Cornerback Dwayne Goodrich: "The Cowboy Who Killed Those Kids"

Former cornerback Dwayne Goodrich comes to grips with his hit-and-run of three Good Samaritans as he plans for life after prison

Wallace Unit is a medium-security prison housing 1,300 criminals. Today, inside the miles of chain-link fence topped with rolling razor wire, armed guards in watch towers eye inmates playing basketball, sitting idly in the sun and planting flowers in the garden. 

Entry into the interview area—a bare, 10-by-15-foot room with two doors, round metal stools and a concrete table—reveals that there's a certain amount of freedom to Goodrich's confinement. In fact, his good behavior has earned him inclusion among Wallace's 65 "trustees," allowing him to roam the grounds unsupervised and work as a janitor in the chapel rather than digging holes in nearby fields.  

In here, he can be "written up" for the tiniest thing—untied shoes, sagging pants—but Goodrich's slate is pristine.  

As a Dallas Cowboys cornerback for three seasons, Goodrich's career was a disappointment. On December 8, 2002, in Texas Stadium, Goodrich trailed behind then-San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens as he scored the game-winning touchdown.
REUTERS/Ronald Martinez
As a Dallas Cowboys cornerback for three seasons, Goodrich's career was a disappointment. On December 8, 2002, in Texas Stadium, Goodrich trailed behind then-San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens as he scored the game-winning touchdown.
Goodrich slammed his BMW into three Good Samaritans, killing two of them and maiming the third. In trial, he testified he thought he had hit "debris."
Mark Graham
Goodrich slammed his BMW into three Good Samaritans, killing two of them and maiming the third. In trial, he testified he thought he had hit "debris."

"Offender Goodrich is more or less a model inmate," Wallace Warden Jason Heaton later says. "He's one of the ones who sets the right example of how to do your time. He doesn't abuse his celebrity."  

During a 90-minute interview there are stark reminders—slamming metal doors, inmates in shackles—that Goodrich is closer to Death Valley than Valley Ranch. But his is anything but a Spartan existence.  

"County was more my wake-up call, like 'What have I gotten myself into?'" Goodrich says. "In there, I was confined to one room all day. This isn't so bad."  

Trustees have access to a commons area complete with daily newspapers and cable TV. Goodrich, a Chicago native, remains a Bears' fan, but says one of the four TVs is always reserved for the Cowboys.  

"The feeling in here is that there's too many distractions for the Cowboys to go to the Super Bowl," he says. "Pacman and T.O. and Romo's injury and Wade Phillips looking over his shoulder at Jason Garrett. It can't work that way." 

Goodrich awakes each morning at 5:45. By 6:30 he is in the warden's office, making coffee and organizing paperwork for officers. In between his custodial duties, working out and a cognitive intervention class, he finds time to shove down the slop in the chow hall.    

He says inmates recognized him as a former Cowboy "before I put my stuff up," though no member of the organization has ever paid him a visit. It's the sporadic appearances of his family and the promise of parole that get him through most days.  

"I've visited three times, and it's always shocking," says Goodrich's brother, Steve, over the phone from Chicago. "Dwayne's a good kid. But in a way this has been good for him. It's slowed him down and put everything back inside of him. You can tell he has his feet on the ground now."  

By Christmas, Goodrich will have spent 1,200 days behind bars. Because the court found that he had used his car as a deadly weapon, Texas law requires him to serve half of his original seven-year sentence—45 months—before he's eligible for parole. His parole hearing is scheduled for May. But because the five years for leaving the scene of the accident was tacked on to the end of his first sentence, he'll have to serve at least 20 more months before he becomes eligible for parole on the second sentence.   

Unless, that is, his Dallas-based attorney, Doug Fletcher, can convince a federal court in a habeas corpus proceeding to allow Goodrich's sentences to run concurrently instead of consecutively. For that to happen, Fletcher will need to convince Laura Wood to sign an affidavit giving her blessing to Goodrich's early parole release. If the sentences aren't combined, the earliest he can make parole is 2011. If they are, he could be a free man in 150 days.

Fletcher plans to call Wood after the holidays."She needs to know that Dwayne is very understanding that her interests need to be addressed," says Fletcher last week from his 16th-floor office overlooking NorthPark Center. "But having him in prison isn't helping anyone."

Goodrich's mother, Pam, is gathering evidence for these proceedings, recruiting acquaintances—like his former Tennessee teammate, kicker Jeff Hall, and his old Richards High School (Oak Lawn, Illinois) football coach, Jim Bolhuis, to write supportive letters to the Board of Pardon and Paroles. 

"Dwayne has a choice to stay in the night of the accident and never move on, or to get on with his life and make amends to those families and be a positive role model in this world," says Pam recently from her home in Tampa. "It'll take a long time, but he's willing—even though his whole life was turned upside down in the blink of an eye."  

The Accident 

Goodrich doesn't flinch when the topic turns to the night of the accident.  

"My accident," he calls it.

Monday, January 13, 2003 was boring. A 5-11 Cowboys season had prompted Jones to hire Bill Parcells as head coach two weeks earlier, but this was the off-season. Goodrich, who had one year left on his original four-year, $1.6 million contract, was coming off an underwhelming season in which he made his first and only NFL start, but managed just eight tackles and one pass defense in 11 games.

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