The Trials of Greg Kelley: A High School Football Phenom Wrongly Convicted of Molesting a 4-Year-Old Boy
Greg Kelley was on the path to football stardom. Then he was convicted of a heinous crime. He opens up to Marlow Stern about his harrowing ordeal, captured in Showtime’s “Outcry.”
In Leander, Texas, football is religion. Every Friday night, a crowd of over 10,000 people—one-fifth of the entire population—congregates at A.C. Bible Jr. Memorial Stadium to cheer on the Leander Lions. And during the 2012-13 season, nobody elicited more oohs and aahs than Greg Kelley, the team’s star safety. Kelley’s combination of size—6-feet, 200 pounds—and speed made him a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and anyone who dared to go over the middle. When he received offers from UTSA, Texas State, and Rice, it felt like the culmination of a years-long journey.
“As a kid, I saw my parents’ financial position and their health position. When my Dad had a stroke he couldn’t be the provider for our family, so my Mom made enough for us to get by,” Kelley tells The Daily Beast. “I knew that I would need to get a scholarship as my way to college, so I decided that football would be the way. I kept working hard, kept playing, and knew I wanted to go to college to provide for my Mom and Dad. Having those dreams and wanting to make my family proud was everything for me. And then it was taken from me.”
On August 9, 2013, Kelley was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a four-year-old boy.
According to authorities, the child alleged that Kelley “put his pee-pee” in his mouth on two occasions at a daycare operated by Shama McCarty. McCarty, a booster of the Leander Lions’ football team, had been allowing Kelley, a friend and classmate of McCarty’s son Johnathan, to stay at their home in nearby Cedar Park after his mother was hospitalized with a brain tumor. Days later, a second boy came forward to accuse Kelley of making him touch his penis. Kelley was charged with two counts of indecency with a child and two counts of super aggravated sexual assault, the latter carrying a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison.
At the McCarty’s urging, the Kelley’s sold their house to pay for Patricia Cummings, a top defense attorney in the area.
“When I got Patricia I thought, OK, we’re going to get the truth out there and I’ll get to go back to playing football. But the way she handled the case was completely backwards,” Kelley says.
Over the course of the trial, several clues appeared to point to another suspect: Johnathan McCarty, who bore a striking resemblance to Greg Kelley.
In his outcry interview conducted at the Child Advocacy Center in Georgetown, Texas, the first boy alleged that Kelley was wearing SpongeBob Squarepants pajamas during the assaults, and that the assaults occurred in a bedroom with a couch, a crib, and trophies. The boy reported it to his mother on July 13, leading police to determine that the assaults happened on July 12. The second boy initially named Johnathan as the assailant in his outcry interview, before a series of leading questions from a detective led the child to name Greg. Both boys were interviewed over a half-dozen times by various officials, prompting a child psychologist for the prosecution to testify at trial that asking a young child “repeated questions” about a particular event may cause them to believe that it happened.
Here’s the thing: Kelley had moved out of the McCarty’s home on June 11, and on July 12 was many miles away from Cedar Park, helping his brother move from Hutto to a new place in South Austin. Plus, he spent most of his days in weight training or football practice. Johnathan, on the other hand, was still living in the home at the time of the alleged assaults, owned a pair of SpongeBob Squarepants pajamas that he regularly wore to school, and—unlike Kelley—slept in a bedroom with a couch, a crib, and trophies.
None of these facts, however, were brought up at trial. In lieu of offering up Johnathan as an alternate suspect, Cummings sought to prove that the boys made the whole thing up—thereby pitting their words against Kelley’s.
“I think Patricia’s motive was to have me walk at trial instead of bring the truth forward, so she had her investigation veer around Jonathan,” says Kelley.
Both young boys testified in a separate room via closed-circuit television. The second boy recanted, repeatedly saying that “Greg” did not assault him; the first boy maintained that Kelley did assault him but was not made to identify him in court. On July 16, 2014, Kelley was acquitted of the charges concerning the second boy but found guilty of two counts of super aggravated sexual assault against the first. Facing life in prison, he agreed to accept the minimum sentence of 25 years with no possibility for parole in exchange for waiving his right to appeal—though he reserved the right to file a motion for a new trial.
“I didn’t want to talk to friends or get out of bed. It felt like my life was over,” recalls Kelley. “It felt like I died. That somebody murdered me.”
