCauley and Gina’s son, who is now 27 – she called him Caleb Ferguson.
Palmer said this is because they are in the process of changing his name, since he can’t bear to carry the McCauley name.
According to Palmer, Caleb couldn’t be in court that day, but he told her it was absolutely sickening to think about being in the same room with McCauley – whom he once loved but now despises.
Palmer said it was Caleb who found his mother stabbed to death in the home of violence in which he was raised.
“I could call him a defendant, but that’s too soft of a word for me,” she said of McCauley. “I prefer to call him murderer, because he admitted openly that he murdered my sister on September 8th, 2018.”
Palmer gave her account of a long history of anger and violence from McCauley, whom she has known since the age of 12, after Gina met him when she was 16. “She instantly fell in love with him. I think that’s what cost her her life, was loving him so much.”
Palmer said their father took McCauley under his wing, raised him as his own son, and that they all made sure he was a part of the family. They helped him get a job, cooked his favorite foods and most of all, loved him unconditionally.
For 41 years, Palmer said she thought of McCauley as her brother. “That’s what I thought bonded us.”
She shared stories of the fun times they did have, but said that things weren’t always like this.
“He was my brother,” she said, through tears. “I thought I would always be able to count on him, and that he would always be a true brother.”
Palmer said that McCauley was considered a part of her family, with relatives even setting up and remodeling a kitchen their new house
“He came home and was blown away. But what we found out, on that same out of town work, he was having an affair,” Palmer claims, noting that things kind of took a turn from there, and it wasn’t long before McCauley started to show his true colors and his temper.
She said it amazed her how absolutely nasty McCauley could be to them, but how soft-spoken and sweet he could be to everybody else.
When McCauley convinced Gina to move to the Tawas area, Palmer said he wanted to be in nature. But she viewed this only as a way to further control her sister.
“Gina and Caleb were living on a dead end dirt road with a ticking time bomb,” according to Palmer, who said McCauley wouldn’t even let Gina go to the store alone.
Palmer said it would take too long to talk about all the incidents from the last four decades, involving McCauley’s temper. But she did share some insight into the person she says he really is. “Not just what he’s telling you he was on September 8th, 2018. If anyone knows him, I know him.”
Palmer alleged that McCauley was even violent to other family members, having once pushed her so hard into a fireplace hearth, that it broke her tailbone. She said he also punched her father – who had raised McCauley – which put him in the hospital because he had heart problems and it was simply too much.
Palmer shared several other similar accounts, but perhaps having the most impact were the words from Gina, herself.
Presenting a stack of journals to the court, Palmer read some of Gina’s writings, including a May 2012 excerpt which states, “My heart is heavy. I hate living with so much pain. I am so tired of Jerry being so angry all the time. Lord, I give it to you.”
In an entry from October 2014, Gina wrote, “I know that joy is in my heart and it’s because of Jesus. How long am I supposed to stay in a marriage filled with fear? His anger, his hate and his ugliness is all around us. Lord, help us.”
A July 2017 entry reads, “Please help me find a one-room apartment that I can afford. All I want to do is live in peace, and keep me and Caleb safe.”
“Her main goal to stay with Jerry, was to keep Caleb, me and her family safe,” according to Palmer.
She also shared the following from Gina’s journal:
“The only thing that keeps me going, Lord, is you and protecting Caleb.
I keep waiting for the better to come out of this situation, but Jerry seems to always choose himself above you and us. Please help us, Lord. I have to get Caleb out of this house. I don’t want him to get hurt.”
In October 2017, Gina wrote that she never had a peaceful, happy life with Jerry. “My true happiness comes from the day I had Caleb. Please help me get out, even if that means coming home to you, Lord.”
Palmer claims that McCauley found out that Gina was planning on leaving him. She pointed out that, in McCauley’s own words to a homicide detective, he said he wasn’t going to let Gina go.
Palmer said it’s unbelievable how McCauley could say he just lost it one day and needed medication. She maintains that some things don’t “just happen.”
“You can’t just stab somebody 33 times; wash your clothes; break the knife into multiple pieces; take them down to the river and throw them in three different spots; and then bury the end of the knife under a tree; go back in the house; wash your clothes; feed the dogs; clean up – allowing your wife of 40 years to lay there and bleed to death,” she described of the incident, for which she obtained a copy of McCauley’s confession.
“That doesn’t just happen. People just don’t do that; get rid of the evidence in the fire pit and start a fire,” Palmer continued, claiming that the crime was a well thought out plan.
She described Gina as a faithful wife, a woman of God, a volunteer and one of the kindest, most giving people one could ever be fortunate enough to meet. “When she walked into a room, it would light up.”
She asked the judge to consider that the fact that McCauley’s violence was not an isolated event.
Palmer said that Gina was an advocate for McCauley, but not because he was mentally ill. It was because she was afraid he was going to hurt her, Caleb or Palmer.
“My sister has kept me and Caleb safe from this monster. And I’m asking you to keep the rest of the world safe by locking him up and not letting him out,” she said.
She added that the sentencing was the final step in the most heartbreaking, earth-shattering thing that she and her nephew will ever go through, noting that Caleb has lost both a mother and a father.
“I knew the facade, but I did not know the evil that was inside this man,” Bacarella added.
He said that, to him, it’s unimaginable the brutality Gina suffered while being stabbed 33 times, over the course of 30-45 minutes. Therefore, he asked the court to follow the sentencing recommendation, to protect the rest of the public.
Riffel said that, fortunately, the court is not faced with crimes of this nature very often. He shared that he doesn’t know if he could do this on a day-to-day basis.
He said the damage has been done, but that Gina obviously has a very strong, close family – which he hopes will help them get through this very difficult situation.