WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Central Texans followed the case as it was happening in real-time, and now the world is learning about Greg Kelley’s child sexual abuse trial, false conviction and exoneration in a new documentary called Outcry.
But the 5-part docuseries, running on Sunday nights on Showtime, is not getting rave reviews from everyone. Michael Morton, whose story is featured in early episodes because he was also wrongfully convicted in Williamson County, tells KXAN Investigator Erin Cargile it does not present the full picture.
Very few people know some of the legal players in the story like Michael Morton. He served 25 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of killing his wife. Years later DNA evidence that was finally tested proved another man was responsible for her murder.
“Let me say right out of the chute, Greg was the subject of a horrid police investigation,” said Morton. “I mean they didn’t look at anybody, nobody but him — it was just heartbreaking.”
Morton, who said he counseled Kelley behind bars to help prepare him for prison, was disappointed after watching a preview of the series before it hit the air. He made his critique clear in a statement on his website, and a 5-page letter his lawyer sent to Showtime’s general counsel.
His main issue: how Kelley’s initial defense attorney Patricia Cummings, who declined to be interviewed for the documentary, was portrayed. What viewers see in the film are clips from Cummings’ sit down interview with KXAN after Kelley’s trial.
“She has a 20-plus year record of behaving professionally, ethically and honestly,” said Morton. “She would never hurt her client, that’s the only reason I stepped forward because I saw what they were doing to somebody I really care about.”
Morton and Cummings have become close family friends after she helped worked on his innocence case, which led to his freedom.
But in Kelley’s case, his appeals lawyer Keith Hampton accused Cummings of being ineffective by failing to look into one of the alternate suspects, Jonathan McCarty, due to a conflict of interest because she’s represented McCarty’s family before. The district court judge, who recommended to the Court of Criminal Appeals that Kelley’s conviction be overturned, agreed.
“The district court judge found her to be ineffective on two counts and that’s a fact,” said Pat Kondelis, who directed the Outcry documentary. “And us reporting the facts of the case and a defense claim in real time — we are being attacked for it in a way that is very bizarre.”
But Morton said the higher court did not side with that part of her ruling, and points to an opinion from one of nine court of criminal appeals judges.
“[Judge] David Newell said none of that was true, all of that was completely wrong, false read it yourself you don’t have to just believe some talking head on TV,” said Morton. “The only thing the court really addressed was Greg‘s actual innocence.”
Kondelis said only two of the nine judges with the Court of Criminal Appeals made a call about Cummings at all.
“You cannot claim that they cleared her because they didn’t. Two out of nine is not a majority, the others did not give an opinion so if you’re not going to disturb the lower court’s findings those findings, she was ineffective on two counts,” said Kondelis.
Cummings attorney: Legal action is coming
Kondelis said he asked Cummings multiple times to be interviewed for Outcry, but she declined. Her attorney, Josh Dubin, sent KXAN the following statement in response to the documentary:
“The depiction of Patricia Cummings in Outcry is a misguided attempt to malign an outstanding, honorable, and nationally renowned attorney. In a malicious effort to manufacture a TV villain, certain individuals involved in making and participating in the film not only played fast and loose with the truth, they told outright lies about Ms. Cummings.
For instance, Outcry falsely claims that Ms. Cummings deliberately did not investigate an alternative suspect in Johnathan McCarty, due to an alleged conflict of interest. Remarkably, Outcry makes this allegation even though the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges refused to adopt it. In fact, not a single judge on the nine-member appeals court that set Greg Kelley free found that Ms. Cummings was in any way unethical or ineffective. Two of those judges expressly rejected it in a separate written opinion where it could not have been made clearer that Ms. Cummings conducted a comprehensive pretrial investigation, had no conflict whatsoever and put on a vigorous defense at trial that resulted in Mr. Kelley’s acquittal as to one alleged victim.
