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Events benefit projects in Mississippi and Chicago

Posted: October 25, 2007 12:15 pm

Exonerees Dennis Fritz and Cedric Willis and authors John Grisham and Scott Turow were among speakers at an event held this week in Jackson, Mississippi, to raise money for the Mississippi Innocence Project, founded this year at the University of Mississippi Law School. Grisham and Turow were then in Chicago on Wednesday night, at a fundraiser for the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School.

Grisham, whose book, “The Innocent Man,” considers the wrongful convictions of Fritz and his co-defendant Ron Williamson, told the audience in Mississippi that if states continue to carry out the death penalty, an innocent person will be executed.

"It's inevitable," he said. "We're going to wake up one day and know from clear DNA evidence that we killed the wrong guy."

Read the full story here. (Clairon Ledger, 10/22/07)
Read about the Illinois event. (Daily Northwestern, 10/25/07)

Mississippi is among the eight states nationwide that lack laws allowing defendants access to post-conviction DNA testing. Illinois has had 27 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing – including five in which the defendant had been sentenced to death.

A column by Donna Ladd in yesterday’s Jackson Free Press called for Mississippi residents to support the new project:
Now we have our own Innocence Project in Mississippi—the state that may well need it the most, with our historic bloodlust and collective apathy over how the accused are treated. It’s headquartered at Ole Miss, and has virtually no overhead. Nearly every dime goes to helping the innocent, and saving society’s soul.

We need to send the message with our dollars that we care about justice—the real kind, not some kind of political salivating that disregards humanity and the need for members of society to take care of, and honor, one another.

Read the full column here.




Tags: Mississippi, Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Oklahoma District Attorney Bill Peterson to retire

Posted: November 6, 2007 10:41 am

Bill Peterson, the lead prosecutor in the trials that sent two innocent Oklahoma men to prison – one to death row – in 1988, announced yesterday that he plans to retire after January 1, 2008.

Peterson, who has been the district attorney for Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes Counties in Oklahoma since 1980, will not finish his term, which had three years remaining. He was the lead prosecutor in the convictions of Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson, who were wrongfully convicted in 1988 of the 1982 murder of Debra Sue Carter in Ada, Oklahoma. Two other men convicted by Peterson’s office, Thomas Ward and Karl Fontenot, are serving life in prison for a murder they say they didn’t commit.

Read the news coverage of Peterson’s announcement. (Ada Evening News, 11/05/07)

The cases of Fritz and Williamson are the subject of John Grisham’s recent book, “The Innocent Man,” and Fritz’s own book, “Journey Toward Justice.”

Read more about the cases of Thomas Ward and Karl Fontenot.




Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man” released in paperback

Posted: November 20, 2007 4:01 pm

Innocence Project Board Member John Grisham’s popular recent book about the wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz in Ada, Oklahoma, was released today in paperback. The gripping story follows these two men and their families as the men are tried for a murder they didn’t commit. Williamson spent 11 years on death row, coming at one point within five days of execution. Fritz was sentenced to life in prison and also spent 11 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Both were exonerated in 1999 after DNA tests proved their innocence.

Buy a copy at Amazon.com today and a portion of your purchase price will support the Innocence Project.

Learn more about the cases of Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson.






Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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The Innocent Man near top of bestseller list

Posted: January 8, 2008 4:10 pm

John Grisham’s book about the injustice suffered by Oklahoma exonerees Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, “The Innocent Man,” was released in paperback six weeks ago. For those six weeks, the book has hovered near the top of the New York Times best-seller list, this week at #2. The book has reached countless readers and helped to raise awareness of the problem of wrongful convictions.

Have a comment or reaction to “The Innocent Man”? Send us an email and we’ll publish your responses here on the Innocence Blog.

Want to buy the book? Use this link and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Innocence Project.





