by Benjamin Tschirhart
In 2013, Greg Kelley was a 17-year-old high school football star from Cedar Park, Texas. A good student, he already had a full scholarship to play football for the University of Texas in San Antonio. His coaches believed he might go on to the NFL. Instead, the teenager was about to witness the methodical and deliberate destruction of his whole life.
Kelley’s parents both had serious medical problems. So for a portion of his junior year of high school, he stayed with the family of his friend, a look-alike teammate named Jonathan McCarty, whose parents, Shama and Ralph, ran a daycare out of their home.
On July 13, 2013, about four weeks after Kelley had left the McCarty family home, a four-year-old boy who attended the daycare told his mother he had been sexually assaulted there. The parents of the boy, identified later in court as “H.M.,” reported the allegations to Cedar Park Police. Then-Chief Sean Mannix and Detective Chris Dailey suspected Kelley and set about securing his conviction.
When Dailey swore a probable cause affidavit against Kelley, he dated the offense “on or about December A.D. 2012 to June A.D. 2013” – not based on H.M.’s report but because those were the dates when Kelley was in residence at the home. He also falsely stated that H.M. had identified Kelley as his assailant. Ignoring the advice of an Assistant District Attorney – now District Court Judge Stacey Mathews – Dailey pressed forward in seeking an indictment, and Cedar Park Police arrested Kelley on August 9, 2013.
Mannix and Dailey mounted a media campaign that treated Kelley as guilty, holding press conferences to ask other parents to come forward if they even suspected that the teen might have interacted with their children. The two cops persisted with single-minded focus on Kelley, later admitting in court that they neglected to interview Jonathan McCarty, nor to compile any list of suspects aside from Kelley. They never conducted criminal background checks or even showed photos of other suspects to H.M. In short, they acted as though Kelley’s guilt were a forgone conclusion.
When another boy, “L.M.,” came forward with similar allegations, Dailey told him that H.M. had already identified Kelley, ignoring the obvious confusion that a child might suffer given the teen’s resemblance to McCarty. Instead, the detective suggested to L.M.’s parents leading questions they could ask their son to implicate Kelley.
Unsurprisingly, Kelley was convicted of super-aggravated sexual assault of a child in Williamson County court on July 22, 2014. Maintaining his innocence, he refused a plea deal and was sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole.
Then Kelley filed a writ of habeas corpus, initiating an investigation by Texas Ranger Cody Mitchell. The investigation found what Dailey had failed to uncover – even ignoring that Jonathan McCarty allegedly bragged about sexually assaulting H.M. – and how he manipulated dates in the indictment, thus violating Kelley’s right to a fair trial.
“They believed that Greg Kelley moved out of the house on that date [in the indictment], and they backtracked [the offense] a month, and month and a half, two months from that date that he moved out,” Mitchell noted.
Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick reopened the case, and the county court determined in December 2017 that the evidence established Kelley’s “actual innocence” – overturning his conviction and releasing him from prison. The state Court of Criminal Appeals upheld that decision on November 6, 2019. Three weeks later, Williamson County Judge Donna King formally declared Kelley’s innocent on all charges.
Meanwhile, a Showtime series episode about the case highlighted the many shortcoming in Mannix and Dailey’s handling of it. Both resigned under pressure from Cedar Park city leaders in July 2019.
With the aid of Austin attorney Willie Schmerler, Kelley filed suit in federal court for the Western District of Texas in May 2020, accusing Cedar Park and its former cops of conducting a fraudulent investigation, withholding and fabricating evidence in a conspiracy to violate his constitutional rights, as well as a failure to properly train Mannix and Dailey, who had continued to persecute him in the years between release from prison and formal acquittal.
On July 19, 2022, the parties reached a settlement agreement, paying $500,000 to Kelley and his attorneys – Schmerler, plus co-counsel from Edwards Law in Austin – to resolve all claims. See: Kelley v. Cedar Park, USDC (W.D. Tex.), Case No. 1:20-cv-00481.
With his share of the money – which works out to something less than $300 for each of the 1,153 days he was wrongly incarcerated – Kelley, now 27, bought a home for his mother, Rosa, who sold hers to pay his legal bills. His father, Donald, suffered a stroke and died in 2019.
District Attorney Dick said in 2017 that he couldn’t make a case against McCarty without a confession at this point. That same year, when McCarty was arrested on drug charges, investigators reportedly found kiddie porn on his computer. Women in four counties came forward to accuse him of sexual assault, and he copped a plea to unlawful restraint and drug charges in 2019, earning a four-year prison sentence.
Additional sources: The Guardian, KVUE, KXAN, Oxygen
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login