That opinion clearly states: “Cummings and her team investigated Johnathan [McCarty]. Cummings’ pretrial co-counsel, James McDermott, testified that Cummings thoroughly considered whether an argument blaming Johnathan would be appropriate. Cummings interviewed Johnathan three times and ‘many other witnesses’ in an effort to gather information about Johnathan.”
The real reason Mr. Kelley was exonerated is because the Court found that there was “newly discovered evidence” of his innocence, which no one (including Ms. Cummings) had available when he was put on trial.
The film also advances the outrageous lie that Ms. Cummings was working with the State Prosecuting Attorney to keep her former client incarcerated. The truth is the State Prosecuting Attorney actually filed a brief advocating for Mr. Kelley’s innocence – so it is hard to imagine how Outcry had the audacity to make this baseless claim.
On behalf of Ms. Cummings, I can tell you that we will exhaust all legal avenues to right this wrong and restore her good name and reputation. All parties who had a hand in concocting these awful lies about Patricia Cummings will be held accountable in a court of law.”
Outcry’s director Pat Kondelis shared the following response to the statement from Cummings’ attorney:
“I reject the assertions made by Ms. Cummings attorney. Outcry doesn’t make any false claims about Patricia Cummings. Mr. Hampton made defense claims, on the record, in a court of law against Ms. Cummings, claims that the judge and the district attorney agreed with. That cannot be disputed. Outcry documents this case and these defense claims in real time. Outcry also accurately reported on the decision of the appellate court.
The unanimous opinion of all 9 judges stated simply:
Applicant alleges, among other things, that he is actually innocent of committing the offense in this case. The State agrees that he is entitled to relief.
The trial court, after holding a live evidentiary hearing, recommends relief be granted. We agree. Applicant is entitled to relief…Relief is granted.
It is true, as we state in the program that 2 of the judges expressly rejected the ineffective counsel claim. It is important to note though that a majority of the court did not join in that opinion.
The filmmakers applaud Ms.Cummings’ work in fighting wrongful convictions. We believe that her work defending Greg Kelley is accurately depicted in Outcry.”
Prosecutors involved in Morton and Kelley case
Michael Morton also believes the Outcry audience should have been given more background on certain prosecutors who played a role in both his case and Kelley’s, since the film uses Morton’s story to show injustice in the district attorney’s office and that his exoneration led to new leadership.
Morton said Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick has hired back two prosecutors involved in Morton’s case, including First Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Roberts.
“Mr. Roberts actually argued against me getting out, after, not before but after the DNA evidence had cleared me and identified the real perpetrator,” said Morton.
In response to Morton’s concerns, Dick provided KXAN the following statement:
“With the goal of improving the transparency of our justice system, we agreed to be interviewed for a documentary about a writ filed in the Greg Kelley case. We work hard everyday in our office to restore the professionalism, experience and integrity of our Williamson County Criminal Justice System. Viewers can watch Outcry and reach their own conclusions.“
KXAN also reached out to Roberts, but has not heard back.
What Morton likes about Outcry
What Morton said the documentary does well: points out the very flawed Cedar Park police investigation.
“I know when you look at one person and nobody else you get this kind of disaster,” said Morton.
Kondelis lives in Williamson County and said he was always a strong supporter of Morton’s innocence.
“You’re not gonna please everybody when you do something and I’m not expecting that, what I take issue with is people that are saying, making claims that what we did was inaccurate,” said Kondelis. “It’s upsetting to get this from Michael Morton and it’s also clear to me that I think he is being used as a shield for Patricia Cummings and the innocence Project because of the status and stature of Michael Morton, and I think that’s unfortunate.”
The director said he tried to call Morton multiple times to ask him to be part of the documentary, and says those calls were never returned. Morton said the director nor Showtime ever reached out.
In the letter Morton’s attorney sent to Showtime, he also asked that they remove personal family photos of he and his wife and children Morton did not give them permission to use. Showtime removed the photos before the documentary was released.