Tags: Oklahoma, Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Readers respond to book on wrongful convictions

Posted: January 10, 2008 5:15 pm

On Tuesday, we asked blog readers for their feedback on “The Innocent Man,” John Grisham’s book about the wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz. We heard from many of you, and two of the responses are posted below.

If you ever have feedback to posts on this blog, email us here. (info [at] innocenceproject.org). Tell us if we can post your comments, and include your name (first name only is fine) and your city and state. We’ll occasionally post feedback we receive.

Helen Elliott, Edmond, Oklahoma:
 

I grew up in Southeastern Oklahoma and am a graduate of East Central University in Ada. I found the story of these wrongful convictions appalling, but not surprising. It's an example of stories I heard my whole life about the so-called justice system in our little corner of the world. I'm glad that this story was able to be told. It also brings to light the good works of the Innocence Project, with the hopes of bringing around reforms related to DNA testing. I've always been a fan of Grisham's work; I think this is his best yet.

J. Dowling, Southern California:
 

Grisham's book was excellent. It left me both angry & depressed for Ron Williamson & Dennis Fritz. As a retired police detective of 33 years from a medium sized police agency in Southern California, I am especially incensed by both the prosecutorial and police misconduct in this case. I am just sorry that the Justice Department did not go after the police and the prosecutor for massive violations of civil rights in that Oklahoma case. Anyone who truly cares about the American justice system will be very angry after they read Grisham's book. His book has now inspired me to volunteer my time and services to those in California that have been wrongly convicted. Kudos to Grisham for giving us all a huge wake-up call.

 

In an interview published in yesterday’s Jackson Free Press, Grisham says he met many wrongfully convicted people while researching the book, and “it doesn’t take too many conversations with men who are imprisoned and will probably never get out, who are innocent, to kind of flip you, to make you suddenly aware of this problem. That’s what happened to me.”

Read the full story here. (Jackson Free Press, 01/09/08)

Grisham, who serves on the Innocence Project Board of Directors, also supports the new Mississippi Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi.



Tags: Mississippi, Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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John Grisham speaks about wrongful convictions on Bill Moyers Journal

Posted: February 1, 2008 6:05 pm

On PBS last week, author John Grisham (who serves on the Innocence Project Board of Directors) talked about researching the bestselling book “The Innocent Man,” which covers the wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz.

“Wrongful convictions happen every week in every state in this country. And they happen for all the same reasons. Sloppy police work. Eyewitness identification…Sloppy police work. Sloppy prosecutions. Junk science. Snitch  testimony," Grisham tells Moyers. “But there are a lot of reasons. The human cost of wrongful convictions is enormous. But the economic cost is huge too.”
Watch a video of Grisham’s appearance on Bill Moyers Journal (his comments about wrongful convictions start at about 7:51)

Buy a copy of “The Innocent Man” (a portion of proceeds will benefit the Innocence Project)

Read more about Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz.





Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Nine years ago today: Fritz and Williamson exonerated in Oklahoma

Posted: April 15, 2008 4:16 pm

Nine years ago today, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were released from state custody in Oklahoma after spending 11 years behind bars for a murder they didn’t commit.

Williamson became a suspect in the 1982 murder of an Ada, Oklahoma, woman after a witness named Glenn Gore told police he saw Williamson on the night of the crime at the bar where the victim worked. Forensic testing was conducted on the hairs found at the crime scene, and lab analysts testified that the hairs could have come from Fritz and Williamson. Jailhouse snitches testified that the men confessed their guilt in the crime. In 1988, six years after the murder, Dennis Fritz was sentenced to life in prison and Ron Williamson was sent to death row.   

With the help of the Innocence Project, the DNA found at the crime scene was finally tested and excluded both Fritz and Williamson of the crime. The DNA also helped identify the true perpetrator, Glenn Gore, who had been of the state’s witnesses at trial. Fritz and Williamson were finally released and exonerated in April 1999.  

John Grisham details Fritz and Williamson’s wrongful convictions in his first non-fiction book, “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town.” Buy a copy of the book at Amazon.com and a portion of your purchase price will support the Innocence Project.

