|STAND BY YOUR MAN: Dawn Williams (below), the mother of his child, has waited through nine years and four appeals for Greg Dunagan to come home. Photography by Elizabeth Lavin|
The robbers approach from the east, an hour before dawn, slowing now as Main Street intersects South MacArthur Boulevard in Grand Prairie. They turn into the parking lot of a strip mall whose cornerstone is the Eagle Food Mart, a tiny, dilapidated convenience store with security cameras perched in high corners. The check-cashing store next door also has outdoor surveillance. The robbers park their car and wait.
Edward’s Carpets sits three doors down from the Eagle Food Mart. Frank Kubala runs the store with his brother and lives inside. He is 6-foot-1 and broad-shouldered, in need of a shave and a comb. He wears huge eyeglasses that droop down his nose. Kubala rises this Friday morning, February 7, 1997, at 5 am. He makes himself a cup of coffee. He looks out his window. In the half-light of the winter morning, he sees a car, brown, maybe an old Mustang, parked outside his door. It’s too dark to see if anyone’s inside, and Kubala isn’t much interested anyway. The car soon drives off.
Just before 6, the robbers return. According to police reports, both are black, both have guns, and the taller of the two, the one about 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, is wearing a bandanna that covers the lower half of his face. It is a chilly, awful morning—the day will bring rain—but this suspect enters the Eagle Food Mart first, wearing only a light blue (or white) button-up shirt and blue jeans.
Barkat Ali is opening the cash register, to the right of the front door. He runs the Eagle Food Mart with his wife, Ishrat Khan, now at the grill toward the back of the store, making sausages for the breakfast rush. Ali and Khan came from Pakistan seven years ago and have operated the convenience store going on six months—just the two of them, from 6 am to 11 pm, switching shifts throughout each day, all while raising their four children.
Khan doesn’t see the robbers enter but looks up when she hears them shouting. The taller of the two, the one with the bandanna covering half of his face, shoots her husband in the chest, and already the shorter one is pointing his gun at her, walking toward the grill. Khan speaks Urdu and little else, but she understands this man’s urgency. She runs to the front of the store and opens the register, the shorter man right behind her. He has an average build and a thin mustache. And now, as Khan screams over her dying husband, this man stuffs his pockets with money. He gets about $200.
Frank Kubala walks through the door. Moments earlier he was on the phone when he heard a loud pop. Kubala thought little of it and finished the conversation with his sister. Then, like he does every morning, he walked next door to help Ali and Khan prepare the coffee and the breakfasts. He is shocked now to see a black man behind the counter yelling, “Get down! Get down! Get down!” Kubala does not see the taller man with the bandanna but will later say he saw a “blur” rush past him as he entered. He does see the thin mustache of this second man. He sees the hair, almost a flattop, three-quarters of an inch high. He sees the man’s wiry build. But mostly Kubala sees the man’s gun, pointed at him as the man moves from behind the register, to within six inches of Kubala’s face, and then still on him as the man walks backward out of the store. He then climbs into that late-model Mustang and is gone, heading toward Dallas. The whole encounter lasts, by Kubala’s later admission in court, five to seven seconds.
Kubala pauses a moment before rising and running to Khan. “Ali! Ali!” she screams, cradling his head in her hands. Kubala finds some paper towels and hands them to her, hoping to staunch the flow of blood. But it is too late.
Barkat Ali is dead.
NINE YEARS LATER, ON A CHILLLY WEEKEND in February 2006, Dawn Williams closes the bedroom door behind her and says, “If I knew Greg was guilty, it’d be different because”—a heavy sigh—”that would be the truth. But the truth is”—she begins to cry—”I can’t let it go because I know he’s innocent and because I love him and because”—but she can’t finish.
Dawn is a beautiful woman, with straight hair that curls at the shoulders. She has warm, expressive eyes. She is 36 years old and works as a data-processing clerk at a credit card company. She wishes she lived in a better neighborhood than this, just off I-30. Her home has been burglarized. Dawn’s mother now lives with her and helps raise the children, Kassandra Desire (K.D. for short), whom Dawn had with a deadbeat dad when she was 20, and Greg Jr., whom Dawn had five years later, after she found her love, her one, Greg Dunagan, “Daddy” to both children—the innocent man now serving a life sentence for the murder of Barkat Ali.
