OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A small group of high profile legal experts are joining the fight in support of one of Oklahoma’s most famous convicts – Tommy Ward.
Ward is serving a life sentence for the 1984 murder of Denice Haraway in Ada.
Ward’s case is one of several Ponotoc County murder cases under worldwide scrutiny.
Ward’s conviction, along with the murder convictions of Karl Fontenot, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson, were the focus of the Netflix documentary The Innocent Man.
Fritz and Williamson were exonerated by DNA evidence in 1999 after both men were convicted of the 1982 murder of Debbie Sue Carter.
Fontenot was convicted with Ward for the Haraway murder. He is also appealing his conviction and has been released from prison.
A handful of Ada murder cases have been called into question in recent years following the bombshell book by John Grisham detailing questionable prosecution and policing in Ponotoc County in the 1980s.
In June, two groups of high profile attorneys filed a motion asking the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for for permission to weigh in on the case of Tommy Ward.
The motions ask the court to allow two amicus briefs in support of Ward’s case.
The International Innocence Network and the Oklahoma Innocence Project is asking the court to submit a brief addressing the state’s concerns about the length of time between the convictions and the request for post-conviction relief.
“This was a miscarriage of justice. it needs to be fixed,” said Lawrence Hellman with the International Innocence Network. “We hope that, if we’re allowed to file a friend of the court (amicus) brief, we will encourage the court to uphold the decision of Judge Paula Inge.”
Judge Inge is the trial judge who granted Ward’s application for post-conviction relief in 2020.
Judge Inge vacated Ward’s life sentence and set aside the judgements against him.
Additionally, three very well-known attorneys have also asked the court for permission to file an amicus brief.
According to the motion filed June 18, Andrew Coats, former Oklahoma City mayor and dean of the Oklahoma University College of Law, along with former Oklahoma Attorney General and Dean of the Oklahoma City Law School Judge Robert Henry, and retired OCU criminal law professor Arthur LeFrancois, asked to submit a brief focusing on withheld documents in the case.
Ward’s legal team won a huge victory last year when Judge Inge ruled 800-pages of withheld evidence was significant enough to overturn the conviction.
“I think it signifies the importance of this particular case, not just for Tommy Ward, but for anyone else who is convicted and later finds out that there was wrongdoing or mistakes, innocent mistakes that happened at the trial. They should be able to be considered,” Hellman said. “The last thing we want is for innocent people to be convicted.”
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office is appealing Judge Inge’s ruling.
Tommy Ward remains in prison.