Ron Williamson’s mental and physical health worsened during his 11 years on death row. Sadly, he passed away in 2004, just five years after his release.

Dennis Fritz today travels around the world telling the story about his case and reforms that can prevent wrongful convictions. He is the author of “Journey Toward Justice.” Buy the book from Amazon.com and a portion of your purchase price will benefit the Innocence Project.

Christy Sheppard, whose cousin was the victim in this case, also speaks frequently about issues surrounding wrongful convictions. Read more about Sheppard’s work here.

Read more about Fritz’ case here
.

Read more about Williamson’s case here
.

Other Exonerations this week:

Thursday: Victor Larue Thomas, Texas (Served 15 years, Exonerated 4/17/02)




Tags: Dennis Fritz, Victor Larue Thomas, Ron Williamson

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Exonerated man and victim's family are reunited at the Innocence Project second annual benefit

Posted: May 12, 2008 4:20 pm

While jazz pianist Jonathan Batiste played “What a Wonderful World,” at the Innocence Project benefit, “A Celebration of Freedom and Justice,” on May 7 in New York City, exoneree Dennis Fritz asked 65-year-old Peggy Carter Sanders to take the stage with him and dance. Fritz was sentenced to life in prison and was wrongfully incarcerated for 11 years for the murder of Sanders’ daughter, Debra Sue Carter of Ada, Oklahoma. Fritz and his co-defendant Ron Williamson developed a relationship with Carter’s family after their exoneration in 1999. Both men were exonerated through DNA testing and with the help of the Innocence Project.

Williamson passed away in 2004, but his sisters Renee Simmons and Annette Hudson also attended the benefit. Williamson’s family, Carter’s family, and Fritz came to New York from all around the country to join the Innocence Project in honoring John Grisham for his best selling book, The Innocent Man, which tells the story of Williamson’s wrongful conviction. Fritz shared a table at the benefit with two of Carter’s relatives—her cousin, Christy Sheppard, and her mother Peggy Carter Sanders.

A recent New York Times column by Jim Dwyer looks at the poignant moment last week when Fritz and Sanders danced as 600 Innocence Project supporters looked on. The column discusses the friendship forged between the two wrongfully convicted men and the mother of the victim—despite some people’s unwillingness to accept that a mistake had been made in the case:

“Ms. Sanders saw it plain. All around her, though, people refused to rewrite the ending to her daughter’s murder, clinging to the belief that Mr. Fritz and Mr. Williamson somehow had been part of the killing, a spurning of reality so common that it has practically become an epidemic as DNA tests, year in and out, clear the wrongfully convicted.”
Read the full story here.
Fritz was one of a dozen exonerees who attended the benefit. Also honored was the law firm Mayer Brown, for its collaboration with the Innocence Project in reforming eyewitness identification procedures.

Learn more about Fritz and Williamson’s cases.

Learn more about how the Innocence Project is working with victims and their families, including Christy Sheppard and Peggy Carter Sanders, to improve the criminal justice system. (See page 10 of this PDF for “Common Interests.”)



Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Video: John Grisham discusses "The Innocent Man"

Posted: May 21, 2008 11:00 am

Earlier this month, hundreds of people witnessed a moving display of justice and compassion at the Innocence Project’s annual benefit in New York. While pianist Jonathan Batiste played “What a Wonderful World” at the close of the event, two attendees got up on stage to dance, but not just any two.

These two were Dennis Fritz, who spent a decade in Oklahoma prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and Peggy Carter Sanders, the mother of the young woman Dennis was wrongfully convicted of killing. These were two people with a long history, and now they’re joined in a singular mission to seek fair justice for all.

The video below opens with Dennis and Peggy's dance and includes excepts of John Grisham discussing his book "The Innocent Man" — about the wrongful convictions of Fritz and Ron Williamson.