Through nine years and four appeals, Dawn has waited. “People will always be asking me the same thing: ’Why you waiting on him?’” Dawn says. “I’d be like, ’Shut up. You don’t know.’ It’d, again, be different if he did it, you know? But it’s like—I love him. I love him. And I want him home.”
Two months after Ali’s murder, the case was closed. No fingerprints. No leads. No video from that morning. The robbery happened before the Eagle Food Mart or check-cashing store turned on their surveillance cameras for the day. Seventeen months later, two jailhouse informants stepped forward. One was awaiting trial for murder, the other for aggravated robbery. A newspaper report at the time said the men were looking for reduced time.
The informants said they were at a club together when they met a man named Greg—though the informants offered different dates and neither could remember Greg’s last name (Duncan? Dougan?). They said Greg told them he and a buddy had robbed a convenience store in Grand Prairie, killed an “Iranian” clerk, and made off with $60,000. A Dallas County deputy sheriff found a file on Greg Dunagan and gave a photo to Grand Prairie Sergeant Alan Patton. When one of the informants saw the photo, he said that it was the Greg he’d met.
The informants passed lie detector tests. Frank Kubala picked Greg Dunagan out of a photo lineup. And the case made its way to court. The trial produced a grotesque miscarriage of justice.
Ishrat Khan hadn’t been able to positively identify Greg from a photo lineup, but at the trial, she took the stand and said that the man who had killed her husband wasn’t in the courtroom—though Greg, of course, was sitting at the defense table. Then, when pressed, Khan picked Greg’s brother, who was sitting in the gallery. The prosecution asked her again to identify the killer. Again she picked Greg’s brother. She did this four times. Only on the second day of the trial, after meeting with her lawyer, did she identify Greg as the killer.
Greg’s lawyer, Larry Baraka, put on an inept defense. He didn’t offer an alibi. (Greg says he was with Dawn.) He didn’t present any witnesses, any evidence, didn’t cross-examine the lead detective on the case, or Frank Kubala. And he didn’t point out a startling contradiction in the prosecution’s case: Khan saw two robbers. She said the one wearing the bandanna shot her husband. So, according to her story, Greg killed her husband. But Kubala, arriving on the scene moments after the murder, saw only one robber, the one without the bandanna, the one with the mustache. Kubala said that man was Greg.
According to the prosecution, then, there were two men at the scene of the crime. Both were Greg.
It gets worse. D Magazine has located a friend of one of the jailhouse informants. He used to work with the informant by day and “hustle,” with him by night. This friend says the informant is the actual murderer.
Greg has already exhausted his four appeals. But if this new information is judged solid enough, it could get him another trial. It’s a long shot, though. So Dawn Williams isn’t celebrating. Not this time.
Two years ago, a court recommended Greg receive a new trial based on the evidence at the time, and the family told K.D. and Greg Jr. their daddy might get out of prison. But a federal judge overturned the recommendation.
“We try not to talk about the case,” she says. Today, the harsh reality of exhausted appeals confuses the boy, just 11. And now, for the second time in an hour, he knocks on Dawn’s bedroom door, anxious to see why a strange visitor and his mother are discussing his father.
The incarceration’s been hard on everyone—caused panic attacks in Dawn and financial stress for Greg’s brother Kevin, who’s paid for the attorneys—but it has been hardest on Greg Jr. A funny, outgoing kid, he’s recently had nightmares about someone trying to kill him. In another dream he’s by himself, abandoned. Greg Jr. now routinely asks to sleep with his mom. Sometimes, out of the blue, he’ll say to her, “Mom, I don’t want to lose you, too.”
Greg Jr. takes a seat on the ottoman at the foot of Dawn’s king-size bed. He wears a t-shirt that reads “G-Unit Company” and baggy carpenter jeans. He is a slender boy, tall for his age, almost as tall as his 5-foot-4 mother, with his hair in cornrows. His eyes dart to the floor when he’s nervous.
“What do you think about what happened?” he is asked.
“Shouldn’t have happened,” he says, never lifting his eyes. There is a long pause. “He was a good daddy.”
But it is too much. He throws himself onto his mother’s bed, buries his face beneath her many pillows. “I don’t want to talk to him anymore,” he screams between the tears. “I miss my daddy.”
After Dawn calms him down, after he blows his nose into her tissues, Greg Jr. heads for the bedroom door. He pauses. “I think he’s innocent,” Greg Jr. says. “And I know he’ll be back for my birthday. My birthday is in June.”
