March 29, 2007
Freed death row inmate talks at Queens College
By Howard Koplowitz, Times Ledger
"My nightmare started May 31, 1985," former Oklahoma death row inmate Greg
Wilhoit told the audience of about 40 students assembled in a second-floor
classroom at CUNY Law School at Queens College.
On that day, Wilhoit's wife Kathy, from whom he had been separated for three
weeks, was found murdered with her throat cut and strangled with a telephone
cord inside her Tulsa apartment.
Wilhoit's subsequent arrest, conviction and death penalty sentence is one of
four murder convictions documented in John Grisham's first non-fiction book,
"The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town." The book is
sharply critical of the death penalty in the legal system, particularly in
In Kathy Wilhoit's case, nobody was seen entering or leaving her apartment.
None of the hairs found matched those belonging to Greg Wilhoit and there
was an unidentified footprint at the scene.
"In fact, there was not one iota of evidence that put me (at) the crime
scene," Wilhoit said. "To this day, I still don't understand this."
But eight months after the murder, police showed up at Wilhoit's home.
"They just threw me in the back of the police car and took me to the Tulsa,
Okla., jail," he said.
After staying at the jail for two days, Wilhoit was released on $50,000
bond. Police never told them why they were holding him, but when he asked
they said it was for capital murder. They said his wife had been sexually
assaulted and bite marks on her breasts were linked to him.
Although he maintained his innocence, Wilhoit understood why the cops were
"I knew right off the bat they had to give me a pretty hard look," he said.
Since he lived alone, Wilhoit did not have an alibi that could be
He said he hired "two jokers" who were highly recommended lawyers for
$25,000 cash to handle his case.
"These guys were supposed to be my zealous advocates," he said, but instead
they advised him to cop a plea because the bite marks were "smoking guns."
After firing those lawyers, Wilhoit hired a local attorney who also turned
out to be incompetent. He did not know it at the time, but the second lawyer
had been cited by the Oklahoma Bar Association for operating without a
At his trial, the prosecution put on the stand what Wilhoit called two "bite
mark experts" who said that evidence amounted to a fingerprint that can only
belong to one person and Wilhoit was that person.
"These two guys were very convincing," he said, noting that he would have
convicted himself if he were on the jury. "I could see the writing on the
wall, there was no doubt about it."
It took only three hours of deliberations for the jury to convict Wilhoit.
He did not put on any witnesses during the penalty phase, resigning himself
"I wanted the death penalty because I wanted to cut my losses," he said.
"The way I looked at it, I took the easy way out."
In 1 hours, the jury returned with a death sentence.
"I actually felt relief getting my death sentence," Wilhoit said.
He was sent to cell 13 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1987, a maximum
security prison where he was alongside Roger Dale Stanton and Chuck Coleman.
Wilhoit said they would terrorize other inmates who they hated or those who
had something they wanted.
"Fortunately, they liked me and I didn't have jack s---," he said.
Six months into his sentence, Wilhoit was appointed a public defender to
handle his appeal.
The attorney, Mark Barrett, was able to get the bite mark evidence reviewed
two years later. Barrett hired experts, including the FBI and the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police, to sift through the marks.
They found more than 20 inconsistencies with the marks, Wilhoit said, even
though one inconsistency was enough to clear him.
Their testimony was heard at his appeal and Barrett filed a motion to have
the case dismissed. The judge said Wilhoit was free to go in 1993.
"It was quite a moment," he said. "It was just a wild, wild emotional ride."
It turned out that the prosecution experts testifying about the bite marks
at Wilhoit's trial were not experts at all. He said one was just out of
dental school and read a book about forensic evidence and the other taught
dental ethics at a local community college.
Kathy Wilhoit's case remains unsolved.
Although he was a staunch death penalty supporter before his arrest and even
while on death row, Wilhoit changed his mind in a spiritual epiphany when
Coleman became the first man in Oklahoma to be executed in 32 years.
He said Coleman had been a friend of his in prison and although Coleman was
a murderer, he "actually had a capacity for kindness."
"I changed my mind because my friend got executed," he said. "The
cornerstone of Christianity is forgiveness.
After his release, Wilhoit left Oklahoma, where he said he "felt like a
square peg in a place filled with round holes" because of his left-leaning
politics. He has since moved to Sacramento, Calif., and now spends his time
visiting colleges and churches speaking out against the death penalty.
Source : Times Ledger