Dennis and Peggy Dance, and John Grisham discusses The Innocent Man [video: 03:07]



Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Lawsuit against Grisham, Scheck and Fritz is dismissed

Posted: September 18, 2008 2:31 pm

A federal judge yesterday dismissed a libel lawsuit filed last year by an Oklahoma District Attorney against author John Grisham, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and exoneree Dennis Fritz.

Bill Peterson, the former District Attorney for Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, filed the lawsuit last year, claiming that the defendants made false public statements about Peterson’s role in the wrongful convictions of Fritz and his co-defendant Ron Williamson. Grisham, Scheck and Fritz have said that Peterson ignored signs of Fritz’ and Williamson’s innocence while prosecuting them for murder. Grisham wrote the popular 2006 book “The Innocent Man” about the wrongful convictions of Fritz and his co-defendant Ron Williamson. Fritz wrote a memoir of his own called “Journey Toward Justice.” Scheck and Innocence Project Co-Director wrote “Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make It Right.” In addition to libel, Peterson’s federal lawsuit claimed the books and public comments by all of the authors defamed him and were part of a conspiracy to abolish to the death penalty.

 “Where the justice system so manifestly failed and innocent people were imprisoned for 11 years (and one almost put to death),” the judge wrote in his decision throwing out the lawsuit, “it is necessary to analyze and criticize our judicial system (and the actors involved) so that past mistakes do not become future ones.”

"This is a victory for free speech and for holding officials publicly accountable for their role in wrongful convictions," Scheck said in statement.

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 09/18/08)
Read more about Fritz and Williamson’s cases here.

Buy a copy of “The Innocent Man,” “Actual Innocence,” or "Journey Toward Justice" through Amazon.com and a portion of the sale will support the Innocence Project.





Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Two Innocence Events This Week in Washington, D.C.

Posted: February 23, 2009 12:01 pm

Today at 4pm ET at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., author John Grisham will discuss his book, “The Innocent Man,” about the cases of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, who spent a decade in Oklahoma prison for a murder they didn’t commit. The event will be webcast live here.

And Fritz will be among the speakers on Thursday when the Innocence Project holds an unprecedented gathering of exonerees, legal experts and others to discuss the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case of Innocence Project client William Osborne. The event, at Georgetown University Law Center at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, is free and open to the public.

Joining Fritz, and several other exonerees will be Michele Mallin, who was the victim of a rape in 1985 for which Timothy Cole was wrongfully convicited. Cole died in prison in 1999, but Mallin has been working with his family in recent months to clear his name posthumously. Click here for more on this exciting event. Facebook users can visit the Facebook event page to invite friends.




Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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Two Oklahoma Exonerations, Ten Years Later

Posted: April 15, 2009 5:48 pm

Ten years ago today, on April 15, 1999, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were released and exonerated after being incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons for 11 years for the rape and murder of a 21-year-old waitress. Williamson had served on death row and once came within five days of execution; Fritz had been serving a life sentence. The story of the two men has reached millions around the world through John Grisham’s first nonfiction book, “The Innocent Man,” which focuses on the case. Grisham is now a member of the Innocence Project Board of Directors and speaks frequently about wrongful convictions and criminal justice reform.

Fritz and Williamson’s wrongful convictions were based in part on the false testimony of jailhouse snitches and the misleading characterization of the biological evidence in the case. A forensic analyst also testified about unvalidated forensics allegedly linking the men to the crime, including hairs from the crime scene that the analyst said were “consistent” with Fritz’s hair. The analyst also gave misleading testimony about serology evidence from the crime scene.
 
Several years after his conviction, with his appeals exhausted, Fritz turned to the Innocence Project for help. The Innocence Project worked with local attorneys to secure DNA testing of the biological evidence from the crime scene. The results proved that neither Fritz nor Williamson had committed the crime, and implicated Glen Gore, a central witness for the state in Fritz's trial. Gore was subsequently convicted of the rape and murder and is serving a sentence of life without parole.

