The Innocent Man

Netflix

For decades Karl Fontenot and Tommy Ward have proclaimed their innocence from prison in the infamous “Dreams of Ada” murder case. Now there is a new witness that has come forth that says the two men are guilty, not innocent.

Both Karl Fontenot and Tommy Ward are again challenging their convictions for the 1984 murder of an Ada convenience store clerk. The victim, Donna Denice Haraway, disappeared from the McAnally’s convenience store on April 28, 1984. She was 24.

The two men and their claims on innocence have received national attention via the Netflix true crime docuseries, “The Innocent Man.”  The series, based on best-selling novelist John Grisham’s only nonfiction book, debuted in December.

According to the new witness that has come forward, Ferlin Wayne Traylor, said that he saw the two men at the convenience store two or three days before the clerk, Donna Haraway disappeared. Traylor said he was buying a soda-pop near closing time and the clerk told him twice, “Please don’t leave me.”

“Traylor said he remembers this incident so well because he realized that he gave the … clerk two or three more days of life,” according to a report on the interview.

Traylor, 62, spoke in February at his home in Allen to Brett Macy, the attorney general’s chief investigator. The report on the interview was filed Monday in federal court in Muskogee, where Fontenot is challenging his conviction.

Traylor told the investigator the clerk “was shaking and started to cry,” according to the report. He said she explained that she “thinks they are trying to take her” because they had both been in the store earlier, wouldn’t buy anything and wouldn’t leave.

He said at the time one man was inside the store and the other was in a two-toned Chevrolet pickup parked outside. He said the man inside the store left as the clerk talked about her fears.

He said he stared directly into their faces from about 10 feet away for a few minutes before they left in the pickup. He said he believed they were debating whether they could “get away with it or if they should leave.” He said he later saw their photos in the newspaper after they were arrested.

Ironically, the new witness was discovered because of the Netflix series. He said he and a former prosecutor on the case work out at the same Ada gym. He said he noticed in December that the former prosecutor, Chris Ross, looked disturbed.

Traylor said Ross talked about the new Netflix documentary and how it “did not paint a good picture of him or the investigation.”

“Traylor told Ross not to worry, they (law enforcement) had the right guys in custody. Traylor was so sure that the two men in custody had done the crime that he would give the two men the death penalty,” according to the report.

Both men had been on death row. Fontenot, 54, is now serving life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ward, 58, is serving life in prison.

The case has been intensely scrutinized for years — starting with the book, “The Dreams of Ada,” — because their convictions relied heavily on their confessions. Key details from those recanted confessions turned out to be inaccurate. Most significantly, both confessed to stabbing the clerk and Fontenot told police the body had been buried near the Ada power plant. Her skull and other remains were found more than a year after her disappearance in a field near Gerty, about 30 miles away. She had been shot in the head.

“False confessions occurred in 13% of the 1,730 known exonerations in this country,” Fontenot’s attorneys wrote in his legal challenge.

The case also has been scrutinized because the same district attorney, Bill Peterson, later wrongly convicted two men of another woman’s murder. The two men, Ron Williamson, and Dennis Fritz were eventually exonerated by DNA evidence and freed. Grisham focused on Williamson in “The Innocent Man.”

 

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