The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the conviction of one man in the 1984 murder of an Ada convienince store worker featured featured The Innocent Man.
Oklahoma seeks to uphold the murder conviction of Karl Fontenot in the murder of Donna “Denice” Haraway. Fontenot’s conviction was overturned in 2019 by a federal judge in Muskogee, and that court’s ruling was upheld last year by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Fontenot is free on bond as the appeals process plays out.
Fontenot, 57 and Tommy Ward, 61, were both twice convicted in Haraway’s murder. Though no physical evidence tied them to Haraway’s disappearance, Fontenot and Ward initially confessed to the crime after questioning by investigators. But the men quickly recanted and have claimed for decades that police coerced them to say they killed Haraway.
The Attorney General’s office claims in its filing that Fontenot and Ward attempted to minimize their involvement in Haraway’s death during their confessions by saying the primary aggressor was another man who was never charged with the crime. The state also claims witnesses saw men matching Ward and Fontenot’s descriptions in the convenience store where Haraway worked before she disappeared.
Ward’s and Fontenot’s convictions were featured in the John Grisham 2006 book The Innocent Man and a 2018 Netflix series of the same name, as well as the 1987 book Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer.
After Haraway’s remains were found in 1986 in rural Hughes County, forensic analysis showed that many of the details in Fontenot’s and Ward’s confessions were wrong. Haraway had been shot rather than stabbed, was 20 miles away from where the men said her body had been dumped, and she had been wearing different clothes than those Ward and Fontenot described.
Fontenot’s attorneys have argued that many of the inaccurate details of his confession were supplied by detectives from the Ada Police Department and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations.
The attorneys claim a trove of hundreds of new documents uncovered in a police storage room back up Fontenot’s claims of innocence.
A state judge overturned Ward’s conviction in 2020, but the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has appealed the ruling. Ward remains in prison as the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals weighs his case.
In both Ward and Fontenot’s cases, judges issued rulings excoriating investigators for withholding favorable evidence from defense attorneys.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General John O’Connor declined to comment on the pending cases. Fontenot’s and Ward’s attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.