He leaves the room. Dawn says, “That’s the hard part.”
It’s his birthday wish every year.
|HAPPIER DAYS: A snapshot of Greg and Dawn, when she was pregnant with Greg Jr. (top). Photos courtesy of Dawn Williams|
WEST DALLAS IN THE 1970S WAS NO PLACE for two growing boys. Instead of front yards, Greg and his older brother Kevin had shattered glass and dirt. Drug dealers cruised the streets, pushing heroin, or “tease and blues” as they called it. The junkies itched their way through days and nights.
The two boys were loved ferociously by their mother, Gerri Dunagan, who refused welfare, who cleaned rich peoples’ homes and old peoples’ accidents, who worked any job she could find to support her boys and baby girl Carla, seven years younger than Greg, nine years younger than Kevin. Their father wasn’t around much. He just sent $100 checks every month.
Late at night, the boys would hear Gerri crying in her bedroom, worried that she wasn’t providing enough or wasn’t around enough. It was true: Kevin was the de facto man of the house, sometimes de facto parent, too burdened by responsibility—the cooking, the nursing—to find humor in everything, as his brother did. Gerri says that among their friends, Greg was the leader, by sheer force of his personality. Kevin was the observant one.
To help their mother, when the boys were 12 and 10, they took a job wrapping Sunday papers on a Dallas Times-Herald delivery truck. Their paychecks went toward their school clothes, groceries. It was altruistic, sure, but the job was also fun. These two skinny kids with budding Afros stayed out well past their bedtime, seeing parts of Dallas they wouldn’t otherwise. Greg, especially, enjoyed the job. He loved to read the paper, a habit he picked up from his mother. Every Sunday, he got to see it before the rest of the city even got out of bed.
The boys got decent marks in school, and Greg attended L.G. Pinkston High, in West Dallas. “College wasn’t too much thought about,” Greg says. He knew one guy at Pinkston who went to junior college on a football scholarship. Greg had played, too, but no schools came calling. And to be honest, Kevin says, “You’re so wrapped up in trying to make it day to day, you don’t look that far. Because you need to make money to survive.” And temptation was everywhere.
One night after graduation, drunk, Greg got in the car with a 28-year-old named Ronald Jacob. They went to a pool hall in West Dallas. They drank more Jack Daniels. They drove to central Dallas and Lemmon Avenue where Jacob took a pellet gun out of the trunk of his Cadillac and held up a 7-Eleven. Then Greg took his turn, holding up two people on the street.
“Dumbest mistake I ever made,” he says.
On September 20, 1985, at 18 years of age, Greg Dunagan was sentenced to 10 years in prison for robbery. He served it at the Ferguson Unit in Midway, about two hours southeast of Dallas. A horrific experience. Feces smeared the cell walls. Inmates doped up on prescriptions. Race riots. Greg had to prove himself in those fights. He was just a 5-foot-8, 155-pound kid who lived for the moments of seclusion in his cell, where he would cry because he missed his mama so much. Still, he fought. He had to. In one riot, Greg saw a friend from Houston get stabbed to death.
“I made a vow back then to never again come back to prison,” Greg says.
He got out after five years. He made two more vows: never own a gun. Never again even handle one.
He found work in 1991, about a month after his release, as a telemarketer in downtown Dallas. Greg opened a bank account, established a line of credit. With his square jaw, thick neck, the way he put women at ease, Greg had lots of girlfriends. “Greg was a ladies’ man,” his brother Kevin says. He also wanted a family. Then he met Dawn Williams. “Dawn stole his heart,” Kevin says.
They met the day Dallas held a pep rally for the Cowboys winning the 1993 Super Bowl. Greg was at his mother’s apartment in East Dallas; Dawn lived at the complex, too. Six months later, she was pregnant with Greg Jr. And with the birth of his son, Greg made another vow: to be the father he never had.
Greg was already “Daddy” to Dawn’s girl K.D. But now, with his own son, he had more responsibility, a family to provide for—and a brother who needed help. Kevin got involved with drugs and alcohol in the early ’90s. He was selling cars and spending his commissions in the slums of Dallas. Whenever Kevin went missing from work, his brother would hunt him down, find him frazzled, having gone days without sleep. “You’ve got to quit this,” Greg said. He would recommend rehab; eventually, Kevin went. “My brother saw me through,” Kevin says.
