When the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements made headlines in 2017, discussions centered on the importance of believing survivors. It was a rallying cry a long time coming for women who had been harassed, assaulted and ignored for decades. But allegations of sexual misconduct are complex, and now, two-and-a-half years later, Pat Kondelis’ new docuseries “Outcry” shines a light on how survivors’ stories can be corrupted by the mishandling of their case.
“Outcry” follows the story of former high school athlete Greg Kelley who was arrested in 2013 for the sexual assault of a 4-year-old boy. Although the boy named Kelley as his abuser and a second child made similar accusations (the second child later recanted), Kelley maintained his innocence, even through a trial and eventual conviction. The five-episode series, debuting July 5 on Showtime, focuses heavily on the support that rose up around Kelley; the evidence that mounted against his prior teammate, friend and roommate Johnathan McCarty; and the mistakes made in the handling of Kelley’s case, from the way his young accusers were questioned to the lack of looking into other suspects, that led to Kelley being released on bond in 2017 and exonerated in 2019.
“There’s multiple victims in this story,” Kondelis tells Variety, “which is something that I think is incredibly important to the story and to show to the audience as well. It’s not just a Greg Kelley story. It goes far beyond that in many different ways.”
Although Kondelis lives in Williamson County, Texas, where this case took place, work took him out of the area for the height of it. That meant he didn’t follow the story in real time from its inception, only coming to be aware of it in March 2017 when Kelley was already incarcerated. At the time, Kondelis was debuting his previous Showtime docu project, “Disgraced,” at SXSW when “a friend of a friend” asked him if he has looked into “this Greg Kelley case,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.'” But after speaking with this woman again and researching it a bit on his own, he was drawn in.
“I’m a father of two kids, and my oldest son was the same age when we started doing this that the first accuser was,” Kondelis says. “I would go from thinking, ‘What if this was my kid that came to me and said this happened?’ There was this left brain-right brain back and forth thing going on. ‘What if this was the truth? Even if this investigation was so botched, what if he really did it?'”
Kondelis’ research showed that “everybody had a dog in the fight and everybody passionately believed that they were right and the other side was wrong,” so he knew if he was going to embark on documenting this story he would have to be wary of what people were telling him and really dig deeper into evidence. But he also knew that he had to be sensitive around how he told the story, given that there was a very young child at the center who has not received justice.
“Outcry” is the result of an almost three-year period during which Kondelis and his team not only revisited the recent past in Kelley’s case but also followed the developments as they unfolded and Kelley awaited the verdict on his exoneration.
“We felt like we were going to continue until we knew one way or the other, which was a very difficult thing to do because you never have much control over a story you’re doing as a documentary anyway, but this one, we had absolutely zero control because it was in the hands of the court system and we were just completely along for the ride,” says Kondelis. “The audience is going to see this the very same way we experienced it. I think it’s a pretty big emotional roller coaster — at least it was for us while we were making it.”
Here, Kondelis talks with Variety about the process to bring “Outcry” to fruition, the intersection of crime and sports cultures in the project, and how the series shines a light on failures of a small-town police force.
What sparked your interest in this story in the beginning?
When we started looking into it I met with Greg’s family, I met with a bunch of their friends, and that was an overwhelming experience; it was around a 4-hour meeting. But it was probably when I met with his attorney, Keith Hampton, and Keith could answer some very specific legal questions that I had, that was when I realized, “OK I can’t stop thinking about this case.” It began to haunt me a little bit, so we made the decision to go ahead and start filming, not knowing what was going to happen [or] if anything was going to happen.
Greg’s accuser did name him to the police. Did Greg’s opinion of why that happened, or your opinion of why that happened, change over the years you spent working on this?
He never knew and he couldn’t answer that, which was the difficult part of this. And it’s why we actually titled this “Outcry.” When I first met with him and his family, my first question was, “How did his name come out of that kid’s mouth? Why did this kid say Greg?” And nobody had an answer — and that is the origin of all of this. Everything spun off of that kid saying the name Greg. I’ve never gotten an answer to that. When you hear the child say it, it is very convincing, and it’s questions like that that make this such a difficult story to tell because clarity is very difficult to find.
There was such a rally of support around Greg when he was accused, but at the start of your involvement with him there was also a cry to support survivors. What went into how you balanced stories of Greg and his accuser, especially when you didn’t have interviews from the accuser?
We wanted to come into this and be respectful of everybody, no matter what their position was, because when we started this we didn’t know what had happened — we didn’t know what the truth was. I was very willing and very open to go into this and go, “Greg Kelley’s a monster.” There wasn’t some sort of slant or anything we had going in, trying to disprove this. We just wanted to know what happened.
How hard did you feel you could push the family of the accuser to be part of the project?
I don’t want to push them hard, but I wanted to make sure they clearly understood what we were doing. Even if they didn’t want to participate, I wanted to speak with them about what we were doing so if they felt there was a piece of information they felt was important for me to know, I wanted to hear that and know that. Unfortunately neither set of parents wanted to speak, and we reached out numerous times to both. And I understand why they didn’t want to go through it, but we wanted to give them an opportunity.
Did you feel like you had to brace Greg’s family for the fact that you wanted to take an unbiased approach to the story, and did anyone back out after they realized that?
