The Innocent Man season 1 episode 5 recap: Smoking Guns


In the last episode of The Innocent Man, Denice Haraway’s remains were found, but that didn’t help Tommy Ward or Karl Fontenot get out of prison. Plus, there may be a new suspect in the unsolved murder of Debbie Carter.

The start of this episode of The Innocent Man shows a news report saying exactly what the end of episode four implied: Glen Gore is the new suspect in the murder of Debbie Carter, thanks to the DNA evidence that also exonerated Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz.

Apparently, after learning that police had linked DNA from the semen at the crime scene to him, Gore escaped from prison. Gore was in prison from his 1987 arrest for burglary, kidnapping and shooting with intent to injure. Gore, who supposedly didn’t trust the Ada police, turned himself into the county sheriff about a week later.

As Debbie’s mother, Peppy, talks about what she knows of Gore, it’s revealed that Debbie and Gore were not friends like Gore claimed. In fact, Debbie was scared of Gore, which is again very different from Gore’s claim that Debbie asked him for help getting away from Williamson at the bar the night of her death.

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Gore stood trial for Debbie’s murder in 2002, 20 years after Debbie’s death. The jury easily found him guilty but was hung on whether or not to recommend the death sentence. Instead, Gore was given life without parole.

Peppy, still looking for answers, says she has written to Gore to ask why he did it. She hasn’t heard back. She knows she may have to come to terms with not getting the answers she’s looking for.

Checking in with the Williamson family shows a sad story of continued mental deterioration for Ron Williamson. Due to his mental health issues going untreated in jail and his struggles with alcohol after his release, Williamson died at 51—only five years after being exonerated.

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The part that really got me, though, is a short-lived friendship that grew between Williamson and Peppy. They would talk on the phone often. Peppy smiles remembering those phone calls.

Fritz returned to teaching after his release, lecturing on the criminal justice system and campaigning against the death penalty. Unfortunately, his future was yet again altered when he suffered a brain injury in a car crash in 2016. He now shows signs of dementia because of the trauma to his brain.

Both look-ins are devastating depictions of the harm that came from wrongfully convicting these two men.

Moving away from those two, the episode shifts back to investigative journalist A.C. Shilton. Shilton, with the help of Williamson’s attorney Cheryl Pilate and private investigator Dan Clark, pours through boxes of documents.

Among their discoveries were such things as finding out that the statement from the people who saw Debbie arguing with someone in the bar parking lot was changed in the police report to take out the fact that they said it was Gore who they saw.

On top of that, there were two different statements from Gore. The first, taken the night of Debbie’s murder, said he hadn’t heard from Debbie that she was having any problems with anyone that night. So she hadn’t asked him for help like he later claimed. The second statement from Gore, the one that pointed the finger at Williamson, was strangely undated and unsigned by Gore.

It’s really beginning to look like the Ada police worked to make sure Gore wasn’t a suspect. The implication, according to Pilate and Clark’s digging, is that Gore was connected somehow to the Ada police department via drug deals and the police were afraid Gore would blow the whistle on them.

True to form, District Attorney Bill Peterson apparently threatened Gore and told Gore that he better stick to the story accusing Williamson, according to Gore.

After completing Williamson and Fritz’s civic court cases, Pilate and Clark turned their attention to Denice’s case. Shilton reveals that Denice had received threatening phone calls and felt unsafe working at the gas station at nights, so much so that she once asked a customer where she could buy a gun for protection.

This information had not been given to Karl’s defense attorney.

Also discovered were three other suspects that the police had dropped for unclear reasons: Billy Charley, Jim Bob Howard and Floyd DeGraw.

Charley, according to many people in Ada, also matched the description and sketch that the police had of the person who abducted Denice. One friend of both Charley and Tommy Ward went to the police saying that the sketch looked like Charley and he thought Charley was capable of the crime. Charley had multiple assaults on his record, including shooting at police officers. The description of the truck also seemed to match Charley’s truck.

Howard looks like a good suspect for the second person involved in Denice’s murder. According to an affidavit from one of his friends, Howard had said he couldn’t visit his mother in Ada because he had committed some robberies there and, during one, shot a female store clerk. Howard and Charley were also close friends.

Mark Barrett, who worked on Williamson’s defense team and had also done some digging into Denice’s case, said that even though people said Charley had been brought in for a police interview, there was no record of that interview. Barrett points out that, just like Gore, Charley sold drugs.

The third suspect, DeGraw, had been arrested in Texas for rape and kidnapping a few nights after Denice disappeared. When his car was searched, they found two IDs from women in Ada, Oklahoma. Apparently, an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent (who, oddly, wasn’t the same agent who worked on the Denice case) was sent to interview DeGraw. When he was questioned about Denice, DeGraw got emotional.

Still, nothing further was done. DeGraw was convicted in Texas. He eventually moved back home to West Virginia and raped and murdered a woman there.

All three men seemed to have the capability of committing this crime against Denice, but the police dismissed them all.

Shilton then joined with a childhood friend of Tommy Ward’s to track down the three men. Howard and Charley declined to talk to Shilton and all three denied knowing anything about Denice’s murder. DeGraw, in a phone call from prison, told Shilton that if he’d done it, he’d admit to it because he has nothing more to lose.

As this episode of The Innocent Man winds down, it’s hard to tell what Shilton’s next steps will be in her quest to get justice for Denice, Tommy and Karl.

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Without a smoking gun, everyone working to free Tommy and Karl are at an impasse. But the parallels between the handling of Denice’s case and Debbie’s case are just too much to ignore.

How do you think The Innocent Man will end? Is there more evidence to be found? Or are Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot actually guilty? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.