DOC officials confirm release of inmate who was subject of ‘The Innocent Man’

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ADA, Okla. (KFOR) – Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections confirm that the man who was convicted in a controversial murder case has been released from their custody.

The 1984 murder case of Denice Haraway has been in the spotlight recently after it became the focus of the Netflix docu-series The Innocent Man.

The series is based on the John Grisham book of the same name. It documents the murder cases of two Ada women: Debbie Carter, raped and killed in 1982, and Denice Haraway, who went missing and was found murdered two years later.

Two men were convicted in Carter's case, but both were ultimately cleared by DNA evidence years later. The series revealed mistakes and bad decisions made by the investigators and prosecutors in that case.

It also detailed similar issues in the Haraway case, suggesting that the two men who are still in prison for her murder, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, perhaps should not have been charged and convicted.

Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot have been in prison for more than 30 years for a crime they say they didn't commit.

In 2017, Fontenot's legal team asked for any new evidence in the case, but the city and police department said there was no such evidence. Ward's legal team sent a similar request one year later and was given three boxes of new evidence.

Earlier this year, a court order from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma stated that Karl Fontenot should be either released from prison or granted a new trial.

Fontenot's lawyer challenged his murder conviction saying that newly discovered evidence proves that his client is innocent, his rights were violated when the district attorney's office withheld evidence, police interfered with his attorney-client privilege and that police knowingly presented false testimony during his trial.

Following over a hundred pages of evidence detailed in the court order, the court ultimately decided that the evidence in the case showed Fontenot was not involved in Haraway's murder.

"The Court finds no rational juror who was able to set aside the tragedy of Mrs. Haraway's death could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Fontenot should be convicted based solely on his unsubstantiated confession."

Officials with the DOC say he is no longer in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

News 4 spoke with residents in Ada to get their reaction, and most of them were glad to hear Fontenot had been released.

“Well I think it’s a pretty good deal. Back in the days, back in there, I always thought the guys was innocent. I’ve heard a lot of rumors, and I really don’t know exactly what happened," Sonny Ward told News 4. "I don’t think it was right, him going there.”

Melinda Stone says she remembers what happened very well. She says she actually knew Haraway, but she always believed Fontenot was innocent.

“I live a few blocks down from the convenience store when it happened, so I saw her everyday when I went in there," Melinda said. "I just never – especially after the Grisham book – I never thought they did it.”

His location is not known at this time.

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