One Of The Men In 'Innocent Man' Deserves Either Release Or New Trial, Rules Judge

As Netflix's "The Innocent Man" showed, Karl Fontenot was convicted largely because he claimed he had a dream he stabbed Denice Haraway to death.

By Gina Tron
Karl Fontenot Pd

A federal judge ruled that one of the defendants featured in the recent Netflix docu-series “The Innocent Man” be either released from prison or offered a new trial.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma ruled Wednesday that Karl Fontenot should be either released from prison or granted a new trial, according to KFOR in Oklahoma.

He was featured in the recent Netflix series “The Innocent Man,” which focused on two heinous and controversial murder cases that occurred in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma in the 1980s — the 1982 killing of Debbie Carter and the abduction and murder of Denice Haraway in 1984.

The series and John Grisham’s 2006 nonfiction book, “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town,” chronicles the tragedies and the failure of justice that resulted shortly after when Ada officials used questionable tactics to convict the men.

The two men in the Carter case have since been exonerated, while the two imprisoned for the Haraway case have not.

Haraway, a 24-year-old college student and newlywed, was kidnapped while working a shift at McAnally’s, a convenience store, on April 28, 1984. A customer walked into the store as she was being led out by a man. Not realizing she was in the process of being abducted, he went to up to the cash register only to realize it was jammed open. He then called the police to report the missing clerk. Her body wouldn't be found until 1986. 

Denice Haraway

Fontenot would end up confessing to police, based on a dream. In his confession, he said he stabbed Haraway multiple times, although when her body was later found post-conviction, it revealed she was never stabbed. She was actually killed by gunfire.

Fontenot's lawyer claimed that evidence proves that his client is innocent, that his rights were violated, and that false testimony was presented during his trial. The judge has sided with Fontenot.

“The players in this case, Pontotoc County District Attorney William Peterson, Ada Police Detective Dennis Smith, and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Agent Gary Rogers, were all involved in these suspect confessions and were all involved in Petitioner’s case,” United States District Judge James H. Payne wrote in his decision, according to The Frontier, an outlet based in Oklahoma.

“Besides the confession, there was no direct or circumstantial evidence connecting [Fontenot] to this crime," the order states. “Not one detail of Mr. Fontenot’s confession could ever be corroborated with any evidence in the case.”

Over 300 pages of previously unreleased documents related to the case were discovered at the Ada Police Department not long after the January release of the Netflix series, and those documents helped rule in Fontenot’s favor this week, according to the Frontier.

When or if Fontenot will be given either a new trial or be released has yet to be determined. 

An Oklahoma attorney general spokesman reportedly said the judge's order is still under review.

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