Judge allows some additional discovery in “Innocent Man” case, but denies request to depose alternate suspect

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Tommy Ward. Courtesy Netflix
A judge ruled Friday that attorneys for one of the defendants profiled in the John Grisham book and Netflix documentary “The Innocent Man” may search for more documents in the case, but cannot depose the victim’s former husband or an alternate suspect.

Attorneys for Tommy Ward, who is serving a life sentence for the 1984 killing of Ada convenience store clerk Donna “Denice” Haraway, had requested that they be allowed to conduct additional discovery in support of Ward’s petition for post-conviction relief after an earlier subpoena late last year uncovered more than 300 pages of documents at the Ada police department, many of which had never been seen by attorneys.

Though it was a subpoena from Ward’s legal team that uncovered the documents, those records proved crucial to Ward’s co-defendant Karl Fontenot’s case, who is also serving a life sentence for Haraway’s murder. In August, a federal judge ruled that Oklahoma must either release Fontenot or hold a new trial. The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office is appealing that ruling.

In July, Ward’s attorneys requested that the court enforce subpoenas for information related to the missing persons reports issued by police shortly after Haraway disappeared from the convenience store she was working at, as well as a police interview report with a man named Billy Charley, who police also investigated as a possible suspect in Haraway’s disappearance.

“Billy Charley is not just any person in this case,” said Mark Barrett, one of Ward’s attorneys. “He’s the only person besides Tommy Ward where there were many calls saying he resembled the sketch (of a suspect publicly released by investigators).”

A former law enforcement officer who interviewed Charley told attorneys during a deposition that he would often exclude alternate suspects from official summaries and other records in an effort to prevent attorneys from taking the focus off their clients in court, according to court records.

Atoka County District Judge Paula Inge said that admission concerned her and could be a constitutional violation.

Ward’s attorneys also asked the court for permission to subpoena a photo array lineup provided to witnesses by police, documents from the OSBI regarding separate unsolved convenience store abductions that took place in the region the year before Haraway’s disappearance, as well as permission to depose Charley and Haraway’s former husband Steve Haraway.

Much of Ward’s legal team’s efforts have been aimed at discovering when police were informed that Haraway was wearing a certain blouse at the time of her disappearance. The blouse was mentioned by Ward in his now-recanted confession, though when her body was found years later, it was discovered she was wearing a different shirt at the time of her death. Ward and his attorneys have said police fed him the information contained in his confession.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Haire argued against the requested subpoenas and depositions, saying that law enforcement had turned over all of the information in their possession, that Ward’s attorneys had already gone far outside of the limitations of the court’s initial order for discovery and that deposing Charley and Haraway would not be helpful.

“If the court has any inclination at all to grant further discovery in this case, the state would request it be under the strictest possible terms,” Haire said, asking that there be hard limits on the scope of the questions. “Particularly with regard to Mr. Haraway.”

Inge granted the request to enforce subpoenas — though if records had been destroyed years ago under a previous records custodian, the current custodian would not be forced to find out why — as well as Ward’s request for the photo lineup and records on the other convenience store kidnappings.

Though Inge denied Ward’s attorneys’ request to depose Steve Haraway and Charley, she did grant a request to send Haraway questions regarding his conversations with investigators about what Haraway was wearing when she disappeared.

Barring a “huge smoking gun,” that should be the last of the discovery in Ward’s application, Inge said.

Additional reading

Judge rules against state’s attempt to keep Karl Fontenot behind bars

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze
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