The case of Debbie Carter, a 21-year-old woman brutally raped and murdered in her own home in 1982, was a complicated one: While three different men were convicted for her murder over the years, an additional one confessed to killing her but was never convicted, and two of the four men who were convicted were exonerated.
It was confusing for all: Who was really guilty and who wasn’t? And with this myriad of suspects, what did Carter’s own mother think? Who does she think killed her daughter?
During the filming of Netflix’s new docu-series “The Innocent Man,” Peggy “Peppy” Carter revealed who she thought killed her daughter — and who she thought was full of it.
[Warning: Spoilers for “The Innocent Man” ahead]
Carter, a well-liked, independent cocktail waitress, was discovered dead inside her apartment on December 8, 1982. She could often be seen sporting a Western-style belt with “Debbie” stamped on it in leather letters.
Her mother bought her that belt, and tragically, it was one of the tools used in Carter’s heinous murder in addition to a ketchup bottle and an electrical cord that was used to strangle her. She was found dead, laying face down and naked, in her own apartment, with an ominous message scribbled on her back.
Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were arrested for Carter’s rape and murder based on questionable evidence, including a coerced confession and testimony from a jailhouse snitch who had a dark past with Williamson. There was no real evidence connecting them to the crime scene except notoriously flimsy "hair" analysis. Then, another man confessed.
Ada resident Ricky Jo Simmons, on his own accord, went to the police station in 1987 to confess to the rape and murder of Carter. Police didn't arrest him or believe him, despite his videotaped confession. Most officials believed he was suffering from mental health issues. He was completely cleared as a suspect, inspiring rage within Williamson, who truly believed from behind bars that Simmons was the real killer.
Carter's family never seemed to believe Simmons' confession, according to the docu-series — nobody did except Williamson.
Williamson and Fritz were convicted a year later in 1988.
Both served 11 years for the crime, and Williamson was actually on death row before the Innocence Project helped them get released in 1999. Williamson was freed just five days away from being executed.
But during those 11 years, Peggy believed the right men were behind bars.
“They got released and I know they got these big smiles on their face and I thought, ‘Boy, I’m proud someone’s happy today ‘cause I’m not one of ‘em,’” she said, reflecting on the day of the exoneration, adding that she was afraid. “Somebody has got to take blame for this. I got to crying so hard they had to take me downstairs [in the courthouse].”
At that point, she felt she would never know who killed her daughter.
Then, DNA linked another man to the crime scene: Glen Gore.
Initially, Gore testified against Williamson and Fritz, claiming he saw them at The Coachlight, the bar where she worked the night before she was found dead. He said under oath that Carter reached out to him for help, saying, "Save me,” as she was talking to the men.
In 1999, he was officially named a suspect in Carter’s murder after new DNA testing revealed that Williamson and Fritz weren’t at the scene, but Gore was.
“The day that they got those results back that Dennis and Ron couldn’t have done it, their DNA did not match... it came on the radio, and it was everywhere,” the mother recalled.
After Gore learned about this, he escaped. He was incarcerated for another crime at the time, and was on a work crew when he simply walked away and temporarily vanished.
“And then I went and I found out about ole Glen Gore running off and about him being out there that night and fussing with Debbie down in her car when she was leaving, I thought, ‘Oh my lord. Glen Gore did it. He had to have done it. Yes, it was Glen,’” she added.
Peggy believed it was Gore so much that she hoped he would get the death penalty — she admitted she was disappointed when he didn’t.
However, Gore was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to life behind bars.
Ultimately, Peggy came to terms with the sentencing.
She determined that she was glad he got life, because she said if he got the death penalty, “He’d always be coming up with appeals, appeals, appeals, and I’d have to keep looking at him and I’d have to keep going back and going back. But this way, I never have to look at him.”
She wrote to Gore and asked for answers — though she isn’t sure if she’ll ever get them. It bothers her to this day to know that the western belt she bought her daughter was used as a weapon.
As for Williamson, after he was released from prison, he and Peggy became friends until his death in 2004.
She defended him and Fritz in the docu-series.
“They [law enforcement and prosecutors] wanted to blame him because he was a neighbor and because he had mental problems, so he’s the one who done it. His only friend was Dennis Fritz so he helped him. You can’t do that. That’s not fair to them guys.”
[Photo Credit: Netflix]
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