Greg Ott, Free

The philosophy graduate student who was convicted of killing a Texas Ranger in 1978 has finally been released and is getting on with his life.
Homeward bound: Ott (right) with the author on May 25, just after his release.

Greg Ott had been on my mind since January, when I testified at his parole hearing, but until I saw him on May 25, just after he was released from prison, I had seriously doubted this day would ever come. He had been locked up for more than 26 years. Now he was at the Houston duplex of his attorney, Bill Habern, who has represented him pro bono since 1990. I had been following Ott’s case for Texas Monthly since he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Texas Ranger Bobby Paul Doherty during a botched drug raid at Ott’s house, near Denton (“ The Death of a Ranger,” August 1978). I’d trailed him through half a dozen failed parole hearings and had written about him again four years ago (“ Free Greg Ott!,” August 2000).

A model inmate, Ott was caught in a web of politics and recrimination, his case one of the most emotionally explosive the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Board of Pardons and Paroles have faced. It made no difference to the Rangers that the fatal shot was unintentional and not an act of cold-blooded murder. Retired Ranger captain Bob Prince, in particular, had made it his mission to keep him locked up. Ott had been approved for parole in 1990 and again in 1999, but each time, the parole board reversed itself at the last minute, buckling under an avalanche of protests orchestrated by Prince.

Now 53, Ott was frailer and grayer than when I’d last seen him, but that glaze of submission in his eyes was softer and livelier. He had already lined up a job as a maintenance man at a shopping center in the Orlando area, near where his sister and elderly parents live. At the time of his arrest, Ott was a brilliant graduate student in philosophy at North Texas State (now

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