$120. That's what crack dealer Gregory "Little Greg" Stewart was trying to collect as he repeatedly beat customer Rick Galloway in the head seven years ago on a Houston street corner.
Injured, Galloway scrambled into a friend's nearby home to try to get away, but Stewart crept inside the house and delivered a final sucker punch to the back of Galloway's skull, bursting a blood vessel inside his brain. Galloway stumbled back outside, where he collapsed and started to convulse.
Four days later, Galloway's sister, Regina Cleggs, pulled the plug on her brother, who lay brain-dead at Memorial Hermann Hospital. Houston police charged Stewart with murder.
During the following year, Stewart's attorney carved out a sweet deal with Harris County prosecutors. Stewart, who two years earlier had been sentenced to 12 months in county jail for possession of cocaine, agreed to plead guilty if the murder charge was dropped to aggravated assault. And so it was. In April 2002, a judge sentenced Stewart to five years in prison and ordered him to pay Cleggs $7,000 in restitution when and if Stewart made parole.
For years, Cleggs waited patiently at her home outside Cleveland, Ohio. It wasn't a lot of money, she knew, but it would certainly help.
Cleggs had adopted her brother's eldest son, Davonte Parker, who was nine when Galloway died, and she paid for several years of daily grief therapy for him. A neck injury and several spinal surgeries around that same time meant Cleggs could no longer earn a living as a nurse, but she and her husband, who worked for the local power company, still managed to help out with her brother's two other sons — Joshua McKinnley and DiYon Flantroy — who each lived with their respective mothers.
On top of that, Cleggs paid to drive to Houston when Galloway lay on life support and covered the costly funeral and medical bills.
Galloway did not leave much in the way of money. A few months before dying, he had moved from Ohio to Houston to receive pricey kidney dialysis treatment at Memorial Hermann in an attempt to prolong his life. Galloway was in end-stage renal failure, a result, says Cleggs, of years of taking heavy doses of antibiotics that attacked his liver following an accident.
Stewart was paroled in May 2005, four years into his prison sentence. According to the court order, that meant he had 12 months to pay Cleggs the $7,000 he owed her. Not a lot of time, thought Cleggs, but not an impossible amount of money, either.
Cleggs assumed the money would begin trickling in. "It took several months to get the first check and then there was like a five-month gap before the second one. I got $85 the first time and $60 the second time." She kept the receipts.
As it turned out, that second check was the final transaction between Cleggs and Stewart.
Once Stewart's parole ended in 2006, he was successfully discharged; the state had washed its hands and officials could do nothing to make him pay the remaining restitution. As far as Texas was concerned, Stewart had met his obligations.
A four-month Houston Press investigation reveals that more than 90 percent of the 5,133 parolees across Texas who have been successfully discharged in the last five years still owe their victims court-ordered restitution.
"I'm really fed up with seeing major stories in the newspapers where defendants are court-ordered to pay restitution," says Andy Kahan, the City of Houston's crime victims advocate. "I knew that sounded good on the news, but the chances of them paying their restitution was slim to none. I had a better chance of growing my hair back than victims had of getting what was owed to them."
The Houston Press originally intended to investigate restitution payments by probationers and parolees. Probation, run by the county, is given instead of jail or prison; parole, run by the state, is for offenders who are released from prison before their sentence is over. This soon, however, proved to be problematic.
The Press filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act asking for a list of probationers in Harris County over the past five years who had been discharged even though they still owed restitution, including names, how much they paid and owe. The county's Community Supervision & Corrections Department denied the request, saying state district court judges have decided not to release information located in probationers' files, which county attorneys say is allowed under state law.
Six months earlier, however, Kahan requested nearly identical information from the same department and received a letter stating that the data was in fact available, but would cost $1,142. Kahan says he declined "their kind offer."
The state parole division, which falls under the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, was somewhat more accommodating when Kahan asked it for information. Free of charge, he received a list of parolees supervised in Harris County, their discharge dates, what they owed and how much they'd paid.