In 1994, Greg took a job with a subcontractor of TXU, reading electricity meters. Every day, instead of a cubicle, Greg had the open roads and hidden neighborhoods of Dallas and Fort Worth. In the morning, he fed Greg Jr., took K.D. to school. Friday after work he took the family to the Black-eyed Pea and on Sunday they went to Pappadeaux.
But in 1995, this increasingly comfortable life was interrupted by a car crash. While on the job, an 18-wheeler turned in front of Greg, totaling his pickup, smashing his knee, leaving his back a mess. He would be without work for about a year and a half. He got workman’s comp for eight months and eventually won a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver for $15,000. By 1998, Greg was selling cars, like his brother. But he had trouble closing deals. “He kept telling me he thought he was lying to the customers,” Kevin says.
And then in February of that year, he made another big mistake. Greg bought a car from a friend in Garland one night, an older Oldsmobile with decent mileage, and while driving home, he was pulled over by a cop. An aggressive cop, Greg says. A white cop. Greg’s license had expired, and he was driving a car registered and insured in someone else’s name, with no way to prove it was his. And now the cop was at his window, telling him to step out of the car.
Greg ran. He shouldn’t have. But he was scared. The officer called for backup and cops eventually found Greg a few blocks away, cowering behind a pickup. They booked him for evading arrest, driving with a expired license, and a third charge added by the officer who pulled him over: possession of marijuana, which he said he found near the scene of the arrest.
Greg says the marijuana wasn’t his, but the court ruled that he’d violated the terms of his parole and sent him to jail in April 1998. (The drug charge was later dropped.)
That’s where Greg was a few months later, in the Dallas County Jail, when Sergeant Alan Patton of the Grand Prairie Police Department paid him a visit. Patton said to Greg, “We have a case we need to talk about.” Greg agreed to go to Grand Prairie, unsure why a police officer there would care about his parole violation in Garland. On the way to the station, Patton at the Eagle Food Mart. His partner said he needed a snack. Patton stayed in the car with Greg and would later say that his passenger, chatty up to that point, fell silent at the convenience store. (Greg denies this.)
Patton had received a tip from two jailhouse informants, and he’d gotten a positive identification from an eyewitness. At police headquarters, Patton charged Greg with the murder of Barkat Ali.
THE TRIAL BEGAN ON SEPTEMBER 14, 1999, in Dallas County Criminal District Court No. 3, the Honorable Judge Ron Chapman presiding. Greg, originally represented by a court-appointed attorney, had hired Larry Baraka two months before the trial. Baraka was a former district judge who the family felt, in Kevin’s words, “knew the ins and outs of the court system.”
But Baraka rather quickly demonstrated that he didn’t know this case. On the first day of the trial, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Kirlin had to tell the court that Baraka, as a judge, had presided over Greg’s robbery conviction. Surely, Kirlin said, Baraka and Greg’s family had discussed it. Kirlin just wanted the record to reflect that there was no conflict of interest.
“You didn’t know that?” Judge Chapman asked Baraka, according to the testimony.
“I haven’t discussed that, quite honestly,” Baraka said. “I wasn’t conscious of it.”
Baraka’s trial strategy was to “reserve the right to cross,” meaning he and co-counsel Valencia Bush wouldn’t cross-examine the state’s witnesses one at a time, waiting instead until the prosecution rested to decide whether to cross-examine them. For Robert Udashen, Greg’s attorney on appeals, it was a terrible move. “As a trial lawyer, it makes no sense to me,” Udashen says. The best time to cross is when the information is fresh in a juror’s mind, he says. “If you just leave the jury there with all the state’s witnesses testifying and never being challenged at all, they’re going to find the guy guilty.”
Baraka didn’t cross-examine Sergeant Alan Patton, who said eyewitness Frank Kubala had picked Greg out of a photo lineup, even though, by his own admission, Kubala never got a good look at the killer, saw only a “blur.” Sergeant Patton’s police report listed the assailant as a 6-foot-2, 200-pound man. Baraka didn’t point out that his client was 5-foot-8 and weighed 165.
A tactical error? “My practice is that I normally don’t do cross-examination,” Baraka says now. “I think—and hindsight is best sight—but, yeah, there are things we should have pursued.”
But the most surreal part of the trial came when Assistant District Attorney Kirlin put Ishrat Khan, the widow, on the stand. He asked her if she could point out the man who’d shot her husband.
“Not here,” she said.
From the defense table, Greg said, “Thank you, ma’am.”
