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Greg Kelley spent 1,153 days in prison before he was exonerated. Now, he'll play football at EMU

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Eastern Michigan has landed its most high-profile recruit in years.

Greg Kelley, a former Texas high-school standout who was wrongfully convicted of two child sexual-assault charges and was completely exonerated in November 2019, has received a full scholarship to play at Eastern, he wrote on Instagram on Saturday and the university confirmed.

Greg Kelley, left, on the day he was officially exonerated in November 2019.

Kelley was convicted in 2014 and sentenced to at least 25 years in prison with the possibility of parole. He was released on bond in 2017, and sufficiently proved his innocence.

Kelley, a safety, had tried walking on at Texas this fall, but Texas wasn't accepting walk-ons this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I want to thank everyone at @easternmichigan for giving me this opportunity to play the game I love again," Kelley wrote on Instagram. "I missed it so much and I can’t wait to pad up this week!"

It's not clear when Kelley, 25, will get to play. The Mid-American Conference remains committed to a spring season, though its presidents met Saturday to discuss the possibility of reinstating a fall season. The MAC presidents didn't reach a decision; one is expected this week.

READ ABOUT GREG KELLEY'S CONVICTION AND EXONERATION

Kelley, committed to Texas-San Antonio at the time, was arrested in 2013, when he was a high-school senior. He was alleged to have sexually abused two young boys at an in-home daycare, and the following year, he was convicted and sentenced. There were significant holes in the case, though, even after conviction — the child never properly identified Kelley, in a photo, as the perpetrator, and the lead detective never interviewed Kelley, and admitted asking leading questions while interviewing the young boys.

Also, Kelley's attorney had done legal work for the family of the man who eventually admitted to the crime for which Kelley was accused and convicted.

Kelley declined a plea deal that would've kept him out of prison, and in July 2014 was convicted by a jury of two counts of super-aggravated sexual assault of one boy. The charge by the other boy was dismissed.

One petition was denied in September 2014, and an appeal was denied in 2016. But in 2017, his new lawyer filed a new petition, claiming Kelley had received an inadequate legal defense in the first trial, and that the lead detective conducted a faulty investigation. He was released on bond in August 2017, a districtcourt judge recommended the conviction be overturned in December 2017, and last Nov. 6, it became official.

Multiple judges wrote that Kelley was an innocent man, not just freeing him based on technicalities.

The other suspect, Johnathan McCarty, is the son of the woman who ran the daycare, and once was a high-school friend and roommate of Kelley's. They were living together at the time of the alleged incidents. McCarty is now in prison on unrelated drug charges.

Kelley's case has been well-documented, including in the Showtime series, "Outcry."

"Mr. Kelley is an exonerated man in the eyes of the law, and an eligible student-athlete in the eyes of the NCAA," Eastern athletic director Scott Wetherbee said in a statement Saturday." I encourage you to look into his background with the significant coverage that his story has generated, so you can get a full understanding of the case. As with any student-athlete, we would provide him the same academic and personal resources that are provided to all within our institution, and will hold him to the same standards as every other student-athlete on campus. Eastern Michigan is not looking to become part of a story in which it does not belong, but rather to serve as the first chapter in the next facet of a young man's life. We look forward to helping Mr. Kelley succeed in his academics and on the playing field."

Said football coach Chris Creighton: "We take matters like this very seriously. We believe that much of Greg's youth has been taken away from him and we want to give him the opportunity to live out his dream of playing Division I football."

Neal Neathery, Eastern Michigan's assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, recruited Kelley to Ypsilanti. Neathery first recruited Kelley when he was on the staff at Texas-San Antonio.

Earlier this year, Kelley filed a wrongful-conviction lawsuit against the city of Cedar Park, Texas, the city's former police chief and the police department's lead investigator on the case. The city and the police department have yet to honor the supporters of Kelley, who've demanded an apology.

Kelley was in prison for 1,153 days, and on bond for 1,149 more days.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984