Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt says he opposes the Oklahoma Innocence Project’s request for post-conviction relief in the 1984 robbery, kidnapping, and murder of Donna D. Haraway. The OIP is working to exonerate Karl Fontenot. Fontenot and his co-defendant, Tommy Ward, are both serving life sentences. The innocence project is not representing Ward.
The Attorney General’s response contends that Fontenot failed to show that critical evidence was suppressed or that his trial attorneys were ineffective, “The court should deny petitioner’s application for post-conviction relief in full,” Assistant Attorneys General Robert Whittaker and Matthew Haire said in the response.
The A.G.’s response marks the latest development in the more than two decade old case. Haraway vanished in 1984 while she was working at McAnally’s convenience store in Ada, Oklahoma. There were no leads until 5 months later when an informant gave the name Tommy Ward to police. Ward was interrogated intensely and told police that he had a dream that he, Fontenot, and a third man were involved.
The Haraway case is reminiscent of the more recent Ryan Ferguson case in Missouri. Ferguson’s friend told police he dreamed they were involved in the death of a sports journalist months after the crime. Ferguson spent almost 10 years in prison before his conviction was overturned and his charges dismissed after the witnesses against him recanted their testimony. His friend is still in prison.
Fontenot confessed after hours of interrogation. Fontenot immediately recanted and said his confession was coerced. Police determined that the third man was not involved in the crime. Fontenot and Ward were convicted and sentenced to death in September 1985. They were scheduled to die in January 1986, but Fontenot appealed his case and won a new trial. During his appeal, Haraway’s remains were discovered 30 minutes outside of Ada. Fontenot was retried in 1988 and was convicted and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison without parole.
The innocence project began investigating Fontenot’s case in 2012. They say that new evidence proves Fontenot’s innocence, including proof of an alibi. The Innocence Project is seeking to overturn Fontenot’s conviction on a variety of grounds, including claims of new evidence that proves his innocence. The organization has said the evidence also shows that the police investigation into Haraway’s death was flawed, leading to Fontenot’s false confession.
“If the police investigating this case had collected available evidence, investigated leads of other potential suspects, listened to witnesses even if their information was contrary to APD’s handling of the case and followed up on the information people were giving them, it is likely Mr. Fontenot would have never been convicted,” Innocence Project director Tiffany Murphy said.
In their response, the state completely denies there is any new evidence or that Fontenot is innocent. In addition, they believe that Fontenot has lost his chance to file for relief, stating that he should have sought it sooner, “It is completely unreasonable to believe that any witness will be able to recall with any form of confident reliability the thirty-year-old details of events on April 28, 1984, and the months following that day.”
The case was chronicled in the book The Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer. Another similar “dream confession” case is chronicled in John Grisham’s first non-fiction book The Innocent Man. Interestingly, that case also occurred in Ada, Oklahoma.