Part 1: Comprehensive Summary
The Innocent Man is a highly rated crime fiction work authored by John Grisham. It’s an account of a true story from a series of murders that happened in Ada, Oklahoma which led to the prosecution, conviction, and almost the execution of four innocent men. The aftermath of Debbie Carter and Denice Haraway is traced in this work. The Innocent Man depicts how justice can easily be miscarried and how difficult it can be for an innocent person to get their freedom after they have been erroneously convicted.
Williamson and Fritz were the main suspects in the murder of Carter. Williamson is a former baseball player who is mentally disturbed. He was wrongfully accused of killing Carter, a cocktail waitress aged twenty-one years. Ron Williamson was prosecuted and convicted even though there was no direct evidence that could link to him being the culprit. Williamson failure to conform to the norms of the society, coupled with emotional instability as well as his ‘strange’ conduct, made him the perfect target and an easy scapegoat. Additionally, the police received a confession from a prisoner looking for a quick release alleging to have overhead Ron confess to Debbie’s murder, thus affirming the investigative authorities’ initial position. The police also interviewed Dennis Fritz, whose only link to the crime was due to his close relationship with Ron Williamson and partly due to the police’s assumption that two people committed the murder. Ron had bouts of depressions following the end of his baseball career. Dennis also the same problem following the loss of his wife a factor that made the two to strike a friendship.
Debbie Carter and Denice Haraway’s cases had high levels of similarities, even though the two were not directly intertwined. Just like in Debbie Carter murder case, two men were prosecuted and convicted despite there being no direct evidence to link them to the murder of Denice Haraway. Ron Williamson and Fritz Dennis had been convicted of Carter’s murder, but they were later set free. This was after advanced DNA tests proved them innocent. Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, on the other hand, would also go on and be convicted for Denice Haraway’s murder despite having recanted their confessions obtained as a result of coercion. Despite this, they are still serving life sentences as per Oklahoma prisons. Tommy Ward shared with investigators how had dreamt committing the killings of Haraway. Even though they were simply dreams, the investigators used this as a critical piece as evidence against them. The police conduct in the two cases raises vital questions of how casually and shallow justice can be treated. Interference of evidence could not go unnoticed, especially in the case of Williamson and Fritz. Joyce Gilchrist had been known for giving false evidence, especially on hair analysis, and false confessions, a revelation that was made by the FBI leading Gilchrist being fired.
In the course of investigations, the conduct Williamson and Fritz may as well have led to their convictions. An inmate of the Pontotoc County jail testified of how Williamson talked about the murder of Debbie Carter. The inmate, Ms. Holland, had stated how she overheard Williamson saying that if Debbie Carter coperated he would not have killed her. Ms. Holland went ahead to detail how Williamson had committed the murder, including the gruesome act and cruelty of his actions. At another instance, she said that Williamson had threatened his mother to do what he wanted lest she kills her like he killed Carter. A dream that Williamson had also aggravated the matter. In the dream, Dennis Fritz was also there. In another dream, he said how he had driven to Ada to a club where Carter was and later that night, he raped and killed her. A cross-examination also indicated that Williamson had been convicted with a felony after he had escaped while driving under substance intoxication. Fritz was overheard by an inmate, Mcintosh who provided that he and Williamson discussed pictures of Carter and used statements that showed they knew what had transpired.
The convictions of Williamson and Fritz would go on to overturned later after DNA evidence indicated that the two were not guilty. After Fritz’s appeals were rejected, the Innocence Project came to their rescue with their innocence being proven by DNA analysis conducted in January 1999. The advanced DNA analysis brought the case to closure after the semen samples obtained at the crime scene failed to match the two. They were later released in April same year. Glen Gore was conclusively implicated of the murder from the DNA testing and was handed a death sentence.
Part II: Conduct of the police, prosecution, and court in the Carter murder investigation and trial.
The conduct of the police, prosecution, and the court during investigations and trial raises several issues. The first notable issue is the fixed assumptions and the focus on certain suspects by the police despite evidence indicating otherwise. In Debbie’s murder case, the police targeted on Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz despite questioning various suspects including the Glen Gore, who was the last person who was seen with Debbie. The police also formulate a theory that two people conducted the murder despite the availability of palm print evidence contradicting this position. The obsession and fixation by the police on their initial assumptions lead them to manufacture evidence to support their unfounded assumptions. As a result, the police resorted to intimidation and coercion to derive confessions from innocent suspects all the while ignoring their rights and flaunting investigative standards in the processes. Examples include not allowing suspects to write their own confessions and not letting them see the confessions once they are done. Another example is the police using Tommy Ward dream as a valid confession and evidence to implicate him in the murder of Denice Haraway.
Another crucial element is the prosecution refusal to hand over Brady material that would have helped the defense and Ron Williamson case. During pre-trials, the prosecution is supposed to hand over all exculpatory evidence to the defense, thus giving them a chance for a fair trial. This was not done in Ron Williamson trial with the prosecution refusing to hand over a recorded tape that showed Ron denying any involvement in Debbie Carter murder. This tape would have been crucial in the trial since it was the only evidence on record that showed Ron Williamson denying any involvement of Debbie carter murder. When the defense moved to file for a mistrial since this was a clear Brady violation, but they were overruled a violation of court and trial procedures. These factors denied Ron Williamson a chance for a fair trial, eventually leading to the conviction of an innocent man.
Another shocking aspect that can be observed in the trial of Debbie carter murder was the non-inclusion of Glen Gore as a suspect in her murder. Glen Gore knew Carter very well, they had attended the same high school and the two had been seen together during the night of the murder. The prosecution also ignored information from multiple witnesses who had confessed to having seen them together speaking, and an argument at the parking lot of the club Carter worked, (Coachlight). In addition, Gore got a ride from a friend who was going to a section of town one mile away from Carter’s apartment. He claimed that he was walking to his mother’s house, but questions are raised as to why he was there yet his mother’s house was across town from the spot he was dropped. Carter is claimed to have called her friend Gina Vietta, asking her if she could come over because she felt uncomfortable as someone was in the house. It remains a mystery as to why the prosecution could not see a red flag in Gore actions and statements. This showed that the police were determined to push a case against Williamson and Fritz using all means.
There was also the sheetrock palm print which had been pulled from the murder scene. The palm print was examined by Crime scene specialist Jerry Peters and found not to match Debbie, Ron, or Fritz. While this would have made investigations easier since the police only needed to match the print to another suspect; the investigation still insisted on Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz as the main suspects. The examiner-Jerry Peters would also later change his mind after four years and issue a report confirming that the palm print was a match for Debbie Carter. This was the first time Jerry Peter had changed his mind in his 24 year career. What is baffling is the fact that the investigative agencies refused to act on the initial assessment four years earlier when Debbie prints were still fresh, but they were quick to believe and act on the second assessment derived from an exhumed body since it confirmed their position and biases. Investigators are supposed to gather information and examine all possible perspectives and scenarios in solving a case. However, this was not the case in the Debbie Carter murder investigation since the police had a position which they were willing to go to any length to affirm despite the evidence indicating otherwise.