Netflix's The Innocent Man is largely centered around the stories of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, two men convicted for the 1982 murder of Debbie Carter in Ada, Oklahoma. They were eventually exonerated and released after 11 years in prison, but the show makes multiple claims that the district attorney who prosecuted their case overlooked other suspects. And while what former district attorney Bill Peterson thinks of The Innocent Man hasn't been publicized, according to previous comments, he has strong opinions about the book the series is based on. (Bustle reached out to Peterson for comment about the series, but did not receive a response at the time of publication).
According to the Oklahoman, Peterson was previously involved in a defamation lawsuit against several authors — including John Grisham, who wrote The Innocent Man and is featured in the Netflix show. The outlet reported in 2008 that Peterson, as well as former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation investigator Gary Rogers and former OSBI criminologist Melvin Hett, alleged they were defamed in books criticizing the Ada murder case. Grisham, Grisham's publishing company, and two other authors and their respective publishing companies were all named in the suit.
Per the Oklahoman, Peterson and the other plaintiffs claimed that the defendants "conspired to commit defamation, generated publicity for themselves by placing the plaintiffs in a false light, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress." However, the case was ultimately dismissed. "Where the justice system so manifestly failed and innocent people were imprisoned for 11 years (one almost put to death), it is necessary to analyze and criticize our judicial system (and the actors involved) so that past mistakes do not become future ones," U.S. District Judge Ronald White wrote in his ruling, according to Ada News.
According to another Oklahoman piece, Peterson continuously challenged Grisham's book and the allegations within it. "I've tried to conduct myself in an honorable way for 27 years. I was what I was. I was a prosecutor, a passionate prosecutor," Peterson told the paper in 2007. "I went after them. I was convinced they killed Debbie Carter. If that was your mother, your sister or your daddy who was killed, you wouldn't want a pansy prosecutor. You would want someone passionate."
An Ada city spokesperson also dismissed Grisham's claims as unfounded, telling ABC affiliate KTEN that everyone involved in the case did their job. Per KTEN, Peterson at one point started a website in response to Grisham's book, on which he reportedly published editorials, letters, and other information he claimed showed fabrications and inaccuracies in the Innocent Man novel. However, the website no longer appears to be functioning.
According to the Ada News, Peterson retired in 2008 after 28 years as the district attorney of Oklahoma's 22nd district. He told the paper that Grisham's book was something he considered when he made the decision to retire, but that it wasn't a major factor. Since then, he doesn't appear to have spoken out about the Innocent Man docuseries, but given his displeasure with his portrayal in the book, it's hard to blame him for staying silent now that he's back in the spotlight again.