“Be quiet,” Baraka told him. He requested that the jury step out of the courtroom for a moment.
With the jury gone, Kirlin explained to Judge Chapman that Khan spoke Urdu and knew very little English. There was a translator present, and Chapman told Kirlin to ask the question again.
“Are you afraid?” Kirlin asked Khan.
“No,” she said.
“What did you tell me a few moments earlier before you came out here?” he asked.
“I told you that I saw him here,” she said.
“Do you see him right now?”
“Where is he?”
“The off-white suit, the black guy. Yes. It’s the black guy, yeah.” She was pointing to Greg’s brother Kevin, seated in the gallery. He stood up.
“The man standing up right now?” Kirlin asked. “Is that the one you were talking about earlier?”
“Yeah. This one. It’s the off-white suit and the yellow tie, white shirt.”
Moments later, with the jury present, Kirlin again asked Khan if she saw her husband’s killer. Again, for a third time, she pointed out Kevin. Kirlin tried a fourth time and got the same answer.
On the second day of the trial, Kirlin asked Khan, “Did you tell me that you intentionally picked the wrong person yesterday?” To this Baraka objected, and Chapman sustained for leading the witness. So Kirlin said, “Tell the jury why you picked the wrong person.”
“I’m so afraid,” Khan said through the translator, contradicting what she’d said the day before. “I was so afraid today, and I was so afraid yesterday, that my husband has already died, and something will happen to my children. I was thinking about the future of my children. Somebody will do the same thing to my children, also. In that case, I picked a wrong person. But by purpose.”
Only then did she identify Greg as the killer. She said she had “no doubt.”
Baraka did elect to cross-examine Khan, but his line of questions went nowhere. He asked if she’d talked with her lawyers after the trial the day before. She said they hadn’t. He asked her if the store carried a lot of money in the morning. Finally, he asked her to take him through the morning of the murder. After that, he passed the witness.
The state rested its case.
Baraka didn’t call any new witnesses. Assuming the state hadn’t proved anything beyond a reasonable doubt, he simply rested his case and offered a rambling, incoherent closing argument. First he played the race card: “Something’s wrong here. It almost sounds like the boogeyman theory of America, and we know what that is. The black man was the boogeyman. … What was that Mrs. Smith? Susan Smith? Susan Smith kills her babies. Who did it? A black man did it. Some guy in Boston kills his wife. Who did it? Some black guy did it.”
Then, amazingly, he suggested that a crime hadn’t even been committed: “Today, February 7, 1997, somebody got robbed supposedly. Have you good folks heard one credible piece of evidence that tells you that even a robbery took place?”
Then he bragged to the jury about his trial strategy: “[I]f y’all noticed, I didn’t even cross-examine anybody, really. … We didn’t put on a case because we watched this thing. It didn’t even warrant me cross-examining these people.”
When Baraka finished, Assistant District Attorney Kirlin wasted no time nailing Baraka: “[B]ased on Mr. Baraka’s argument, they’re trying to say they’re not even sure if two people were in there. Where do you go from there? I guess that they want you to think that Miss Khan shot her husband in the chest? Man, that—that’s ludicrous. I think they’re trying to—from their argument, and the lack of cross-examination—that they’re conceding everything that we have to prove.”
Then Kirlin addressed the racial issue: “You know, yeah, it still happens. The race card is used. … That’s the sign of a desperate team over there when they have to use that.”
The jury deliberated for two days. Then it delivered a guilty verdict, a life sentence.
The Dunagan family erupted in the courtroom. As the guards led Greg back to his cell, one of them whispered to him, “Man, you got a raw deal.”
ONE WITNESS LARRY BARAKA COULD HAVE called is Gary Wells. He’s a professor of psychology at Iowa State University and perhaps the world’s foremost expert on eyewitness testimony. His studies led to the development of the sequential lineup, now widely used among law enforcement agencies.
According to his studies and many others, eyewitness testimony is a flawed business. Witnesses to a crime cast their mind back to the event constantly, replaying it again and again, and, unawares, they add new details. “The details they end up forming in their minds are the result of ’filling in the blanks,’ which they confuse for having a good detailed memory,” Wells says.
Another problem is race. People of one race—say, a Pakistani woman, or a white man—have difficulty remembering the facial features of another race—say, that of a black man. “This is one of the best established findings in eyewitness research,” Wells says.
