Karl Fontenot 2018 Updates Show The 'Innocent Man' Subject Has Attracted Some Important Advocates
Netflix's The Innocent Man retraces the cases of Debra Carter and Denice Haroway, two women murdered in Ada, Oklahoma during the early '80s. Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson, who were convicted for killing Carter, were exonerated after 11 years in prison. But the men convicted for Haroway's murder are still behind bars, and 2018 updates about Karl Fontenot and Tommy Ward give no indication that they'll be released any time soon.
According to The Innocence Project's official website, Fontenot's case was the first taken on by their Oklahoma chapter after its launch in 2011. As such, his appeals battle over the last few years has been well documented. Per the Oklahoma Gazette, the OIP began representing Fontenot — who was first sentenced to death, but then given life in prison without parole because of an improper jury instruction — in 2013. OIP director Tiffany Murphy told the outlet that the group decided to represent Fontenot after a lengthy investigation and review of his case.
The Gazette further reports that the OIP believes law enforcement officials — specifically Ada police and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation — allegedly ignored theories about Haraway's death that didn't involve Fontenot. And Murphy also claimed that "more than 800 pages of records from the case were not turned over to the defense during Karl’s trials." (Bustle reached out to the Ada Police Department regarding claims made in The Innocent Man about their alleged negligence, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.)
According to the Gazette, details of Fontenot's confession — given six months after Haraway's disappearance and 10 months before her body was found — weren't consistent with the details of Haraway's death. For instance, Fontenot and Ward confessed to stabbing her, but a medical examiner ruled that Haraway died of a gunshot wound. While the OIP believes that there is sufficient evidence to exonerate Fontenot, they're facing pushback from lawyers who think the state should uphold Fontenot's conviction. Regarding the Haraway case, Pontotoc County District Attorney Chris Ross told the Gazette, "There is nothing in there that I think would have an impact on the verdict or that would change my mind."
The most recent update in the OIP's efforts to exonerate Fontenot seems to have come in 2015, when Pontotoc County District Court Judge Tom Landrith ruled against the OIP's request for an appeal because "too much time" had elapsed since Fontenot's conviction, per the Oklahoman. "Both Karl and his legal team were disappointed with the judge’s ruling," Murphy told the outlet at the time. "We'll continue to litigate on Karl’s innocence."
The release of The Innocent Man on Dec. 14 could bring renewed interest to the case. However, in the three years since Netflix's true crime legacy was kicked off by Making A Murderer, few major developments have occurred in either of the cases depicted in that series. For now, prison records indicate Fontenot is continuing to serve his life sentence at the North Fork Correction Center in Sayre, Oklahoma.