The Innocent Man season 1 finale: Snow Storm


By the end of The Innocent Man episode 5, Debbie Carter’s case was finally put to rest as Glen Gore was charged with her murder.

But that just opened a lot of suspicious windows into how Denice Haraway’s case was handled.

The Innocent Man kicks off its final episode by playing a recording of District Attorney Bill Peterson’s closing statement in Ron Williamson’s 1988 court case.

What’s jaw-dropping is, as a wrap-up of why the jury should believe the circumstantial evidence against Williamson and Dennis Fritz, he says that either those two did it or “there’s a giant conspiracy going on” between law enforcement, witnesses and the DA’s office.

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After the opening credits, Christy, Debbie’s cousin, meets with the court reporter who has all of the evidence in Debbie’s case. The court reporter is returning the “Debbie” embroidered belt that was used to kill Debbie. It’s an item that Peppy, Debbie’s mom, continually said meant a lot to her because she had given it to Debbie as a gift.

There are some very touching moments as Peppy remembers Debbie and visits Debbie’s grave with Christy and Glenna, Peppy’s sister. Glenna says that she still hasn’t forgiven Peterson because he hasn’t apologized to Peppy.

In an interview with a reporter, Peterson says he doesn’t think he has anything to apologize for. Even though two innocent men went to prison for 12 years, he says he was just doing his job and it’s not his fault they got convicted.

This transitions to John Grisham talking about how and why he decided to write his book, on which this docu-series is based. Peterson said that Grisham harmed the community by writing the book.

Peterson had made steps to sue Grisham over the book, but the lawsuit was thrown out. It’s clear that Peterson felt that Grisham’s book was a personal attack on his character.

Related Story. The Innocent Man season 1 episode 5 recap. light

As the episode moves to discuss Tommy Ward’s appeal in the case of Denice Haraway’s murder, investigative reporter A.C. Shilton explains what makes the appeals process tough. Rather than simply needing to create reasonable doubt that Ward and Karl Fontenot were guilty, there needed to be specific evidence that their rights were violated in order to get them out of prison.

Fontenot’s lawyer, George Butner, then talks about how the problem may not have been Peterson withholding information, but the police not including all of their information in the report given to the DA’s office.

Cheryl Pilate, an attorney who worked on Williamson’s civil case and who had been digging through records with Shilton and private investigator Dan Clark, points a stern finger at Ada law enforcement. She says that their regular practice of narrowing the information they give to the DA down to what they want is unconstitutional.

The difference, as The Innocent Man shows, is one of 650 pages. 150 pages were given to the prosecutor, while the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation had over 800 pages of materials.

The Innocent Man filmmakers then point out to Butner that the depositions of Peterson and others read like a system of plausible deniability. Butner readily agrees. It seems like a system was intentionally set up to allow Peterson to say “well, I didn’t know anything about it, so it’s not my fault.”

In a phone call, Tommy notes that lead investigator on both Denice and Debbie’s cases, Dennis Smith, was close to retirement and didn’t want to leave with two major cases unsolved. It’s something that the series brings up multiple times.

We’re then introduced to Carl Allen. Allen was Ada’s assistant police chief from 1985 to 2011. Allen said he reached out to Grisham after reading his book because he wanted to know more about what Grisham thought was going on in his department so he could stop it.

Grisham’s response, Allen said, was fairly generic.

Allen continues by saying that police officers are human and, while he may have doubts as to whether or not Tommy and Karl are guilty, he doesn’t think there was some devious plan in place to convict two innocent men. Without saying as much, he implies that it may just be human error or bad police work.

The Innocent Man now brings back false confessions expert Richard Leo. He talks briefly about how police will sometimes coach confessors to tell plausible, complete stories. They want stories that have clear beginnings, middles and ends and contain details.

This is important because one of the big questions is why Tommy and Karl described Denice as wearing one thing when she was found wearing something completely different. Their description, according to Peterson, was damning because the police didn’t know what Denice was wearing that night.

However, Clark and Shilton have documents that show that the police knew about the shirt the two men described two months before the confessions were made, which means they easily could have fed the information to Tommy.

Next, the episode brings up Terri Holland again. Holland was used in both Denice and Debbie’s cases as a witness who said she overheard the men confess to the crimes while in jail.

Apparently, Holland was one of several women who was videotaped having sex with law enforcement officers while in jail. She said that the existence of those tapes put pressure on her to go along with what she was told to testify to. Not only that, but her husband was in jail facing a 440-year sentence and her false testimony may have helped get his sentence reduced down to only seven years.

Holland died of leukemia in 2012.

Shilton then sits down with one of the eyewitnesses who were at the gas station the night Denice was abducted. The police brought him in to see a line-up to see if he could identify the man who abducted her, but before they brought out the group, they showed the witness Tommy, making it easier for him to pick Tommy out. It tainted the line-up results.

Mark Barrett, Tommy’s appeal attorney, filed a 60-page brief supporting Tommy’s application for post-conviction relief. Included are points on witness tampering, coercion of false confessions, withheld evidence and a constitutional violation of Tommy’s right to a fair trial. This was filed in November of 2017.

As the season draws to a close, The Innocent Man says that the state of Oklahoma opposed the filing and a judge will review it in 2019. It also says that, according to recent data (unsourced), four percent of people in U.S. prisons are wrongfully imprisoned, which equates to about 90,000 innocent people in jail.

Fontenot is currently awaiting word on his federal appeal on his case.

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The Innocent Man also shows that Perry Lott, released in 2018, was the fourth person convicted in Ada to be released based on DNA evidence.

So, what did you think of this new true-crime documentary series from Netflix? Are you convinced that Tommy and Karl are innocent? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.