No not to me; nobody backed off directly to me. But early on in the process, I told them that no matter what we find here, we’re going to run with it. So whether that means he’s guilty, he did this, whatever, we’re not going to hide that; we’re not making a propaganda piece that’s pro-Greg Kelley. That wasn’t the point of this. And I told Greg that as well. I said, “When we talk, I’m going to ask you everything. I’m going to ask you very difficult questions and we have to go over this, and if I do find anything, we’re going to use it.” We weren’t necessarily going to make his life easier. His side of it — the Greg Kelley supporters that thought he was innocent — they were dying for attention, they wanted their story to be told, they wanted to be heard. Ironically there was just as much noise on the side that believed he was completely guilty but there were very few people who agreed to go on camera.
To what do you attribute that disinterest in getting involved?
I really don’t know. In all of these stories that I’ve told, I have great respect for anybody that sits down in front of me and a camera crew, that they really don’t know, and answers very difficult questions. That’s a difficult thing to do, especially in a case that’s about a child being molested and questioning authorities. I’m sure it was very uncomfortable for them. Chief Mannix of the Cedar Park police department, to his credit, he sat down and he answered every question. And I have respect for him for that — I disagreed and was surprised [by] some of the things that he said, but I think that’s part of it. There’s a lot of people that I don’t think want to answer difficult questions. They can claim to be very firm in their beliefs, but when it comes right down to it and they know they’re going to be challenged, they don’t want to go through that process. I’ve run into that, in the years I’ve been doing this, on every side.
Obviously this is such a controversial case — especially here locally. When all of this was unfolding, it was unbelievably heated and debated as to whether he was guilty or innocence. For us, we did have a strong fear that if we didn’t get enough people that are on the other side of this thing, we’re not telling what’s going on with this story accurately. I wish we could have gotten more, but I’m very grateful to the people that did sit down and speak because there’s no judgement on them. They have a very specific opinion, and it’s needed so the audience can understand what actually happened here.
On the flip side, do you attribute much of Greg’s support from strangers to the fact that he was a small-town athlete? What did you learn about the sports culture in the area and how that might have affected the way he was viewed?
It certainly did. What I found was the fact that Greg Kelley was a star high school football player in Texas worked as a double-edged sword for him. If he was not a star high school football player that was well-known [and] well-liked there’s no way he would have had so many supporters stand up and say, “You’ve got the wrong guy.” If he was in band or something, nobody’s going to say that; everybody’s going to run away from that guy and those allegations as far as they can. But on the flip side, the fact that he was a star high school football player and was accused of this, that brought the media attention — that made it a much bigger story, and because of that I think it amplified the pressure on the police to make an arrest, and I think it amplified the intention for the D.A.’s office in this trial. So I think some of it worked in his favor and some of it worked against him, but all of it would have been drastically different had he not been a football player.
Speaking of the police, the docuseries exposes a lot of problematic practices with the investigation, but did you uncover anything that felt racially motivated?
We looked at that right away, and the police report — the arrest record — listed Greg Kelley as white, and he’s mixed race: His mom is from Guatemala and his dad is white. The police were under the impression that he was a white kid, so I didn’t see anything that showed that race played any factor in this at all, but it was shocking to see what went on with regards to the police investigation and the prosecution, and it is so far from what I think most people would hope and want in a police investigation and a prosecution. For me, it shatters that perception that if there’s a crime that’s this serious that was committed, the police are going to drop everything, they’re going to dedicate tons of resources and time and effort into this and this is going to be taken as seriously as it should be taken and it’s going to be handled that way. And this was not. And it’s horrifying to see that. You just have an assumption — we’ve all watched a whole lot of police shows and movies, and there are those guys out there; I’ve done projects with great cops and great detectives. But on this one, it was time after time after time of utter shock and disappointment of the reality versus everyone’s perception of how a case — and a crime — this serious should be handled. When questions were asked, they were met with this odd sense of infallibility. It was very, very bizarre.
How did your relationship with Greg change over time?
The first time I met him was in prison. There’s no time, obviously, when your interview subject is in prison, to build a rapport or build any sort of trust. So it was awkward. So much of making this was awkward because of the nature of the crime and the questions you have to ask and the things you have to get into. It was not easy. But he was very open, and he was very desperate for any attention, for every aspect of his case to get out. He goes from being a subject in the first few episodes to actually becoming a three-dimensional character towards the end as there are developments with the case, which are also unique and surprising.
You mentioned that when you started this project you didn’t know what the truth would be. Do you feel like you do now?
I do feel like we got as close to the truth in this as we possibly could [but] I’m still wondering what I don’t know — what piece of evidence I didn’t see. But everything I have seen now has definitely convinced me of what actually happened. It took a long time to get there, though. There were endless debates among my team. We talked about this for years — we worked on this for years — and this was a very, very difficult thing to try to figure out because there were so many variables moving at the same time.
Greg has closure in that he can go live his life as a free man now, but the kid who accused him does not have closure or justice. Is there more digging to do there?
I don’t think we can. I have my own very strong opinions about who did what in this case and how it all happened. The problem is, there’s what you think and what you can prove, and it’s a criminal case. And because this investigation was so horribly botched from the beginning, the kid is in a terrible situation. He did not get justice — the family did not get justice — and I feel for them, and I think they’re never going to have clarity on it because there’s no evidence. There’s not enough that could possibly garner a conviction to another person.