In a story that gained national attention with John Grisham’s best-selling non-fiction book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, the six-part documentary series The Innocent Man focuses on two murders that shook the small town of Ada, Oklahoma, in the 1980s — and the controversial chain of events that followed.
In 1982, 21-year-old Debra Sue “Debbie” Carter is raped and killed inside her home. In 1984, another Ada woman, 24-year-old Denice Haraway, is killed after being kidnapped from the convenience store where she works. Local men Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot are charged with Haraway’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. A couple years later, police charge two other men, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, with killing Carter. Fritz receives life in prison, while Williamson is sentenced to the death penalty.
Similarities emerge between how the two cases are handled; their videotaped confessions are questioned, as are forensics results and physical evidence (or lack thereof). In 1999, with help from non-profit legal organization the Innocence Project, DNA testing helps exonerate Williamson and Fritz. To this day, Ward and Fontenot remain in prison and maintain their innocence.
Directed by Clay Tweel (Finders Keepers, Gleason, Out of Omaha), The Innocent Man includes interviews with victims’ friends and families, Ada residents, attorneys, journalists, and others involved in the cases. (Grisham appears, as does attorney Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project.) Developed as a documentary series by Tweel and Ross Dinerstein, it blends new footage with compelling archival video and photos. The series is produced by Maura Anderson and Shannon Riggs. Executive producers are John Grisham, David Gernert, Tweel and Dinerstein.