“We were all a little crazy,” one friend would later say. She and his mother stood behind him, crying, when the verdict was read.“Greg was a little crazier.” He cussed out his mom. As his tormentor went to open the passenger door, he noticed the man’s wallet sitting on the dashboard. He was rinsing off again in the saltwater when a police officer found him. Granny’s confidence had always kept him going, but it wasn’t enough now to be strong. Stronger than everyone he was about to meet—and meaner, more dangerous. As soon as he got to prison, he began lifting weights.
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In between the pranks and the chivalry, he began acting deranged, picking fights with grown men, jumping from the hood of a speeding car onto an eighteen-wheeler, riding his bike off the roof of a two-story apartment building into a pool. After that, Greg told his mom, he didn’t trust anyone, didn’t care if he lived or died. He was sent, in May 1994, to an alternative incarceration program, the Roach Boot Camp Unit, near Childress.
His high school buddies could be unruly too—they all broke curfews, drank, fought—but Greg seemed to harbor a death wish. The days were brutal and militaristic—early-morning drills, long marches—but five months later he was released, still on probation. He and Joellene started dating, they soon became parents, and he landed his gig at Mack Trucks, making good money and attending the company’s on-site training school. And then came a hot June afternoon, when all he’d wanted to do was relax in the pool and play a little volleyball with some friends.“Be strong,” Granny had said that day in the courtroom, right before they took him away in handcuffs.
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.
Down the way, there’s another trailer, one that may or may not be a meth lab; Greg is certain the people who live there are speed freaks. He stops and listens to the bleating of his neighbor’s goats. He climbs into his truck and sets out for Midlothian, about 25 miles west, to do work for a friend who installs wood flooring. His ears still burn when he thinks about it—and he thinks about it all the time. Greg sucks in his breath, tightens his grip on the wheel.
At forty, he’s still boyish, with short brownish-blond hair and pale blue eyes.