OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The so-called “Innocent Man” will stay in prison after a ruling from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. Two of Ward’s attorneys say they’re frustrated but they’re not giving up the fight.
“The court didn’t get into the facts of the case,” said Attorney Greg Swygert.
“It’s a loss for us, but it’s not over,” said Attorney Mark Barrett.
The state court of criminal appeals voted unanimously to reinstate Tommy Ward’s murder conviction. Ward is the subject of a Netflix docuseries and a book by John Grisham.
In 1984, Denice Haraway, 24, disappeared from an Ada convenience store. Barrett said Ward and his co-defendant, Karl Fontenot, were coerced into confessing.
“Everything in the confession was wrong,” said Barrett. “All the reasons they initially thought they had to believe he was guilty were gone once they found the body.”
In 1994, Ward argued the state withheld unknown important evidence. In 2020, a trial judge ruled Ward’s conviction should be tossed out. It was a short-lived glimmer of hope, because the state attorney general appealed.
Friday, the Court of Criminal Appeals made a decision.
“They said ‘you already brought this, so tough luck,” said Swygert. “It’s not fair and it doesn’t work under the constitution.”
Swygert also said the courts said Ward’s team was too late.
“Hey, isn’t it the fault of the prosecutor who failed to turn over all of this evidence to Tommy?” said Swygert. “We didn’t get all the information until 2018, when we finally subpoenaed the Ada Police Department and they gave us new information.”
The courts also brought up a third issue.
“They said, ‘Well, there is still this newly discovered evidence claim that the judge in the district court did not rule on. And so, we’re going to send it back down to her to review it,’” said Swygert.
Swygert said they plan to go before the trial judge and say newly discovered evidence requires the conviction be vacated.
“If need be, we will take this to federal court,” said Barrett.
“Which is what Tommy’s co-defedant, Karl Fontenot, did. He won at each stage,” said Swygert. “it seems constitutional rights are more protected [there].”
News 4 reached out to Oklahoma Attorney General, John O’Connor. However, his office said he was unable to comment due to pending litigation.
Fontenot is out of prison, but faces legal challenges of his own.