March 12, 2005

Could it happen to you?

The Dallas Morning News

10:57 AM CST on Saturday, March 12, 2005

Greg Speers is in prison today on a flawed conviction. The way his case was handled raises questions about fairness in the justice system. Laura Beil tells her cousin's story and how it has made her wary - as a parent and an American.

GREG SPEERS / Self Portrait My cousin Greg Speers lost his life on April 28, 2000. Maybe he will still get it back.

The youngest of my Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Bob's eight children, Greg grew up in Tucson, where Uncle Bob was a Walgreens pharmacist. The family would pull up in front of our house in Marshall every other summer, packed into a station wagon brushed with two days of Southwest sand. Those were the Julys of sleeping bags, games of freeze tag, and a slamming back screen door.

Bob and Charlotte Speers presided over the Catholic branch of the family. They were made for children. After their own grew up, they took in foster kids first Vietnamese refugees, then neglected souls in need of emergency shelter. My aunt and uncle didn't do good deeds because they thought they ought to. They were simply not capable of anything else.

Greg was an engaging, cheery kid who soaked up his role as the baby in the family. The fair-haired adolescent grew into a fetching man, with enviable cheekbones and a Hollywood smile. He stole hearts, then broke them when, in his early 20s, he announced his intention to enter the seminary.

Ultimately, though, he became disillusioned and wanted to reconsider. As a respite, the diocese offered him a job teaching second-graders at a Catholic elementary school in Yuma in 1999. Soon after, an old girlfriend followed him out, and the decision was cinched. He began preparing for the law school entrance exam. ...

Just before Greg moved to Yuma, the town had been stunned by reports that a priest who taught at the school in the 1970s had molested his students. The school's current principal was perhaps on a hair trigger from this and other disturbing disclosures of Catholic clergy abuse. In a tragic misunderstanding, the principal thought these girls were coming forward to report an incident on their own and didn't initially realize that Greg had sent them. She dialed the police. They interviewed the girls and eventually arrested Greg.

News that a teacher Catholic and male had been jailed on charges of molesting his students hit Yuma like a desert sandstorm. Greg voluntarily consented to a search of his apartment, hoping that if the police realized he had nothing to hide, they would know that they had made a dreadful mistake.

Posted by kshaw at March 12, 2005 03:51 PM