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

   "I accept responsibility for what I did, and I'll never forgive myself for what I did to those kids or how it affected their families," Goodrich says. "But it wasn't all my fault from start to finish. To me, [Person] should be sitting right here next to me. Six years later and I'm still trying to come to terms with that." 

The Trials

Of all the subjects he spoke about, Goodrich is most bothered by his trials and their bizarre plot twists. He squirms in his seat, leans forward on his elbows and shrugs his shoulders with a sigh when asked to assess his legal representation.  

"I know the perception is that I was drunk. I'd probably think that too if I heard some dude ran over three people. I'd think he was drunk off his ass. But I wasn't."
Mark Graham
"I know the perception is that I was drunk. I'd probably think that too if I heard some dude ran over three people. I'd think he was drunk off his ass. But I wasn't."
Former Dallas Cowboy Dwayne Goodrich is serving a 12.5-year sentence in the Wallace Unit in Colorado City for negligent homicide and failure to stop and render aid.
Mark Graham
Former Dallas Cowboy Dwayne Goodrich is serving a 12.5-year sentence in the Wallace Unit in Colorado City for negligent homicide and failure to stop and render aid.

"Look, I don't blame my lawyers or the system, because I should've been sent here," he says. "But did I get adequate counsel? No. I should be home by now."   

At the heart of Goodrich's discontent?

The fact that a quirk in Texas law prevented the jury from considering probation in his case:

If Goodrich had been found guilty of the original charge of manslaughter (recklessly causing the two deaths), which carried punishment range of 2-20 years, the jury could have considered probating his sentence. But the jury returned its guilty verdict on the lesser charge of a negligent homicide (2-10 years), and under the law, which has since been amended,  a defendant convicted of a state jail felony (negligent homicide) involving a deadly weapon (his car) was not eligible for probation. Intoxication manslaughter wasn't an option since Goodrich fled the scene and wasn't available for a Breathalyzer test. "We knew he had been drinking throughout the whole night," recalls Fred Burns who prosecuted the case. "But proving he was drunk beyond a reasonable doubt with bar receipts is almost impossible."

Goodrich, who broke down in tears several times on the stand, testified that he didn't see the accident scene until too late because the SUV was blocking his view, and that he initially thought he'd hit only debris.

"I just panicked and got scared," Goodrich told jurors. "I've never, ever in my life been in any kind of situation like that and didn't know how to handle anything."

Burns attempted to discredit Goodrich's testimony by pointing out that he never mentioned an SUV in his initial police statement; he also questioned why the defendant panicked if he thought he only hit debris.

"You panicked because you saw the faces of the men who bounced over your windshield," Burns said. "The men you killed."

In his closing argument, Burns told the jury that Goodrich was "driving recklessly, pure and simple." After six hours of deliberation, however, Goodrich was convicted of the lesser charge. But because the quirk erased probation from the equation, that lesser charge equaled prison time.

"I didn't know it, they didn't know and the judge didn't even know it," says Goodrich's criminal defense attorney, Reed Prospere, who indicated that prosecutors were alerted to the quirk by the District Attorney's staff over the weekend between conviction and sentencing. "Turned out that the only two offenses ineligible for probation in the state of Texas were capital murder and negligent homicide. It made no sense to anyone."

Because the jury sentenced Goodrich to 75 percent of the maximum penalty, it's unlikely it would have granted Goodrich probation. Nonetheless, Prospere says, the system didn't work in his client's favor.

"Did it make a difference? You can debate that all day long," he says. "Regardless, it's something Dwayne shouldn't have had to deal with."  

It also bothers Goodrich that testimony about Person's accident wasn't allowed into evidence: Prospere contended that Person's initial action played an important, punishable role in the night's events.

   "[Person]'s a drunk, on probation with a DWI, who caused a wreck," Prospere says. "Dwayne didn't create that situation that night. Sure we thought that was admissible, and we tried to get it in. But the judge agreed with the state's position that it was immaterial. He wouldn't allow it."   

Says Dallas attorney Cecil W. "Cas" Casterline, who briefly defended Goodrich in preparation for his appeal, "Fact is, the poor kid wasn't well-defended, and there were forces aligned to make an example out of a Dallas Cowboy." By forces, Casterline means the DA's office, which he feels acted harsher and swifter than usual.   

The tactics of Prospere, who's no longer associated with Goodrich, infuriated Dwayne's father.  "To me, he didn't do anything," Walter Goodrich says. "He showed no effort at all. My son deserved better."

Counters Prospere, "He was represented as well as he could have been represented."  

And Goodrich claims that Burns offered to recommend to Judge Lana McDaniel that his five-year, failure-to-stop-and-render-aid sentence run concurrently if only Goodrich—who pleaded guilty on all three counts—would admit he was drunk the night of the accident: Goodrich says he refused.  "Their lawyers turned me into a monster. But I won't turn myself into a liar."  

"That's pretty powerful stuff," Fletcher later says. "A lot of people wouldn't think twice about lying to stay out of prison for a year or two. That speaks volumes about Dwayne's integrity."

Says Burns, "We discussed a lot of things, but saying I offered to run it 'cc'[concurrently] if he would lie is absurd. That didn't happen." The reason the cases were stacked, he maintains, is because "the facts of the case are horrific. You have two men, risking their lives to save someone, killed as brutally as they were. It's terrible. What more do you need?"   

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