Oklahoman Featured In Netflix’s ‘The Innocent Man’ Released From Prison
OKLAHOMA CITY - A man who spent 35 years in prison in a murder case featured in the book and television series “The Innocent Man” was released Thursday morning from an Oklahoma prison.
Karl Fontenot, 55, was transferred to the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Office, said Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman Matt Elliott. A telephone message left with the U.S. Marshal’s Office wasn’t immediately returned.
Fontenot was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1984 kidnapping and killing of Donna Denice Haraway, a convenience store clerk in Ada, Oklahoma.
But a federal judge ordered his release in August, writing that newly discovered evidence provides “solid proof of Mr. Fontenot’s probable innocence.” The state is appealing the judge’s ruling, but a federal appeals panel ruled Fontenot could be released in the meantime.
The original conviction relied heavily on Fontenot's taped confession that he killed Haraway.
“If you hold someone long enough in isolation without food, without sleep, without giving them an opportunity for breaks or contract with the outside world, eventually most people are going to say whatever they have to say to get out of that situation,” said Andrea Digilio Miller, Legal Director for the Oklahoma Innocence Project.
Miller credits the Fontenot case for criminal justice reforms.
Last year, Oklahoma lawmakers made it a requirement in homicides and felony sex crime cases that an entire suspect interview be recorded and not just when a suspect may be confessing to a crime.
The convictions of Fontenot and a co-defendant, Thomas Ward, have come under intense scrutiny for years and have been the subject of numerous books, including the bestselling book “The Innocent Man” by John Grisham. It was later made into a six-part documentary series recently released on Netflix.
Ward remains imprisoned while his appeal is proceeding separately in state court.