Attorneys for Karl Fontenot, one of the defendants serving a life sentence for the 1984 murder of Denice Haraway in Ada, filed a notice to the court on Monday, making additions to their case as they attempt to free Fontenot from prison.
In the court filing, Fontenot’s attorneys claim that their client’s civil rights were violated by Ada police during Fontenot’s time in jail in the 1980s. The court filing states that letters from Fontenot to a previous lawyer, George Butner, were found hidden in “just-disclosed Ada police reports.”
“The claim discusses the violation of attorney-client privilege by the Ada Police who appear to have intercepted these letters and used them to identify and interview most of the witnesses mentioned by Mr. Fontenot’s letters,” the court filing states. “Neither Mr. Butner nor direct appeal counsel Terry Hull (who later represented Fontenot) knew about these letters.”
Fontenot’s attorneys claim in the filing that the police intentionally kept the letters from Fontenot’s lawyers and believe it would be a “violation of attorney-client” privilege.
Fontenot and Ward were subjects of a John Grisham book — and a wildly popular recent Netflix documentary — titled “The Innocent Man.” The book and movie looked at two circa-1980s murders in Ada, that of Debbie Carter and, later, Haraway.
Two men, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, were convicted of murdering Carter but were eventually freed thanks to advances in DNA evidence testing. Fontenot and Ward remain in prison for killing Haraway, though each have claimed their innocence for decades.
Fontenot’s attorneys, Tiffany R. Murphy and Robert Ridenour, said in a motion for sanctions filed Feb. 7 that “over 300 pages of police reports,” some of which contain witness accounts of suspects who do not match Fontenot’s description, as well as letters from Fontenot to his first attorney identifying people who could vouch for his alibi, were turned over to Ward’s attorneys earlier this year.
In the latest court filing, Fontenot’s attorneys also claim they learned from those police reports that the “only eyewitness who identified Mr. Fontenot” at the gas station where police believe Haraway was taken from “could not identify Mr. Fontenot to police.”
“These undisclosed reports show that police showed lineup photographs to Mr. Moyer (the eyewitness) in November, after Mr. Fontenot’s arrest, and Mr. Moyer did not identify Mr. Fontenot as being present at McAnally’s,” the filing states. “As the only witness who originally identified Karl Fontenot as being in the store, these statements undermine his identification.”
The filing also details police reports Fontenot’s attorneys say were never turned over to their client’s previous defense counsel, including interviews with people who were in McAnnally’s (the convenience store where Haraway was last seen) the night of the disappearance.
“These people give various accounts of the men and trucks/cars seen at the store that night,” the filing states. “It lists some examples of witnesses from McAnnally’s who did not mention having seen Fontenot there acting suspiciously the night of the disappearance as well as ‘other statements’ given by witnesses containing “evidence supporting of Mr. Fontenot’s claims.”
The filing states the police reports were not disclosed before Fontenot’s 1985 trial or 1988 appeal, something that could constitute a Brady violation and could potentially lead to the a new trial. The Brady Rule orders prosecutors to turn over all evidence that might be exculpatory to a defendant’s lawyers pre-trial.
In a filing last month, Fontenot’s attorneys accused Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office, as well as the Ada Police Department and Ada City Attorney Frank Stout of being engaged in “a continuing pattern of unethical behavior and disregard for the rule of law.”
The Attorney General’s Office, in a response to Fontenot’s attorneys, said that the existence of the apparently newly-found documents were not known to the respondents and was “never hidden deliberately.”