Showtime's Outcry Unravels the Greg Kelley Case
Everyone thinks they know what happened to the wrongly-accused Leander highschooler, but Pat Kondelis needed to find the whole story
Outcry. It's the term used in legal circles to describe when a victim of sexual assault first tells their story. It's the signal that triggers a police investigation: For Austin-based documentarian Pat Kondelis, it's the starting point, raison d'être, and title of his series for Showtime, named simply Outcry. It's an investigation into how Greg Kelley, a regular teenager living in Williamson County, was convicted of a heinous crime he never committed, while authorities hid or ignored evidence that could have cleared his name. Kondelis said, "I got obsessed with the origin of this. Where did it come from? How did it happen? And it comes from the child's outcry. That's the original moment that begins this six-year-long journey."
Kelley's story seems grotesque. In 2014, the 18-year-old was convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and sentenced to 25 years with no chance of parole. In the public eye, the former Leander High School football player had gone from hometown hero to irredeemable monster. Yet six years later, he was exonerated by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and released. In Kondelis' series, that means there are now two victims – the child whose actual assailant has never been charged and Kelley, who now must put his life back together. Kondelis was there to document the entire story as it wound its way through the courts – with the facts changing constantly. The filmmaker said, "You can't take a firm position until you absolutely know everything, and it's almost impossible to get there, which is what I think makes the story so intriguing."
Originally scheduled for a SXSW preview and an April broadcast date, Showtime held the five-part series back until July 5, allowing time for a sneak peek panel at the ATX Television Festival's online ... From the Couch! event, and for Kondelis to fine-tune the show (nothing major, he said: "the final font, and changing the legal language on a couple of the cards"). Now he's eager for audiences to uncover the same injustices he did. "Every step, every major revelation that happened in this, it's just increased the anticipation. I want this out there."
TV legal dramas have trained audiences to expect the aha moment. Outcry doesn't have that. Instead, Kondelis had to pull apart a Gordian knot of mistaken identity, malfeasance, and incompetence from multiple, often unexpected quarters. Half the problem was getting people to look past their presumptions about the case, which for many was decided before the jury even heard testimony. Bluntly, Kondelis said, "The people who thought they knew the story didn't know the story."
Much of this was complicated by what Kondelis called "an unfair spotlight" on the case. "Greg being a football star, and well-known, and well-liked was a double-edged sword for him." To those outraged by the crime, Kelley neatly fit the stereotype of the athlete turned sexual predator. To his supporters it was just unimaginable for this high school football hero to be the monster the jury ruled him to be, and they were on his side no matter what. "Those people who believed innocence versus guilt, they believed that they were 100% right, they were the enlightened ones, and both of them were full of such confirmation bias that clarity became very, very difficult to define – especially as things kept unfolding."
That unfair spotlight was about more than just the miscarriage of justice against Kelley, but how we only know about it because of who he is. Kondelis argued if this had been just some random kid, there would have been less general interest, less local media interest, and less pressure on the police and prosecutors in Williamson County. "There's no doubt that we might not even be talking about the story if not for the fact that he was a high school football star."
Kelley's not the only local celebrity of sorts in this story. Familiar figures from Central Texas headlines crop up – like Jana Duty, the controversial Williamson County district attorney who pursued the case against Kelley, and Shawn Dick, her replacement who helped reconsider the evidence. But no figure is more recognizable than defense attorney Keith Hampton. He strikes a Perry Mason-esque figure in this story: not the down-at-heel detective of the recent HBO revamp, but the astute lawyer whose eye is always toward reasonable doubt. With a remarkable track record of death row lawsuits, and decades of dedication to pursuing seemingly unwinnable cases like the defense of Fran and Dan Keller (imprisoned over fantastical claims of satanic abuse), Kondelis put Hampton a long way from win-at-all-costs attorneys like the infamous F. Lee Bailey. "Proceduralist is a great way to describe him," said Kondelis. "He's relentless in his pursuit of the truth." The attorney's steadfast belief that his client was innocent fascinated the documentarian. "I pressed him on that in our first interview, and he went through why he had zero doubts that Greg Kelley was innocent, and went through his cycle of questioning of Greg, and looking at the evidence. Because if he thought he was guilty, he wasn't going to represent him."
With so many of what Kondelis called "true believers" on both sides, having Hampton's level head was vital. "He's an open-minded individual, even when working for his client's defense," the director said. "He's very pragmatic, and can objectively look at evidence and go, 'Nah, there's something going on there.'"
However, Hampton wasn't the only person who put the quest for the truth ahead of any personal bias. "Shawn Dick did the same thing on the other side," Kondelis said. "He was a former defense attorney [and] you don't normally see defense attorneys join the prosecutors, especially not in Williamson County. So it was very interesting to see him, at certain points in this case, testing the evidence and looking at it solely from a defense standpoint."
What they uncovered through that process was how facts had been buried, and justice abused at every step. "It was shocking," said Kondelis, but those revelations are what kept him on the path to completing Outcry, even when he had no clue how or even if the story would end. "Even when we found something that was completely egregious, it was still shocking, but there was always this sense of, 'I don't know everything. There is still information that is out there, that I haven't seen, and that I don't know.'"
Outcry debuts on Showtime on Sunday, July 5, 9pm Central.