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Jana Duty was a Texas district attorney responsible for putting criminals behind bars, but during her tenure in office she spent a fair amount of time on the other side of the law.
Duty was elected the district attorney of Williamson County in 2013 and served for three years. During that time, she prosecuted high school football star Greg Kelley, who wrongfully accused and convicted of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old boy.
Showtime’s new five-part docuseries “Outcry” focuses on the case, and shows how dead-set Duty and her team were on getting Kelley convicted, despite flaws in the investigation. It also shows what a controversial character she was.
“Jana was unique and complex," Bob Phillips, a criminal defense lawyer in Williamson County, told The Austin American-Statesman in 2019. "She had the moxie of a prizefighter and the tenderness of a child. She could hug you one minute and cuss (at) you the next.”
As she and her team investigated the Kelley, who was accused of assaulting a boy at an in-home daycare center operated by a friend's family, a team of supporters rallied to defend him. As “Outcry” shows, an in-office Christmas video produced by Duty and her former husband mocked that group.
Kelley was convicted in 2014 of two counts of super aggravated sexual assault and was sentenced to 25 years. However, as "Outcry" points out, evidence actually revealed that Kelley wasn't even present at the home when the abuse took place. Furthermore, additional figures, including his lookalike friend Jonathan McCarty — who lived in that home and was later investigated for other sex crimes — weren't even examined as suspects.
It would be three years before authorities reopened the case after getting their hands on evidence that pointed to another person possibly being the culprit, KVUE reported at the time.
Duty's successor, Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick, stated publicly in 2017 that the office improperly prosecuted Kelley, calling the case a “catastrophic failure,” The Austin American-Statesman reported. Dick said he wouldn't have even tried Kelley had he been in Duty's position, explaining there wasn't enough evidence against him; he also expressed disgust that McCarty wasn't even interviewed despite looking like Kelley and being in the home where the assault occurred.
“My commitment is to restore the public’s faith and trust in our criminal justice system,” Dick told the Statesman at the time. “I can’t do that by defending a prosecution like Mr. Kelley’s.”
That same year, a judge recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Kelley’s conviction be overturned, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. His conviction was vacated in November 2019.
Even aside from the Kelley case, Duty ran afoul of the courts and the Texas Bar during her time in office.
She was arrested in 2015 after she spoke to the Austin American-Statesman about an unrelated murder case in violation of a gag order, Spectrum News in Austin reported at the time. A judge found her guilty of contempt of court and she was sentenced to 10 days in jail. She also had to pay a $500 fine.
She was sanctioned by the State Bar of Texas in 2016 for professional misconduct, KXAN reported. In addition to violating the gag order in the aforementioned murder case, she was accused of intentionally withholding evidence from defense attorneys in the same case, which led to a mistrial, the Statesman reported in 2019. The State Bar of Texas put Duty on probation during her last 18 months in office due to her misconduct.
Duty was jailed again later that year for four days, also for being found in contempt of the court, the Statesman reported.
Duty had also been disciplined by the State Bar in 2011 for releasing confidential information from an executive session of a Williamson County Commissioners Court meeting while she was working as a county attorney.
Following her 2016 sanction, she told KXAN, “I plan to finish out my term. I have absolutely no plans to buckle to the will of my political enemies and resign early. They are simply wasting everyone’s time."
After she left office, Dick noted that the district attorney's office lost out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash seized from asset forfeitures due to administrative error under Duty's watch, Patch reported in 2017.
Three years after her 2016 sanction, in April of 2019, Duty died from a self-inflicted gunshot in a condo located at the Rockport Country Club, the Rockport Pilot reported. She was 54. It's not clear if she left a note or gave any indication for why decided to take her own life.
Her friend and attorney Perry Minton defended her career following her death.
“I understand the court’s position on the messes she got into up there (in Williamson County) but I always felt like there was a bit of mistreatment and my heart went out to her on that," he told the Statesmen.
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