Finally, there is the fear factor to consider. “Fear and stress interfere with your ability to form a true memory,” Wells says. Nowhere was this better documented than in a study of the U.S. Army’s survival school training program in 2004. More than 500 active-duty military personnel enrolled in the survival school. They were placed in mock prisoner-of-war camps and interrogated, sometimes physically, for 40 minutes at a time. A day later, the subjects were asked to identify, from various lineups, who had interrogated them. Sixty-eight percent of the harassed subjects picked the wrong interrogator from a photo lineup.
So if military personnel can’t pick an interrogator from a lineup a day after seeing him for 40 minutes, how likely is it that Frank Kubala, a white man, sees a black man hold a gun to his face for seven seconds, then 18 months later picks him out? “Extremely unlikely,” Wells says.
And what about Ishrat Khan, who couldn’t identify Greg in a photo lineup? “If you can’t do it in a fair test, you can’t do it in a courtroom,” Wells says.
And, remember, the killer had worn a bandanna to cover half of his face, another detail that Baraka neglected to point out to the jury. In an affidavit taken after the trial, Khan said she identified Greg in court “by his eyes.” More than two years had passed since the murder, since she’d seen the killer under highly stressed circumstances and for only seconds, and yet she claimed to be able to identify him just from his eyes. “During my testimony,” she said in the affidavit, “I suppose I never mentioned about the shooter wearing a bandanna covering half of his face because the question was never asked of me.”
And even if Baraka had conceded this point, even if Khan had a gift for facial recognition and could identify the killer just from his eyes, she still said Greg Dunagan was the bandanna-clad robber. And Frank Kubala still said that that Greg Dunagan was the other robber.
Finally, there was the alibi that Baraka ignored. Dawn Williams says that on the day of the murder, Greg was home with her. He was waiting on a visit from his parole officer, Ken Mosier (for the pellet gun robbery when he was 18 years old). Indeed, Mosier’s parole records indicate that on February 7, 1997, he made a visit to Greg’s apartment. The records don’t say what time he visited, and before D Magazine could question Mosier, he suffered a fatal heart attack. But Dawn says she met Mosier around 8:30 that morning, on the staircase behind the apartment complex, heading to work. Greg had just woken up, Dawn says. He was making breakfast for Greg Jr., then 3. The murder occurred at about 6, so, in theory, Greg could have committed it in Grand Prairie and then driven across town to the apartment, in time to fix breakfast for his son. But planning a robbery on the day your parole officer is scheduled to visit would seem an odd choice.
At the trial, Dawn was sworn in as a witness, but Baraka didn’t call her to testify. And perhaps that was the right move. Putting Dawn on the stand, having her talk of meeting the parole officer, would have opened the door for the prosecution to Greg’s criminal past. Still, it is yet another example of the facts that weren’t heard at trial, the defense tactics left unexplored. And there’s yet one more example of this, perhaps the most obvious witnesses that Baraka should have put on the stand: the two jailhouse informants. What about that robber and the two-time murderer who first fingered Greg?
|BIG BROTHER: Kevin was the de facto man of the house when he and Greg were growing up. Photography by Elizabeth Lavin|
GREG HAD A FRIEND, RAYMOUNT SPENCER. People called him Spud. Spud and Greg dated the Williams sisters—Greg with Dawn, Spud with Michelle.
On Christmas Eve 1997, the four of them went for drinks at Fireside, a pool hall in South Dallas. The girls left early to wrap presents. The guys stayed on. Around closing time, a drunk woman whom Spud knew, Kathy Knight, kept asking for money.
“Let’s go,” Greg said to Spud, stopping short the conversation. The two of them headed out the door. Knight began swearing at Greg. He ignored her, but Knight—roughly 5-foot-6 and 230 pounds, 40 years old—was not a woman to be ignored. She smashed a beer bottle over Greg’s mouth. There was screaming, arms flying. The melee spilled into the parking lot, where Knight’s voice carried to her son’s ears. Brandon, 24, lived less than a block from the pool hall. He ran over with his gun.
Spud grabbed the gun as Brandon Knight and Greg got into it. Then Kathy Knight tried wrestling the gun from Spud. She wanted to shoot Greg, according to police reports, but Spud wouldn’t let go, and in the struggle, the gun went off, shooting Spud in the neck. He died a few hours later at Baylor University Medical Center. Kathy Knight was charged with manslaughter.
