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Oklahoma Innocence Project Takes on First Case

Nearly three decades after an Oklahoma man was convicted of a murder he says he did not commit, the

Oklahoma Innocence Project

is seeking his release. Karl Fontenot was convicted by two separate juries for the 1984 kidnapping and murder of Ada convenience store clerk Denice Haraway and sentenced to life in prison, reported the

Oklahoma Gazette

.

 

Fontenot’s case came to national attention when John Grisham wrote about it in his 2006 book The Innocent Man, which features the story of another Ada, Oklahoma, wrongful conviction—that of Ron Williamson. Among the similarities between the two cases is that both men claimed their confessions were false. DNA evidence proved that Williamson and his co-defendant Dennis Fritz were innocent in 1999, but DNA is not available in the Fontenot case.

 

According to Oklahoma Innocence Project Director Tiffany Murphy, the Ada police and State Bureau of Investigation ignored alternate theories about how Haraway died and withheld information about Fontenot’s alibi that had been corroborated by several witnesses.


“We firmly believe an innocent man has been in prison for nearly 30 years for a crime he did not commit,” she said. “We also know that more than 800 pages of records from the case were not turned over to the defense during Karl’s trials.”

Fontenot was originally tried with Tommy Ward in 1985. The defendants would be retried three years later after an appeals court ruled that their confessions couldn’t be used against each other. They told investigators they dumped the body at a power station west of Ada, but Haraway was actually found in Gerty, a town about 30 miles east of Ada. In confessions given six months after her disappearance and nearly a year before her remains were found, both men told police they had raped and stabbed her before burning her body. According to the medical examiner, Haraway died from a single gunshot wound to the head.

 

The Ohio Innocence Project maintains that several witnesses accounted for Fontenot being at a birthday party the night Haraway went missing and that law enforcement ignored the statements. At Fontenot’s second trial, none of the alibi witnesses were called by the defense.

 

Fontenot’s former defense attorney never received the medical examiner’s report that described the crime scene as “botched” by investigators. Neither the state medical examiner nor the prosecutors’ office was called to the crime scene where Haraway’s remains were discovered more than a year after her disappearance.

 

“It is our belief that the evidence we discovered during the course of our investigation into this case proves Karl was not involved,” Murphy said.

 

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