‘The Innocent Man’ defendant won’t be released if AG Mike Hunter proves conviction was wrongfully overturned

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Another legal setback has occurred in the case against Tommy Ward, one of two men convicted in the disappearance and murder of woman that gained national attention in the book and Netflix series, ‘The Innocent Man’.

Tommy Ward and Carl Fontenot were convicted in the 1984 kidnapping and killing of Denice Haraway in Ada.

In December, a district judge ruled there was enough evidence to overturn Ward’s conviction and ordered him to be immediately released.

But before that could happen, Attorney General Mike Hunger filed a motion for a stay on the release, arguing that the court shouldn’t reward Ward for “waiting until 2017 to seek post-conviction review.”

“To say that we are the people who took too much time to do this is just galling,” said Ward’s attorney Greg Swygert, an associate clinical law professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Center on Wrongful Conviction.

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Denice Haraway

The judge who overturned Ward’s conviction pointed out in her opinion that it wasn’t until 2019 that the Ada Police Department turned over 300 pages of evidence showing “problems with the credibility of the state’s witnesses.”

“Mr. Ward and Mr. Fontenot did not receive documents that they deserved and were required to have before trial,” Swygert said. “They hid them for years, decades even, over three decades.”

But on January 7, one day before the stay was set to expire, the Court of Criminal Appeals extended it until at least Feb. 16, by which time the attorney general will have to file a brief proving the district court judge got it wrong.

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Tommy Ward

It’s a task Swygert contends will be difficult.

“It’s hard for me to understand why the attorney general continues to defend these convictions when they don’t dispute the fact that this information was withheld,” he said.

If the Court of Criminal Appeals upholds the district court judge’s decision, the conviction will be vacated and it will be up to the Pontatoc County District Attorney to decide whether or not to recharge and retry Ward.

If her order is reversed, the court could send it down and tell her she needs to do more, or that she was wrong. In that case, Swygert said they would take the case to Federal Court.

Fontenot’s case is pending appeal in Federal Court. It was there he was granted relief and released pending the appeal.

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