But one man didn’t see it as Knight’s fault. Spud’s cousin, Dave Spencer, thought Greg was to blame. Spencer was out on parole for a 1986 murder. Dawn Williams calls him a “crazy” guy, with a bloated face and a lean but softening physique that made him look five years older than his 38. Spencer was a guy who boasted of his criminal past in the neighborhood. After Spud’s death, Spencer acquired a 9 mm and an Uzi. And he showed up at Greg and Dawn’s door, asked Greg to come out for a drink. But Greg didn’t go. The only thing he knew of Spencer—only thing he had to know, he says—was his reputation as a killer. And, in fact, on May 23, 1998, Spencer was charged again with murder, this time for killing a man who talked trash about him in South Dallas.
That summer, while he was in the Dallas County Jail, Spencer tipped sheriff’s deputies to the murder in Grand Prairie, telling them that Greg Dunagan was the man they wanted. Spencer’s story was corroborated by another inmate, Eldunta Washington.
But their stories don’t match. And, what’s more, two other men who’ve done time with Spencer have stepped forward to say that not only did Spencer frame Greg, but Spencer himself actually killed Barkat Ali.
Eldunta Washington was the first to tip the authorities. On July 30, in an interview with Grand Prairie Police Sergeant Alan Patton, he said he heard about the Ali murder in 1997, from two men he met at a Dallas nightclub called Park Avenue. But he couldn’t remember exactly when in 1997, and he couldn’t remember the names of the two men—though he told Patton that he had the names written down back in his cell. Patton himself said at a later hearing that he thought this was “odd.”
The next day, July 31, Dave Spencer said he, too, had information about a murder in Grand Prairie. Spencer’s information was much more specific than Washington’s. He wrote a statement saying that on February 9, 1997, at 11 pm, he was at a club in Dallas called Park Avenue, where he met Marcell Daniel and Gregory Duncan or Dugan, and Gregory was wearing a big diamond ring and talking about robbing “some Iranian people” and making off with $60,000. Spencer wrote that a few days after the conversation at Park Avenue, he saw a composite sketch of a man on the local news that looked to be “Gregory.” But Spencer did not come forward to police with the information then.
Three days after Spencer’s written statement to Sergeant Patton, Eldunta Washington offered his own, this one much more detailed than his previous oral statement. Now Washington remembered being at the Park Avenue club with Dave Spencer and meeting Marcell Daniel and Greg Dunagan there. He said this was around Thanksgiving—not in February, as Spencer said in his statement. Washington said Daniel and Greg bragged about all the stores they’d robbed. They wore fine Italian shirts and looked “like drug dealers,” Washington wrote. But in Washington’s written statement, he didn’t include what he’d previously told Patton: that Greg Dunagan and Marcell Daniel had admitted to killing a man.
Did Washington work with Spencer to frame the man Spencer thought was responsible for his cousin’s death? That’s exactly what two other inmates tell D Magazine. The first is named Edmond Washington (no relation). Edmond was 19 and in the Dallas County Jail awaiting trial for murder when Dave Spencer and Eldunta Washington gave their statements. The three men were in a holding tank with 27 other inmates. Edmond says he overheard the informants talking in hushed tones that summer, discussing the convenience store murder.
After Edmond was convicted, he wound up in 2000 at a state prison transfer facility in Tennessee Colony, Texas. Dave Spencer was there, too. At lunch one day in the mess hall, Edmond saw Spencer talking to an inmate named Quenten Jordan. Edmond says he knew then what Spencer had done to Greg. He walked up to him, and, just to mess with Spencer, he said, “Greg says, ‘What’s up.’”
A fight nearly broke out.
Later that week, Edmond and Spencer spoke again. Recalling the conversation, Edmond says he told Spencer, “Man, I know Greg didn’t do this.”
He says Spencer told him, “I did the statement for my cousin Spud.”
Spencer denies saying that. But now even Spencer’s friend Quenten Jordan, the one he was talking to that day in the mess hall, has come forward with what he says is the truth.
Jordan is missing his right front tooth and, with a haggard face, looks every bit his 46 years—roughly 26 of which he’s spent in prison, on three separate robbery convictions. He’ll be in prison for the rest of his life. He says he has nothing to gain by saying what he knows. In fact, he has much to lose, given the way payback is handled behind bars. He’s coming forward because he knows Greg. They’re housed in the same prison in Iowa Park, outside Wichita Falls.
