Greg Wilhoit spent five years of his life on death row for a crime that he did not commit. He received a full exoneration in 1993, but life is still a struggle for Greg.
"At the sentencing," Wilhoit said, "the judge told me I was to die by lethal injection. Then he said, 'But if that fails, we'll kill you by electrocution. If the power goes out, we'll hang you. If the rope breaks, we'll take you out back and shoot you.'"
On June 1, 1985, Greg's wife Kathy was brutally murdered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, leaving Greg to raise two little girls 4 months and 14 months old. Almost a year later Greg was arrested and charged with Kathy's murder because two dental "experts", one of whom had been out of dental school less than a year, testified that a bite mark found on Kathy's body matched Greg's teeth.
Greg's parents hired an attorney who had a reputation as one of the top defense attorneys in Oklahoma to represent him. Unfortunately, in the preceding years the attorney had become an alcoholic and had developed alcohol-related brain damage. He embodied the definition of an incompetent attorney and did no preparation whatsoever for Greg's trial. He appeared in court drunk, threw up in the judge's chambers, and literally put on no defense. Greg was consequently found guilty and sentenced to death.
Greg was assigned an attorney, Mark Barrett, from the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System to handle his appeal. Barrett was convinced of Greg's innocence and worked tirelessly for over 4 years to help correct a terrible wrong. The 12 top forensic odontologists in the country examined the bite mark evidence and all 12 testified that the bite mark could not possibly be Greg's. Greg was eventually granted a new trial and was out on bail for two years while the District Attorney decided whether or not to retry the case. A second trial was held in 1993, but after the prosecution presented their case (without the bite mark evidence) the judge issued a directed verdict of innocence and Greg was cleared of all charges.
Greg lost 8 years of his life, the opportunity to raise his two daughters, his livelihood, and his physical and mental health. He now lives off social security checks because he continues to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has never received an apology or one penny in compensation. In 2003, the Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly to award exonerated inmates $200,000 for their time served in prison. However, Greg has yet to receive any compensation. Greg is trying to get on with his life, but it's not easy to get over the nightmarish trauma of those eight years.
For a long time after he was exonerated and released from Oklahoma's death row, Greg Wilhoit didn't know what to do with his life. He drank a lot and holed himself up in a little house in Oklahoma, its own sort of jail cell. He panicked when a police cruiser drove by, certain that law enforcement stood ready to wrongly target him again. He sank into depression.
Then he moved to Sacramento. While the fallout of five years behind bars in Cell 13 of the state penitentiary for a murder someone else committed is lasting, Wilhoit, 48, has found a calling. He's changing the world "a little, bitty corner at a time." That might seem almost fanciful, so go ahead, check it out sometime if you don't believe it. Or even if you do.
Greg makes the rounds these days, telling his story to law school classes, churches, civic organizations -- to almost anyone willing to listen.
Greg was featured in John Grisham's book, "The Innocent Man" (Grisham's first non-fiction book).