Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Wrongful Conviction: How a Family Survives

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Wrongful Conviction: How a Family Survives

Article excerpt

I grew up in a typical 1950s home in Tulsa, Oklahoma with my parents and my younger brother and sister. Dad sold insurance and Mom was a legal secretary for a large firm of corporate attorneys. My sister Betsy was a Girl Scout, I was a Camp Fire Girl, and we both babysat and made our own clothes. My brother Greg was a Boy Scout, played in the bell choir at church, and had his own paper route. We attended First United Methodist Church every Sunday morning and our biggest decision on Sunday night was whether to watch Ed Sullivan or Perry Mason on our one small TV. By 1985, though, the world was a different place and our little family was facing much more difficult challenges that even Perry Mason couldn't solve. Greg had been sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit and all of our lives were turned upside down as we fought to save his life.

After high school Greg, Betsy, and I all attended the University of Oklahoma. Betsy and I both graduated, but after a year Greg decided college really wasn't for him so he quit and started a very successful career as an iron worker. He worked on buildings all over Oklahoma, bought his own home, and had a boat for recreation. Like many people in the 1970s, Greg's other recreation was smoking a little pot and he had a couple of run-ins with the law when he got caught. While he was in a drug rehabilitation facility in 1983 he met Kathy Godwin; they immediately became a couple and married later that same year. Their daughter Krissy was born in 1984 and their second daughter, Kim, followed ten months later. Kathy was a stay-at-home Mom and Greg continued working as an iron worker to support his family.

The rest of our lives were moving right along too. Mom still loved her career as a legal secretary, Dad was now a busy real estate appraiser, and Betsy was a Registered Nurse at a Tulsa hospital. I had married my husband Vernon while we were students at the University of Oklahoma and after graduation he was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army. As a military family we moved every three years and in 1982, with our two young children Jennifer and Mark, we arrived in Ada, Oklahoma where Vernon was assigned to teach ROTC at East Central Oklahoma State University.

We enjoyed living in Ada, a small town that was great for raising a family. I worked at the local bank, we joined a square dancing club, but the best part was that we were only two hours from Tulsa and my family. We were able to spend lots of time together, something that was difficult to do when we lived in Georgia and Colorado, and it was especially nice since Kathy, Krissy, and Kim joined the Wilhoit family while we were there. We had all come to love Kathy and we were naturally concerned when she and Greg started having problems and decided to separate in May 1985. Kathy and the girls moved to an apartment, but Greg still spent almost every night with them as they worked on their relationship. In the meantime the Army notified us that our three years in Ada were up and we were being reassigned, this time to Germany. I was sad to be leaving Oklahoma and nervous about moving to Europe, but in May 1985 I started preparing our family for our July 1st move to Heidelberg.

Then on June 1st Kathy was found brutally murdered in her apartment and our world was shattered. Our reaction was the same as I imagine any murder victim's family would be. We were grief stricken, shocked, horrified, and outraged. Thank God Krissy and Kim, who were four months and fourteen months old, were still upstairs in their cribs and unharmed. Greg was at his house when he got the call about Kathy's death and immediately drove to Mom and Dad's, out of his mind with grief and inconsolable. Betsy had come to Ada to help me pack so she and I immediately drove to Tulsa, arriving just as Krissy and Kim were released from Social Services back to Greg. We were all together, but joining us were the Tulsa police. They wanted Greg to come down to police headquarters to answer some questions. …

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