Rotting away in jail

Kevin Young earned his trip to the Dallas County jail, but no one deserves what happened to him there

Everyone in the Kevin Young story has a story. Everybody's covered. But if everybody's covered, and if everybody has a story, then how could this have happened? Can a man -- any man, woman, human being -- literally rot in jail, almost until his limbs fall off, while he waits for years to be tried?

One thing must be said at the very beginning. It's Kevin Young's fault he was in jail. He says that much himself.

"I done this to myself," he mutters softly, barely audible over the thrum of the big floor-stand fan in his small room in Tri-City Hospital on Scyene Road in southern Dallas. "I have to live with what I done."

The hospital wing of the jail is run by the county health department, not the sheriff.
The hospital wing of the jail is run by the county health department, not the sheriff.

He doesn't talk about the crime in detail, but he certainly doesn't protest his innocence, and he says he told the prosecutor he would testify against his accomplices.

He's 22 years old now, handsome, muscular from the waist up. The withered lower half of his body is shrouded in bed sheets clutched with one hand. Four years ago he graduated from Lincoln High School. The high school is closed for the summer, and his records are stored there. The school district can confirm only that he graduated. It can't say what his grade-point average was until the school reopens, but his family says he earned straight A's. His basketball trophies fill a carefully dusted shelf in his grandmother's home on Exline in old South Dallas. The family says he was offered a full basketball scholarship to a college in Florida.

But he never made it off the streets of South Dallas. He visited the college in Florida, but never returned for classes. Within a year of graduating from Lincoln, he was arrested for selling marijuana.

His mother, Patricia, had raised him alone. They were very close, according to Young's grandmother and aunt. Patricia was eaten alive by fear of what would happen to him. While he awaited trial, she suffered a stroke.

When she lay dying in her hospital bed, she told relatives, "I can't go until I know what's going to happen to my Kevin." A month after her death at age 37, Young was given five years' probation on a misdemeanor drug-selling charge. He was a pallbearer at her funeral.

After his mother's death, Young went dark. Lurking inside him there may still have been a grief-wracked, guilt-stricken kid, but as far as the world was concerned, the young man out on the street every day was a stone-eyed, bandanna-wearing badman like the rest of them.

Police say Young was with Brian Patrick Griffin, who was two years younger than he, and Joshua Lewis, two years older, when the young men kicked in the front door of a drug house in the 3400 block of Latimer, at the southern edge of South Dallas, at 12:27 a.m. on November 9, 1997. Young says he was not carrying a gun. The police say he was carrying a .22-caliber handgun. Griffin had a 20-gauge shotgun, and Lewis was carrying a .38-caliber pistol. Their object was to steal drugs.

Young knocked, according to the police. He must have been familiar to the man inside, Anthony Hymes, because Hymes opened the door to him. Griffin rushed in with the shotgun, pointed it at Hymes, and squeezed the trigger, but the gun misfired. That gave Hymes the split second he needed to draw his own 9mm handgun and lift it to Griffin's face.

Griffin threw down the shotgun and went for Hymes' gun. They struggled, and during the struggle several shots were fired. When the fight was over, Griffin held the gun and Hymes had been shot several times, fatally. Lewis fled on foot. Young, the all-A basketball star who had been offered a full-ride scholarship the year before, was dragging himself to the house next door with a bullet in his spine, paralyzed from the waist down.

He is still paralyzed. No one has ever told him that his condition is permanent, and he talks of learning to walk again. But since he was shot, Kevin Young has not been in the kind of world where people get expensive tests and physical therapy. Young has been in the world where people get jail food and gangrene. The thing one doesn't want to say out loud, sitting by his bed, is that recovery -- whatever the possibilities might have been the night he was shot -- looks like a long shot now.

No one knows who shot Young -- Hymes or Griffin. No one really cares. He was there. He was an accessory to a gun murder for gain, a capital crime. As far as the law is concerned, he was just as involved in Anthony Hymes' murder as Griffin, even if Griffin pulled the trigger. The three of them went there with guns and intent to steal. A man was killed. The law says all three killed him.

On the other hand, it was a drug thing. By the moral math of the courthouse, the death of one more drug dealer is a less weighty matter than the death of a law-abiding citizen. Eventually, through the good offices of defense attorney Doug Parks, Brian Patrick Griffin was able to bargain down his capital murder charge, which would have carried a minimum penalty of life in prison, to a lesser non-capital murder charge. Griffin took a 10-year sentence in Huntsville. Parks declined to discuss the particulars of the plea bargain, but 10 years is obviously quite a bit better than life and much better than death, assuming you want to live. Joshua Lewis, who ran away, wound up with seven years on a second-degree robbery charge.

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