So, if you have Netflix then you know about the new docoseries – The Innocent Man which is actually based on the book of the same title by the one and only John Grisham. Now I’ve actually never read anything of Mr Grisham’s although I know that he’s a big seller, and that a number of his books have been made into movies. However, this book of his is particularly special because it is the one and only non-fiction story that he has published to date.
The Innocent Man centers around two murders of two young women in the early 1980’s
in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma. The first murder was horrific, with the rape and murder of Debra Carter in 1982. The two men charged with her murder were Ron Williamson, who was once a big time baseball player, and Dennis Fritz. Despite the railroading that both men received, the polygraph tests the took didn’t help them (but let’s face it,
they’re junk science really and give out so many false positives that they’re inadmissible in court), Williamson had serious mental health conditions, and the police had pressure to find a culprit (or two) as well as tunnel vision. Which ultimately ended up in the life sentence of Fritz, and a cell on death row for Williamson.
The second case in the book was that of Denice Haraway who was found shot once in the
head on April 28, 1984. The police believed that Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot walked into the convenience store that Miss Haraway worked at, abducted her and shot her.
Despite the fact that they both denied doing so multiple times, however like the first case the police had tunnel vision and no doubt added extra pressure of another murder in their small town. They used the polygraph tests again, and Ward is a skittish/anxious person so it was no surprise when Wards came back as failed a number of times. The police also frustrated that Ward wasn’t admitting to a crime that they suspected he had committed, and instead used a dream that he had about the crime as a confession. Unfortunately Ward and Fontenot are still incarcerated. However that did receive a retrial. In the first sentencing they both had received death. In the retrial, Fontenot was again sentenced to death and Ward is currently serving a life sentence.
In the case of Debra, they arrested, charged, and sentenced Glen Gore with her murder after DNA evidence cleared Williamson and Fritz. What for this, Gore was questioned after Debra’s murder however no DNA evidence was collected from him, and he testified against Williamson and Fritz. Further, DNA evidence connected Gore to the crime scene, along with witness accounts of him being with Debra the night of her murder. Unbelievable, I know.
I didn’t really expect anything less than a brilliant read, and that’s what I got. I was a tad worried that Mr Grisham may embellish or right the story as a fiction piece, however it read smoothly and matter-of-factly. The depth of information was excellent, and being someone who hadn’t heard of these two cases before, I felt as though I got just the right amount of information without feeling as though there was an overload. Generally, when too much information is given, it reads sluggish and boring. Not for me. It’s outrageous quite frankly, that four innocent men (five when you add Greg Wilhoit who is also added in the story and shared the same death row as the men) in the same county are sentenced for horrific crimes they didn’t commit. You can only imagine what that would be like. Especially for Williamson who was already suffering from mental health issues that were magnified being in a place where prisoner welfare is at the bottom of the list of importance. It’s truly heartbreaking, and even though two of those men were released, it’s forever changed their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Not to mention the anguish for the victims families.
If you enjoy true crime, and stories of innocence then I highly recommend this one for you. I think I also recommend myself to try some of Grisham’s fiction work, because if it’s as half as good as his non-fiction I’m in for awesomeness!
Have you read it? What did you think? Let me know.