“The Innocent Man” Netflix series thrusts Ada murder cases back in the limelight

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ADA, Okla. – A new Netflix series putting the small Oklahoma community, Ada, back in the spotlight premiered Friday. It’s a true crime documentary about two murder cases in 1980s Ada.

The series is based on the John Grisham book, The Innocent Man. 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. One was sentenced to life in prison, and the other was given the death sentence. However both were cleared by DNA evidence years later.

The series reveals mistakes and bad decisions made by the investigators and prosecutors in that case.

It finds 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. The problems lie especially with discrepancies between the two men’s confessions and details of her murder.

Ada attorney Gordon Melson was a district attorney here during both trials. He said the investigators in Carter’s case likely had tunnel vision.

“Once you zero on someone you believe is the perpetrator of the crime, then you start searching for any evidence that would corroborate that, and you tend to downplay other evidence that might point to the contrary,” Melson said.

Melson said he doesn’t know enough about Haraway’s case to have an opinion, but he told News 4 what he’s heard from other people who are involved.

“They seemed to emphasize that the confessions that Ward and Fontenot made, that at least part of it was very believable and convinced them of their guilt,’ Melson said.

Now some worry that while the series could help educate people on the facts, it could also shine a negative light on Ada, and worse, on those still affected by both tragedies.

“I just hope that it doesn’t bring a lot of negative attention to the family members of the people, both the deceased and the ones in prison,” said Katrina Ludlow. “I just feel like they both should be left at rest at this time.”

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