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It’s not typical to see district attorneys participate in true crime docuseries, let alone talk poorly about their own office. However, one DA in Texas did just that to explain in detail how his predecessor botched a child sex abuse prosecution and sent an innocent teen to jail.
Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick wasn't district attorney in 2013 when Leander High School football star Greg Kelley, then 17, was arrested on suspicion of child molestation, nor was he on the job in 2014 when Kelley was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 25 years behind bars without parole.
However, a year after Dick assumed the job in 2016, he stated publicly that his office had failed Kelley, The Austin American-Statesman reported in 2017. Kelley had been arrested in 2013 after a 4-year-old boy claimed he molested him at an in-home daycare facility operated by the family of Kelley's friend, Jonathan McCarty. McCarty’s parents had taken Kelley into their home while his own parents were sick.
A second child came forward to accuse Kelley of abuse but later recanted. Kelley maintained his innocence throughout and even rejected a plea deal from the district attorney’s office that wouldn't have involved any jail time, opting instead to go to trial. Despite what would over time be revealed as a highly flawed case against him, Kelley ended up being convicted of two counts of super aggravated sexual assault.
Dick began examining the Kelley case about three months after he took office, once he hired new staff and had some time to settle in and get his bearings. He ultimately decided that an injustice had been done, one with several contributing factors. He told Oxygen.com that Kelley's case "clearly was the perfect storm of all aspects of the criminal justice system failing."
Dick said the police did a "truly deficient" job of investigating the allegations as they neglected to look into other suspects, including Jonathan McCarty. They were also criticized for feeding leading questions to the child victims. Kelley's initial defense attorney "had a conflict of interest” because she was close friends with the McCarty family, and Dick said that some of the jurors only voted to convict Kelley under pressure from their fellow jurors.
But, most pointedly, he argued that the prosecution "had blinders on.” He noted that once they had Kelley in their sights, they excluded any other possible theories and suspects. McCarty, for instance, lived in the home, was around the children and bore a striking resemblance to Kelley. In addition, he's since been arrested on other sex crime allegations.
Still, they went after Kelley despite the potentially dodgy evidence against him. Kelley was released on bond in 2017 after the case was reopened and a court vacated his conviction last year.
By 2017, Dick had begun echoing Kelley’s many supporters — who held rallies for Kelley and fought to clear his name for years — and made it clear that his predecessors had messed up the case. Most recently, he's taken part in Showtime’s “Outcry,” which Dick admits isn't a standard move for a district attorney to do.
“It surprises me actually because I was interviewed for a book by a criminologist and he said he could get defense lawyers and judges to talk to him but he could not get prosecutors to talk to him and I thought, I don’t understand it,” Dick told Oxygen.com, adding that he doesn’t “understand the reluctance to make sure that our side, as public servants, is understood.”
While rare, it’s not unheard of: Los Angeles deputy district attorney Jon Hatami took part in a documentary on the government failings in the Gabriel Fernandez child abuse case, though while he did blast some public servants, he didn’t attack his own office.
Dick explained in “Outcry” that, before he decided to run for public office, he'd watched with disdain how the Williamson County District Attorney’s office had mired itself in controversy. He observed his predecessor Jana Duty get arrested twice, and even jailed, after being held in contempt of court in connection with a murder case. She ended up getting sanctioned by the State Bar of Texas for professional misconduct.
Dick complained about the unprofessionalism in the DA's office until his wife pushed him to do something about it. So he decided to seek Duty's job. “Restoring integrity, leadership and professionalism” became one of his campaign slogans.
"I felt like I came into it with a pretty balanced view,” he said, noting his previous experience as both a prosecutor and defense attorney. He also understood that some lawyers “have that type A, win, win, win, attitude.”
“I think it’s important to a prosecutor to know that winning just means seeing the truth in each case and getting justice in each case and winning doesn’t just mean getting a conviction in each case,” he said.
Dick told Oxygen.com that he was slightly hesitant to participate in “Outcry” at first, and he understands why district attorneys tend to avoid speaking in depth about cases to the media. Many aspects of the job require secrecy, he noted, like grand jury information. However, he ultimately decided “it's my job as an elected official to be as transparent as we can be. It’s not always possible in what we do but when we can, I want to be as open and transparent as we possibly can.”
Rather than trying to sweep any of the mistakes made in the Kelley case under the rug, Dick has been bringing them to light.
“We decided to do what I call a public autopsy of the case,” he said. “I felt like it was important to have live testimony and a real live hearing about it so that the public could see what was going on and kind of learn about it with us so there wouldn’t be as many questions about what happened and what’s the truth and what information is out there.”
He said the more he could do in the public eye, the better, because there was so much controversy surrounding the case. Being a part of “Outcry” was just part of that desire to be transparent.
“You have to have an open mind and you have to be willing to listen,” Dick told Oxygen.com. “I think so often in criminal justice — and either side can be guilty of this — you tend to hone in on what your belief is and you don’t listen to all the available information out there and you just close off any avenue of communication and that can be really dangerous.”
Despite correcting the injustice of Kelley's wrongful conviction, getting to the bottom of the child abuse allegation that started it all appears tougher. Dick told Oxygen.com it’s been difficult to charge anyone else in the case because the original one was mishandled so much.
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