ADA, Okla. – “The Innocent Man” is a book and docu-series that shined a negative light on Ada police after two men were convicted for a heinous murder they didn’t commit.
Now, we hear from another victim in this case, the innocent man’s daughter.
A victim at a young age again and again.
“I’ve had three major losses in my life growing up,” Elizabeth Clinton said.
On Christmas Day in 1975, Elizabeth’s mom was shot and killed by a neighbor in Kansas City. Elizabeth was at home when it happened.
“I was two when she was murdered, and I don’t recall that at all. In fact, my father tells me after it happened I didn’t cry,” Clinton said.
But that life event would scar her in unexpected ways.
Like when she was five camping with her dad.
“We were out in front of a fire and a moth went over the fire and it got caught by the fire and it went down and he said I just like broke down and bawled, and I believe and he believes that was kind of my moment to really shed that sadness,” she said.
An embedded sorrow that would return.
What she didn’t know was years later her father would also be ripped from her.
Twenty-one-year-old Debbie Carter was found brutally murdered in her Ada apartment in 1982.
Elizabeth’s dad Dennis Fritz became the center of the investigation and was later arrested on first-degree murder and rape charges. He was eventually convicted of the crimes and sentenced to life in prison.
“They didn’t know how to break the news to me so they ended up bringing in a youth pastor to my aunt and uncles house to tell me what had happened,” Clinton said.
At the time, Elizabeth lived in Duncan with her maternal grandmother. She didn’t tell anyone at school what she was going through.
“I was embarrassed of course you know. I didn’t know what people would think. I obviously thought people would think the worst,” Clinton said.
A middle schooler already dealing with life’s growing pains, now worried about never seeing her father again.
He refused to allow her to visit the prison, so they corresponded only through letters and phone calls.
It became one of Elizabeth’s outlets.
“A lot of crying. I became a book worm. I loved to read so I spent a lot of time by myself reading,” she said.
Her grandmother was her one constant.
“I never really got a sense of whether or not she believed in his innocence like I did,” Clinton said.
“You always believed?” Reporter Lacey Lett asked.
“Yes. I did. Once I was able to speak to my dad and talk to him, he told me. You know me. I couldn’t have done something like this and I believe him. I truly believed him the whole time.”
Her dad behind bars and a world away from his daughter.
“I probably didn’t deal with it the best way possible. How I dealt with it was more internalized it a little too much,” Clinton said.
But her father never gave up hope. He studied law in prison and eventually got the attention of the Innocence Project.
New DNA evidence eventually cleared Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson of the crime.
Elizabeth could now reunite with her dad again…
“When I saw my dad it was great. I hadn’t seen him other than pictures in 12 years and so it was um it was surreal.”
Elizabeth was an adult by then. While she resented those who wrongfully locked her dad away, she didn’t hold on to that anger.
“For whatever reason God’s plan was for that to happen and God’s plan brought him out of that confinement as well.”
Her dad missed all those milestones like graduation but was able to make it to one very important life event, her wedding.
But still – all those painful years impacted her as an adult.
“In my 30s once I had my own children I went through a lot of anxiety and pain and just being fearful of them losing me like I lost my mom.”
In 2013 — another blow — the death of her grandmother.
Now, Elizabeth is overcoming her personal struggles and hoping to help others.
She’s speaking for the first time at a benefit for Calm Waters, a nonprofit offering grief services for families.
“You need that one person in your life to give you that push and inspire you and know that there’s something better for you out there and give you that hope.”
One woman’s continuing journey toward recovery and healing.
Elizabeth’s father experienced a traumatic head injury in 2016 and is now living in a memory care facility. Elizabeth visits him each week.
She will be the keynote speaker at the “Ripples of Hope” breakfast on June 6 from 7:30 to 9 a.m. where she will share her story.
For more information, click here.