Supporters see Greg Kelley’s return to Williamson County Jail with hope

June 06, 2017
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman
Greg Kelley arrives at the Williamson County Jail in Georgetown on Tuesday June 6, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Greg Kelley, whose conviction in the sexual assault of a 4-year-old boy is now in question amid revelations of a new suspect, arrived back in his home county Tuesday — the first time he has been on Williamson County soil in the three years since a judge sent him to prison for 25 years.

The homecoming celebration by supporters who gathered to welcome him was tempered: Kelley arrived not as a free man or declared innocent, but to help his defense team prepare for an upcoming hearing in which he is seeking to have his conviction overturned.

But many saw it as a step closer to possible freedom for Kelley, whose case deeply divided the community and raised questions about the criminal justice system in Williamson County. It also positions Kelley to be more easily freed should prosecutors and a judge agree to release Kelley on bond in coming weeks.

INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: Greg Kelley’s child sex assault case

“We just got to see Greg and get a hug,” said Pam Brimberry, a vocal Kelley supporter who was with a small group who visited Kelley outside of public view. “It was an incredible experience. He is doing really well, and we are proud at how he has held up under the circumstances of this extreme stress. He is a trooper and a fighter, and we are honored to stand with him through all of this.”

Sheriff Robert Chody told reporters that Kelley would be booked and have his photo and fingerprints taken just like any other inmate. However, he said that because of the uniqueness of Kelley’s situation, he planned to grant him “different treatment.”

“I will not share a lot of information in regards to the treatment he will be getting,” said Chody, who personally greeted Kelley and stood guard as deputies unloaded a bag of Kelley’s belongings from the back of an unmarked SUV that drove him 150 miles from the Wynne Unit prison in Huntsville to the Williamson County Jail in Georgetown.

RELATED: Greg Kelley’s sex abuse trial, like many, hinged on one child’s word

The move came under a judge’s order issued last week. Kelley has already served the first three years of a 25-year sentence after a jury convicted him of two counts of super aggravated sexual assault of the boy.

Kelley was convicted of assaulting the boy in 2014 after the child identified Kelley as the perpetrator. In recent weeks, however, District Attorney Shawn Dick has confirmed that Kelley’s former best friend, Johnathan McCarty, has been identified as an “alternate suspect,” and that the Texas Rangers are investigating the case.

McCarty hasn’t been charged but remains in the Williamson County Jail on a probation violation for drug charges, with bail set at $450,000.

A judge has set a hearing for Kelley in August in which she will issue a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on what should happen in the case. He could be declared innocent — which is extremely rare — or be granted a new trial, at which time prosecutors must decide if they wish to move forward with a new case. Judges also could uphold the conviction.

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Meanwhile, McCarty’s probation revocation hearing on drug charges, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, was reset to July 18 in the 368th District Court of Judge Rick Kennon. The hearing was set to be in front of District Judge Stacey Mathews, but she had a conflict of interest because she was a former prosecutor, Dick said, though he didn’t specify the nature of the conflict.

Dick said that although things could change, he still expects Kelley to be held in jail until the hearing in his case on Aug. 3. Kelley’s supporters held a rally last week demanding he be released immediately on bond.

McCarty’s bail was set unusually high at $450,000 because he was considered a flight risk, Dick said Tuesday. His family has access to passports, and McCarty had previously considered leaving the country though not in relation to the Kelley case, Dick said.