In March of 2017, filmmaker Pat Kondelis was at SXSW for a screening of his Showtime documentary Disgraced, about the murder of Baylor men’s basketball star Patrick Dennehy—and subsequent cover-up by the university—when a friend of a friend approached him and said, “Hey, you need to look at this Greg Kelley case.” Kondelis lived in Williamson County, Texas, where it all took place, but was neck-deep in a CNN series at the time and had missed the coverage. That same month, thanks to the financial assistance of a local activist named Jake Brydon, Kelley had managed to hire a new lawyer, Keith Hampton, who’d filed a writ of habeas corpus.
“I met with Greg’s family and some supporters in April of 2017, and they gave me a lot of information. I had a lot of questions,” says Kondelis. “When anyone is throwing that much at you, your first reaction is going to be skepticism—which I certainly had. But there were some clear things that I noticed were wrong from our first conversation, and when I verified that with Keith Hampton, Greg’s attorney, that became a turning point for me to jump right in and see what happens with this case.”
He adds, “I was initially surprised that this was a 25-year minimum prison sentence with no possibility of parole, and when I kept asking people what was the evidence, it was, this child said the name ‘Greg.’ I came to find out that was the only piece of evidence: a recently-turned four-year-old boy who said his first name, and that’s it.”
Kondelis began filming Kelley at the end of April 2017. The end result is Outcry, a five-part docuseries that aired last month on Showtime.
“I’m so grateful because at that time, I didn’t want a documentary made about me—I needed one made,” says Kelley. “I didn’t know if the CCA, the Court of Criminal Appeals, or anybody else handling my case would do the wrong thing again and send me back. Just in case they wanted to do something bad we had this to show the world and say, hey, our system is really messed up.”
Hampton’s writ of habeas corpus contained a bunch of new potentially exonerating evidence that was not presented at trial, including: that Kelley was not living at the house and helping his brother move when the alleged assaults took place; that Johnathan owned the SpongeBob Squarepants pajamas; that Johnathan’s bedroom contained the couch, crib and trophies; that a cache of child pornography was found on both Johnathan’s cell phone and computer; that four women had accused Johnathan of drugging and raping them while Kelley was behind bars; and that two witnesses heard Johnathan confessing to sexually assaulting the boy. Hampton also accused Cummings and the Cedar Park police department of negligence.
The revelations surrounding Johnathan left Kelley dumbfounded.
“He was like my younger brother, but man, it’s like I didn’t know this guy at all,” says Kelley. “I do believe that Jonathan did it. At first, it was very hard for me to accept that but as time went on, and the investigation that should’ve happened happened, stones got turned over and evidence came to light that really should’ve come to light in the first place. I think Jonathan has a lot of questions to answer and the way that things went about was absolutely sketchy on his part. I want him to come forward and tell the whole story.”
He pauses. “It’s not just about wrongfully convicting somebody—it’s about the other victims. Hearing that he victimized more people while I went to prison, that’s what really disgusts me with the whole system and this whole deal.”
Kelley also learned his initial attorney, Patricia Cummings, had strange ties to the McCarty family—including defending one of Johnathan’s half-brothers of sex crimes.
“There’s a lot to that that we don’t know,” offers Kelley. “I’m only gonna speak to what we found, and we found that Patricia has represented the McCarty family and all of Shama’s boys in the past—and some of them were on sexual indecency cases. When we found that out it completely blew me mind that she didn’t feel obligated to let me know that immediately when she had me sign on to be her client. That’s a conflict of interest, and she should have said, ‘Hey Greg, I can’t represent you.’ Instead, Shama recommended that she be my attorney.”
Kelley was released on bond on August 22, 2017; that December, a judge recommended Kelley’s conviction be overturned due to actual innocence. It wasn’t until November 6, 2019, that Kelley’s conviction was finally vacated—and Kondelis captured the entire thing, shooting over 180 hours of film over two and a half years.
“I was labeled a monster, and you would see one out of every two people I interacted with on a daily basis talk terrible about me,” says Kelley. “Now that I’ve been exonerated, people’s eyes started to open and not just follow accusations and the reports on the news. I’ve had a lot of people say they’re sorry and that they’re so happy for me. It feels good to hear that because it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes to not be so judgmental.”
Aside from his mother, Rosa, the person who most stood by Kelley’s side throughout this harrowing ordeal was his girlfriend Gaebri. The two are now husband and wife, and live together in Austin—where Kelley is attending the University of Texas. He hopes to hear about whether he’s made the football team soon.
“Gaebri kept me alive through this whole thing,” he says. “When I was going through this, I felt like I was alone. I felt like there wasn’t anyone who could relate to me. But Gaebri, we share the same heart. She knew what I was going through and she was there to listen to me. Gaebri is a one-in-ten billion type of girl. I don’t know another girl that would stick by a man going through this.”