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Leaving Morgan with a babysitter, the two caught a ride with another couple, a pair of high school friends: Brenda Hines,* a tall 23-year-old with dark hair, and John Cornelison, a good-looking warehouse worker and Greg’s best friend.
With them was Brenda’s son, a sensitive boy named Luke.* At the pool, the group cracked open beers and cranked up the radio, and soon there were nine or ten of them, laughing and telling old stories.
Luke, one of four children at the party, splashed at one end of the pool, and among the adults, a volleyball game broke out. He hadn’t eaten that morning, and now he was starving. It was all a mistake, Greg tried to say; he just needed a chance to tell his story. This trait had put him at odds with his father, a quiet, sometimes brooding plumber named Mike who worked late and didn’t have time for foolishness.
Greg, his mind and body fuzzy from the night before, felt reinvigorated by the water. Then Luke announced he needed to go to the bathroom. Brenda had downed several beers by that point, and John offered to walk the boy to Donna’s apartment. Inside the small one-bedroom, he raided Donna’s refrigerator while she got on the phone. But three months later, he found himself in the same courtroom with Brenda as she described the party to Judge Thomas Thorpe, a 67-year-old devout Catholic: how she’d seen her son come back to the pool with a scared look on his face, how he’d told her what Greg had done with the hot dog, how she’d flown into a rage. An old-fashioned disciplinarian who wasn’t afraid to use the belt, he whipped his son often and hard. “You can’t hurt me,” he’d taunt back, finding strength in defiance.
He’s a brawny 185 pounds, with thick muscles that run along his shoulders and down his calves. He kisses them both goodbye, then walks outside, into the glare of bright floodlights in the yard.
He gazes at the tattoos covering his broad chest and upper arms, a swirling mural of demons, skulls, and angry faces. The family lives in a double-wide trailer on a dead-end street just outside tiny Ferris, about twenty miles southeast of Dallas. To his left, toward the end of the cul-de-sac, there’s a yard piled with tires, cinder blocks, rusted bikes, and crumpled blue tarps, guarded by a tied-up dog.
At forty, he’s still boyish, with short brownish-blond hair and pale blue eyes.
He brushes his teeth, the front ones prosthetic, and straightens to his full five foot eleven inches. He puts on a pot of coffee, turns on the computer, reads the news. His wife, Ticey, and their four-year-old, Anthony, won’t rise for a couple of hours.
Even now, Greg can’t really explain why he did what he did. Greg had told him to bend over, Luke said, and then “stucked it in my bottom a little.” The case was clear, the judge declared. His depravity was only confirmed by his history: Greg, it was revealed during trial, was already on probation for burglary, assault, and selling speed. He stood as the judge read his sentence: ten years for breaking his probation and twelve for aggravated sexual assault of a child, to run concurrently. He was smart too, playing chess for hours with his uncle Jackie when the man lay paralyzed in a hospital bed after a motorcycle wreck. “You could have told me.” Though his mother called the youth-group leader, sobbing, chastising him for not doing a proper head count on the bus all those years ago, the church could offer little more than counseling.
This was how he’d ended up at the Middleton Unit, in Abilene, in a white uniform that might as well have had a scarlet P emblazoned on it. He developed a wicked sense of humor, with a penchant for playing pranks—placing a dead bug on a girl’s pager, leaving a dead mackerel under the driver’s seat of a friend going on a big date, tying fishing line to a dead squirrel and making it jump around like a puppet. But as he moved through adolescence, he got more and more foolhardy, his brashness fueled by a rage that seemed to overtake him—an inner, howling fury he couldn’t quite explain. The next day, as the other kids went fishing, he stayed at the cabin. When his father heard the story, tears welled in his eyes—the first time Greg had ever seen him cry. It seemed too late to go to the police; during the time he’d spent moving around and crashing at friends’ places, Greg had lost the wallet and no longer had any proof. He pleaded guilty to the burglary and meth charges, received probation for the first and ten years for the second.
They are a reminder of the evil inside him, a violence that’s always waiting to be loosed. He stares into his eyes, which are inviting, almost kind. It’s far from any school playground, any park, any restaurant that might serve chicken fingers or ice cream. Across the road sits a trailer occupied by a dozen immigrants, he doesn’t know from where.