When Jordan was out on parole in the late 1990s, he and Spencer worked together at Trinity Industries in Dallas. By night, Jordan says, the two of them hustled. In fact, the night Spencer killed a man in South Dallas, he hid the gun at Jordan’s house. They were close like that, Jordan says.
Jordan says that Spencer used to brag all the time about his crimes. One day in the fall of 1997, sitting on Jordan’s porch, drinking beer, Spencer said he killed a man in Grand Prairie, the owner of a convenience store. “Some Pakistani guy,” Jordan tells D Magazine. The store owner wouldn’t get Spencer the money fast enough. “Dave said, ‘I had to kill him,’” Jordan says. Again, Spencer says the conversation never took place.
“Look, I’m a criminal man,” Jordan says. “It’s not about justice. I’d just be blowing smoke up your ass. It just so happens that I was involved with [Spencer]. I know Greg, and I know Dave. And I know who’s right and who’s wrong. Greg? That just doesn’t seem right.”
BEHIND THE THICK BULLETPROOF GLASS OF the Iowa Park prison sits a different man. He’s changed physically. Greg Dunagan now weighs 215 pounds, up from 165, most of it muscle. His wavy hair has been shorn to a buzz cut, the thick mustache gone.
And he’s changed emotionally. Greg is no longer the joker, the leader by sheer force of his personality. He’s quiet now, a recluse, really. He hates that, hates that he’s become less than who he was but can find no way to change it. Life anymore is too sad and serious.
He misses things from the outside world so bad it hurts. The way Dawn threw an arm over his side before going to sleep. Waking up on a Sunday, flipping on CNN, unfolding the newspaper, making the kids breakfast. The kids.
But there is little he can do. Greg has run out of appeals. The only judge to find Larry Baraka’s representation “objectively unreasonable,” the clause that after a rigorous consideration lands appellants freedom, was Federal Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan. Those were heady days in 2003, the family thinking Greg might get a new trial. But five months later, in April 2004, United States District Judge Sidney Fitzwater denied Greg’s habeas petition. The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear it.
“The courts, they’re just not sympathetic to claims of ineffective assistance of counsel,” says Robert Udashen, Greg’s appeals lawyer. “I’d like to go ask a judge, ‘Would you want him to represent you like that, judge?’ But that’s not really the legal standard.”
Freedom for Greg is now attainable only through new evidence, evidence that wasn’t available at trial, the sort Edmond Washington and Quenten Jordan provided D Magazine. Given the new information, Udashen says a new trial is a long shot—especially because inmates often have hidden agendas—but he sent out investigators to get affidavits from Washington and Jordan nonetheless.
That cost Kevin $2,000. Greg’s brother is now the top seller at David McDavid Honda in Irving. He has to be. All told, Greg’s defense has cost $60,000. “God has blessed me to make good money,” Kevin says. He still remembers his brother getting him into rehab, saving his life.
It disgusts Greg, the strain he’s put on his brother. But, worse, he isn’t there for his kids anymore. He casts his eyes down when he says this and speaks in an even softer voice. “I always wanted my kids to be able to depend on me,” Greg says, wearing a white prison jumpsuit. Wanting to be the father he never had, Greg has instead become just like his own: absent.
Greg can now only offer his son lectures when he visits him in prison once a month with Kevin. He tells Greg Jr., “Eat your vegetables. Obey your mother. Do your math homework.” Dawn can’t stand to make the trip. Because they never married, Dawn and Greg aren’t allowed contact visits. So seeing Greg behind that glass, but not being able to touch him? No, Dawn would rather write Greg letters once a week.
The boy and Kevin get to sit at a round table with Greg when they visit. They get two hours to themselves, but, really, they are never alone. They’re in a room filled with other visitors, other inmates, and, all around them, the ever-vigilant gaze of guards. It’s tough.
Earlier this year, during one visit, Greg Jr. started sniffling. Greg thought it was the boy’s allergies acting up, so Greg gave him a towel he uses when working in the prison yard.
“Daddy, I want you to come home,” Greg Jr. said and erupted in tears. He said it again and again.
“Son, I can’t,” Greg said. “I’m in prison.”
But there was no consoling the boy and, soon enough, even Kevin was in tears. Trying to calm them all, Greg told his son, “Keep this,” motioning to the towel. It was all he could think of, all he could give of himself.
Greg Jr. left that day with his father’s towel. It now sits, folded, in a drawer at home. Greg Jr. says no one is allowed to use it.