The Innocent Man season 1 episode 4 recap: Corpus Delicti


After the last episode of The Innocent Man saw the two men convicted of Debbie Carter’s rape and murder exonerated, it’s time to turn our attention back to Denice Haraway’s case.

As a reminder of where the show left off, episode 4 of The Innocent Man shows how a hunter came across bones in the woods to open. The remains of Denice Haraway have finally been found.

Interviews with Ada residents depict the police as a group that, if you were poor, you needed to avoid. One resident recalls an instance where she was pulled over by the police just so they could take Tommy Ward out of her car and beat him for something she said he didn’t do.

We finally get back to what the police did about Tommy saying the body was in a house by the river that they then burned down—a lie he told intentionally so they would see his story was made up. Police was dispatched. But, instead of a house, they found the foundation for a little shack.

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As they were searching for any remains left behind by a fire, the landowner came up to them and told the police that he had personally burned the shack down two years prior.

The body was actually found around 30 miles away, five months after Tommy and Karl Fontenot were convicted.

After an autopsy confirmed it was Denice, the cause of death was ruled to be a bullet to the back of her head. So, not only was the crime scene not at all where or what Tommy and Karl had confessed to, the cause of death wasn’t even stabbing. Plus, she wasn’t wearing what Tommy and Karl said she was.

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But when the media asked District Attorney Bill Peterson if he still thought they were guilty, despite all of this new evidence, he said they lied about how they did it, but they still did it.

Adding to the suspicious nature of Peterson is a story from local news reporter Stacy Shelton. Shelton recalls trying to talk to lead police investigator Dennis Smith, saying she was actually at a party that Tommy had said was his alibi.

Not only did Smith blow her off, after Shelton testified in court that Smith blew her off, Peterson asked Shelton into his office where he got angry with her and said that she was lying and wasn’t leaving until she took the stand again.

In 1989, three years after Denice’s body was found, Tommy and Karl were granted new trials. In the new trial, Tommy was tried for murder again, this time for shooting Denice. Tommy and Karl were convicted again.

The next cloud of doubt over Tommy and Karl’s convictions comes from the testimony of Terri Holland. Holland had testified that she overheard Tommy confessing to the crime while in jail with him. The strange thing is, she said the same thing about Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz in Debbie Carter’s case.

Inspired by (or, perhaps more accurately, enraged by) the poor criminal justice system in Oklahoma, Christy Sheppard, Debbie’s cousin, joined the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission. She’s also now teaching a criminal justice course. It’s inspiring to see her push to reform the criminal justice system. It’s too bad The Innocent Man doesn’t have time to talk about her journey more.

The episode then jumps to a 2018 parole board hearing. Tommy’s brother says that Tommy has now been denied parole three times because he isn’t expressing remorse for the crime he’s been charged with.

To dive back into Tommy actual confession tape, The Innocent Man introduces Richard Leo, a false confessions expert. Leo spent a lot of time studying Tommy and Karl’s confessions as part of his post-doctoral research. As Leo steps through Tommy’s tape, he points out that Tommy couldn’t even correctly remember the name of Odell Titsworth, the supposed ringleader of Denice’s abduction.

One newspaper clipping shows a psychiatrist saying that Karl has a mental disorder and is unable to tell right from wrong. Leo echoes the sentiment by saying that, in a high-pressure situation, someone like Karl would break very easily. The pressure, he says, was for Karl to match the story the police already have from Tommy.

Leo believes both confessions were false and coerced.

The episode then moves on to freelance investigative journalist A.C. Shilton, who is interested in writing stories about creating a fairer criminal justice system. We briefly follow her as she knocks on doors and makes phone calls to try to get people to talk to her about Ada’s cases.

Stepping away from Denice’s case, The Innocent Man shows that Williamson and Fritz settled a civil court case against the city of Ada and were given over $500,000. During the work for this case, the lawyers and private investigator started to realize that a key eyewitness, Glenn Gore, was treated differently by the authorities.

Gore was the witness who said he saw Williamson harassing Debbie in the bar the night she was murdered.

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The episode ends with audio of a news report of a new suspect who had been to jail in 1987 for burglary, kidnapping and shooting with intent to injure. While not explicitly said, the reenactments are meant to show that this new suspect is Gore.

With two episodes left, do you think Gore is the right suspect? Or is there someone else entirely out there who is guilty of killing Debbie? And could that person also be responsible for what happened to Denice? Let us know in the comments.