Campfire

Episode 7:
State of Oklahoma
vs.
Karl Fontenot

 

Time Served: 35 Years
Status: Out on Bond, 2019

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Abuse of Power:
False Confession

(Photo / University of Arkansas)

“The mistakes are too big and the consequences are so grave no one will ever admit in a wrongful conviction case that they got it wrong.” –John Grisham, author of ‘The Innocent Man’

Karl Fontenot, of Ada, Oklahoma, spent 35 years in jail for the kidnapping and murder of store clerk Denice Haraway in 1984, to which he and his friend Tommy Ward confessed on a police video recording. Haraway’s body had yet to be found, but both Karl and Tommy were sentenced to life in prison, with the only evidence against them being their confessions. Two years later, Haraway’s remains were discovered, and post-mortem work found that their confessions did not align with the actual crime scene evidence — even the cause of death in the confession was incorrect. Karl and Tommy’s cases were highly publicized after the December 2018 release of the Netflix series The Innocent Man, which centered on police corruption, suspect intimidation, and evidence manipulation within Ada, and in December 2019, an Oklahoma judge finally agreed that a mountain of new evidence provided enough proof of innocence to release Karl from jail on bond. The Oklahoma Attorney General is considering an appeal on the court’s decision which means Karl could go back to jail if found guilty in a retrial. Tommy remains imprisoned.

Oklahoma

Date of crime: 4/28/84

Crime: Murder and Kidnapping

Sentence: Life

Interview Subjects:

  • John Grisham, Author of “The Innocent Man”
  • Barry Sheck, Co-Founder of The Innocence Project
  • A.C. Shilton, Journalist