The Innocent Man
September 9, 2019
This multi-part series will be examining various aspects of the Debra Sue Carter and Denice Haraway cases. The new evidence and judge’s ruling for a re-trial for Karl Fontenot have brought this case back into the public eye.
The Innocent Man case re-opens
Some people may have read the book, The Innocent Man by John Grisham. Some people may have seen the Netflix Exclusive TV Series that chronicles the events in the book. And some people, like me, live within the small, rural town where this injustice occurred.
Many kids my age have no idea that our hometown harbored two of the most controversial murder cases that have occurred in the past 30 years. But what makes them controversial is not that the murders occurred — this is an awful reality facing every city in America. The controversy stems from the alleged wrongful conviction of four men for truly shockingly heinous killings in cases permeated by allegations of evidence withholding, coerced false confessions and a myriad of other misdeeds. The facts below are undisputed.
On the night of December 8, 1982 a young bartender, Debra Sue Carter, was brutally raped and murdered in her apartment. The apartment, which still stands today, is accessible by an alley across the way from a small community church. Her body and furniture were covered in misspelled messages. Ronald Keith Williamson and Dennis Fritz, both locals, were both convicted of her murder on April 11, 1988.
Less than two years later, on April 28, 1984, Denice Haraway disappeared from her job at a local gas station. Her body was found two years later on January 20,1986. Her alleged killers were convicted months before her body was discovered. The convicted men confessed to stabbing and burning her body. Haraway’s remains were found with evidence of a gunshot wound to the skull, with no evidence of being burned.
In 1999, new DNA evidence on the Debra Sue Carter case exonerated Williamson and Fritz. Williamson was released just five days before his execution. The DNA evidence, the spermatoza, matched a State witness, Glen Gore.
Williamson and Fritz filed a lawsuit against Pontotoc County and settled for an undisclosed amount of money. Williamson died at age 51. Fritz has now written a book on the matter.
Karl Fontenot, previously convicted of Haraway’s murder, has uncovered new evidence that was withheld from him at the time of trial, as outlined in a 190-page opinion by a federal court judge. He was ordered to be released or retried in 120 days.
Injustice reins in Ada, Oklahoma
Imagine this, you’re at a party and having the time of your life and then all the sudden you’re called into the police station with a friend. You’re being accused of murder and a handful of other things. That’s insane right? Days of unlawful questioning tactics, you’re charged with said allegations follow suit. This would never happen in our beloved town right? Surely someone would have caught this mess up before 30 years of being wrongly incarcerated for the murder of Denise Haraway, nope. This is the case for Tommy Ward and Karl Fotenot more recently.
These men gave a ‘confession’ and none of the aspects added up with the remains that were found well after they’d been given life in prison. Ward said that he had stabbed her, giving clear details about where the lesions were located on her body. Ward said that they dumped her body at an abandoned warehouse west of Ada and buried her under the floorboards, then set the place ablaze. The men even described the clothing she was allegedly wearing, a light-colored, brown button down top with blue flowers and ruffled sleeves. You’ll see that every detail pointed away from Ward and Fontenot.
Upon finding Haraway’s body, two years later, none of this evidence was corroborated. Her body was recovered in Gerty which is 30 miles away from Ada in Hughes County. Her body was found (just bones at this point) with a single gun shot wound as the cause of death. There was no marks on the bones consistent with being stabbed nor were the bones charred as if they’d been set on fire. Bits of clothes and jewelry were found at the scene but was not documented nor taken for evidence but they did not match the alleged outfit in the confession.
Later evidence showed fractures in her pelvic bones, consistent with giving birth but the police never looked nor recovered a fetal bones. Nobody knew of a child, she was a senior in college with no child. This leads to an askew timeline, if she was allegedly murdered on that same night she was kidnapped, then how did she suddenly have a mysterious child.
This isn’t the only inconsistency. The Pontotoc County District Attorney’s office has proved their incompetence. The sitting District Attorney (DA) withheld information from defense attorneys which obviously impacted the extent that the defense could defend the accused. They did not do their job in giving the proper information. There was boxes that was withheld from legal council. It’s kind of like the recording on a tape in Ron’s case that was witheld because they lied about it’s contents. The office stated it was a polygraph which is inadmissible in court but in reality it was a two hour interview. This tape contains a repetitive phrase from Ron “I’m innocent you know, I had nothing to do with this.” Which Ada police tried to weasel a different answer out of Ron but it was the same every time. There are possibly things like this in Fontenot’s case as well –lost tapes, interviews, witness accounts.
The police arrested the first name that came up and called in a night. Their investigations and methods have many things wrong with them. Officers kept the accused up for days, releasing information that they shouldn’t have to the sleep deprived young men. Then allowed them to go home, and naturally they had a dream about a murder and later told police about it. They took this as a confession. Throughout the video the officer repeatedly gives leading questions to Ward instead of asking the regularly conducted questions of an interview. Even the line of questioning dripped with bias, and an unspoken conviction. Bill Peterson, the standing DA, stated that both men (Ward and Fontenot) provided the same description of her blouse but in the tapes the details are completely different.
In many of the cases they had a jailhouse snitch, Terri Holland for BOTH cases that provided false testimony from within the jail. When the assistant DA, Chris Ross, was approached with this ‘coincidence’ and questioned about the reliability of these jailhouse snitches. He responded with, “Do you mean Terri?” followed with “Well, we like to say she has a c-spot.. you know a c-spot for confessions..she had taken the most confessions on the most spectacular murders in Ada, in recent history.” Then Ross says its her c-spot working. Professional, right?
This case is a direct deviation from regularly conducted business with police practices. There was eyewitness miss identification, snitch evidence, incompetent attorney’s, hidden evidence, junk science, false coerced confessions, and a DA’s office with the itch to point a blind finger.
Ada fixes it’s third mistake
Karl Fontenot, a falsely accused man, has been in prison for 34 years for a crime he did not commit. After appealing the decision, Fontenot is set to walk on December 19, 2019. Through his appeal of over 100 pages, the state finally found Fontenot innocent. Through the Netflix series and books the state finally realized their wrongdoings. After 34 years, Karl got the justice he deserved from the beginning.