One of two men featured in 'The Innocent Man' novel, Netflix series could be freed

"Innocent man" granted new trial after 30 years in prison

PONTOTOC COUNTY, Okla. — One of two men featured in the John Grisham novel and Netflix series "The Innocent Man" could soon be freed.

In a 190-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge James Payne laid out his reasoning for why the state needs to have a new trial or release Karl Fontenot from prison.

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Payne's opinion discusses alleged misconduct by police, investigators, and prosecutors in the case and 1984-85 trial concerning the death of Donna "Denice" Haraway.

"The Ada Police Department investigators turned a blind eye to many important pieces of evidence relying instead on witness statements that fit their theory of the case while disregarding much stronger evidence of alternate suspects," Payne says.

Fontenot and co-defendant Tommy Ward were convicted in Haraway's murder in part due to a recording of them talking about dreams they had about her murder.

Payne said the "dream confessions" that were used against the men in court held dubious value.

When Haraway's body was found in 1986, she did not have the injuries Fontenot talked about in his dream.

"In fact, not one detail of Mr. Fontenot’s confession could ever be corroborated with any evidence in the case," Payne says.

He also called out the actions of Pontotoc County when it came to withholding and manipulating evidence, calling it a "fraud on the court.

The decision that could free Fontenot in the next 120 days comes after he and Ward's convictions received international attention from the Netflix series based on John Grisham's novel.

There is no indication on what this update means for Ward's case.

A Facebook page that relays messages from Fontenot's family to people following the case simply asked for prayer that his release would come about soon.

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