In trying to describe “Outcry,” filmmaker Pat Kondelis’s excellently paced, five-part docuseries premiering Sunday on Showtime, it’s probably best to just start with the facts: In 2013, in the sprawling Texas suburbs north of Austin, a high school football star named Greg Kelley was charged with molesting two children who attended day care in the home where Kelley was living.
Although there was very little evidence in the case (except for the accusations themselves, legally termed an “outcry”), the tough-talking Williamson County district attorney at the time and her two prosecutors convinced a jury that Kelley was guilty, resulting in a 25-year prison term. On its face, Kelley’s case resembles many other instances of swift justice that also leave plenty to doubt.
From there, “Outcry” becomes less of a true-crime documentary and more of a suspensefully built, real-life legal thriller with the arrival of its designated hero, Keith Hampton, an attorney known for his work in appeals. Although none of this story will be fresh news to anyone within earshot of the Austin media market, “Outcry” unfolds with astonishing and even inexplicable details of how the case was handled (poorly, from any angle) by the district attorney’s office and police department in a town called Cedar Park. Kelley’s first defense attorney wasn’t exactly an ace, either.
The community begins to demand Kelley’s release, rallied together by a self-appointed activist, Jake Brydon, who had never met Kelley but believes him to be the epitome of a Texas ideal — honest, athletic and, we are told again and again, already has a scholarship to play college ball. How can he be a child molester? Waking up every day behind bars, Kelley wonders: “Why can’t I just wake up and play football?”
Kondelis gains access, for several years of filming, into Kelley’s inner circle of lawyers, family members and his loyal girlfriend, as the case makes its twists and turns — and new evidence emerges, including a look at a second suspect who was never charged. With cooperation from a new D.A. who is professionally appalled by his predecessor’s handling of the case, Kelley wins release (after serving three years), but lives in limbo while the state’s arcane appeals court mulls a decision to reverse his conviction.
Try as it might, “Outcry” failed to get interviews with some of its more culpable key players, but the series more than makes up for it with its deeper profile of Kelley himself, who is not always his own best advocate. It’s also strikingly good on the incredibly tricky subject of truth, which is not defined here by what is or what was, but by the law.
A viewer might be tempted to search online and learn the eventual outcome, which only came late last year, but I recommend watching all five parts to get the full emotional effect of a seven-year journey from innocence to guilt and back again.
- — -
Outcry (one hour) premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on Showtime.