In the wake of two brutal murders in the small Oklahoma town of Ada, police decided to close the cases, rather than fully investigate them. In a shocking series of police and prosecutorial violations, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were convicted of killing Debbie Carter. Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot were convicted of killing Denice Haraway in the same town, by the same police and judicial system, and using even thinner evidence. Grisham returns to his legal roots, exploring the police incompetence and interference, the tampering and concealment of evidence by the prosecution, and the cavalier attitude of the judge who allowed these cases to proceed. He doesn’t spare the defense attorneys, who were paid tiny sums to protect the rights of men under the shadow of a death sentence, and who did little to stop the farce.
After years in the cruel Oklahoma prison system, Williamson (who was on Death Row) and Fritz succeeded in their appeals and were set free. After only five years of freedom, though, the toll on Williamson took his life. Ward and Fontenot are still in prison, but Denice Haraway’s killer still has not been found.
The Innocent Man is a detailed, well-written account of what happens when police and prosecutors decide that convictions are more important than justice. There are good prosecutors, committed police officers, dedicated public defenders. To Ada, Oklahoma’s shame and great cost, they had none of these.