Since his release from prison, Fritz has traveled widely, raising awareness of wrongful convictions and advocating for post-conviction access to DNA testing in those states without such a law.  His recent appearance before the South Dakota legislature with law professor Christine Hutton was instrumental in the passage of the new law in that state. He has also written a book, “Journey Toward Justice,” recounting his arrest, his trial, and the years of imprisonment during which he assiduously maintained his innocence and worked on his case. 
 
Sadly, Ron Williamson passed away five years after his release on December 4, 2004.

Buy "The Innocent Man" and "Journey Toward Justice" through the Innocence Blog and a portion of proceeds will support the Innocence Project.

Watch video of John Grisham discussing Fritz and Williamson’s cases.

Other Anniversaries this week:

Tuesday: Nathaniel Hatchett, Mississippi (Served 10 years, Exonerated 4/14/08)

Friday: Victor Larue Thomas, Texas (Served 15 years, Exonerated 4/17/02)



Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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John Grisham Developing Screenplay on 'Norfolk Four' Case

Posted: July 9, 2009 3:46 pm

John Grisham, whose first non-fiction book “The Innocent Man” raised awareness around the world about wrongful convictions, is working on a screenplay about the cases of four men convicted of a Norfolk, Virginia, murder they say they didn’t commit. Known as the “Norfolk Four” case, it is the subject of the recent book “The Wrong Guys.” The four men say they were wrongfully convicted based on coerced false confessions.

After the four men were convicted, DNA testing matched evidence from the crime scene to a man named Omar Ballard, who was then also convicted of the crime. Although Ballard says he committed the crime alone, three of the four original defendants remain in prison serving life sentences.

Grisham, who serves on the Innocence Project Board of Directors, said he was drawn to write about the story after reading “The Wrong Guys,” by Richard Leo and Tom Wells.

"It's the most egregious case of wrongful conviction I've seen, and I travel around the country listening to stories about these cases," said Grisham, who lives outside Charlottesville. He said the prosecution "should have been a fairly clear-cut DNA case, involving a man who later pled guilty, and to this day confesses he did it and did it alone."

Read the full story here. (Washington Post, 07/08/09)
Read more background on the Norfolk Four case.

Buy “The Wrong Guys” at Amazon.com (a portion of the purchase price supports the Innocence Project)

Buy “The Innocent Man” at Amazon.com (a portion of the purchase price supports the Innocence Project)





Tags: Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson, Norfolk Four

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Victim's Family Seeks Answers in Wrongful Conviction Case

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:40 pm

On September 18, 1985, Simon, then 16-years-old, left her home to meet a friend. The next day, her body was found near the side of a dirt road.

Barnes became a suspect based on vague statements from eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen his distinctive truck around the time Simon was last seen alive. 
Since being exonerated, Barnes told the Observer-Dispatch that he continues to have a positive attitude about life despite being wrongfully convicted.


Yet Barnes and his mother, Sylvia Bouchard, still occasionally seethe with resentment toward those investigators with the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office that they blame for ruining Barnes’ life and denying closure for the Simon family.


When someone is wrongfully convicted, the victim and their family are wronged too. In fact, crime victims and their families have become important allies in the fight to prevent wrongful conviction.

Christy Sheppard grew up believing that Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz raped and murdered her cousin Debra Sue Carter. The two had been convicted of the crime in 1988, with Fritz receiving a life sentence and Williamson being sentenced to death. Then, 17 years later, DNA testing exonerated Fritz and Williamson and implicated another man in the crime. Carter’s family didn’t know what to believe. But over time, Sheppard’s disbelief turned into resolve to fix the system. She became part of a growing and critical component of the innocence movement: crime victims and their families who want to address and prevent wrongful convictions.

Read about Christy Sheppard.

Read Barnes’ case profile, and watch a video interview with Barnes below.











Tags: Steven Barnes, Dennis Fritz, Ron Williamson

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