Texas Man, Convicted of Sex Crime, Gets Reversal of Fortune—From His Phone
January 17, 2018
by Seth Augenstein
Mike Adams (left) and Greg Kelley. Kelley was convicted in 2014 of molesting a toddler and spent three years in prison until discoveries by Adams on Kelley's cellphone led to his exoneration. (Photo: Courtesy of Mike Adams)
A police detective who never followed all the leads, a conflicted defense attorney who cried so uncontrollably she did not discuss appeal options after the “midnight verdict” of guilt, and a jury who convicted without any physical evidence at all.
Greg Kelley, a young man in Texas convicted of sexually molesting a toddler in 2014, had a lot of things going against him that led to his spending more than three years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
But Kelley had one thing to start his reversal of fortune that led to his release from prison last August, and a judge finding him fully cleared last month.
It was his phone, and the voluminous digital evidence contained on it showing where he went, and what he was doing over the months when the molestations occurred. It showed he was not even at the home, which doubled as a daycare, when the crimes were committed.
Crucially, it also showed what kind of person Kelley was. This was no pedophile, said C.M. “Mike” Adams, a veteran forensic investigator who first cracked the iPhone that would ultimately set an innocent man free.
“If a pedophile had owned that phone it would have been wiped on a regular basis by performing a factory reset,” Adams told Forensic Magazine. “Greg’s phone was just the opposite of that. He was creating what would one day be the digital evidence that lit the fire under his exoneration.”
A PARTIAL INVESTIGATION
It started with a boy telling his parents that someone named “Greg” had put their penis in the boy’s mouth at the daycare, according to court documents.
The daycare was notified, the police were called, and an investigation began.
However, the Cedar Park Police Department detective assigned the case took it for granted that “Greg” had to have been Greg Kelley, a senior at the local high school who was living in the house which housed the daycare.
The detective did not visit the crime scene once, according to court records. The detective also did not have the 4-year-old boy identify Kelley from a photograph, or in person.
“The only evidence of Greg Kelley’s guilt was the testimony of a 4-year-old child,” according to a judge’s court filing last month. “The child never identified Greg at or before trial.”
The detective also did not follow a lead, provided by another potential child victim, that another person living in the house—Kelley’s best friend—could have been responsible for the molestation. Further evidence pointed to that person when the first victim said his attacker was wearing SpongeBob pajama pants—a garment the best friend was regularly seen wearing, according to the court documents.
Kelley was convicted July 22, 2014 of aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of six, after a “midnight verdict,” according to court papers. The same court papers indicate that the defense attorney cried in a short meeting afterward, but failed to discuss appeal options. (Further conflict of interest allegations also indicated the attorney had represented the family of the alternative suspect with the SpongeBob pajamas.)
Kelley ended up with a plea agreement in which he settled for the minimum 25-year prison sentence, in exchange for waiving his right to appeal.
A REVERSAL OF FORTUNE AT MCDONALD’S
But the story began to change with a meeting at a McDonald’s on Highway 79, in Round Rock, Texas, just days after the sentencing.
Adams, the forensic analyst who owns and operates Prime Focus Forensics, met with private investigator AJ Kerin to discuss the case, at the behest of appellate attorney Keith Hampton.
The prior defense attorney had never analyzed Kelley’s cellphone—and neither had prosecutors, they discovered.
Adams hooked up the iPhone with the cable, powered it up, and then turned on the forensic program called Lantern, made by Katana Forensics.
The artifacts numbered in the tens of thousands: from Facebook messages, to emails, photos, GPS coordinates and time and date stamps, Adams said.
Nothing had ever been deleted, in the 18 months it had been owned by Kelley. It covered the entire period of the allegations. And it was all accessible now to his defense attorneys—for the first time.
“We could reconstruct a large portion of Greg’s everyday life history,” Adams recalls. “Everything on Greg’s phone pointed to a perfectly normal and healthy young man.”
Adams also has experience going through the devices owned by real pedophiles. Such a complete record is never available with sexual deviants who are trying to hide their proclivities, he told Forensic Magazine.
The digital evidence showed Kelley could not have been present at the daycare premises at the time the victim was present for at least 183 of the 192 days he lived there. Furthermore, alibi witnesses and further digital placement proved he wasn’t there for specific reported attacks, according to court documents. In one instance, pictures show Kelley tubing down the San Marcos River with his longtime girlfriend at the time of one of the attacks, Adams said.
“Greg Kelley’s whereabouts can be definitely established on the vast majority of dates and activities can be readily identified during the relevant time-frame when, under the prosecution’s theory, abuse occurred,” wrote defense attorney Hampton. “It may even be possible to account for every day.”
Adams also looked at the home computer at the daycare. He found pictures of naked children that constituted child pornography, according to the court filings. A Texas Ranger ultimately reviewed all of Adams' work - and found it accurate and scientific.
Also according to the court documents, the best friend who lived in the daycare had confessed to a girlfriend to the assault on the child—and had furthermore displayed child pornography on his cellphone to friends and acquaintances, as testified at a hearing last August.
The Williamson County District Attorney said that “alternative suspect” will likely never be charged with the crimes, because of the bungled investigation that led to Kelley.
Kelley, once offered multiple athletic scholarships to major colleges for his football prowess, has been out from behind bars for five months now. Last month, he proposed to his longtime girlfriend on a Mexican beach. Gaebri Anderson said yes.
Gaebri Anderson and Greg Kelley
Adams said it was the evidence that—eventually—led to the truth. Or at least a crucial part of it, he said.
An exoneration remains to be issued by the Texas appeals court. And the crime itself has never been solved. But an innocent man is free because of the tracking technology on his cellphone, added Adams.
“Digital forensics, like any other forensic discipline, is a scientific experiment,” said Adams. “If two independent forensic technicians use the same evidence, the same certified tool, and perform their work using the same certified process, (they) should be able to produce the same results. In this case, that is exactly what happened, and it happened in a glorious manner for Greg.”
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