Federal Appeals Court Vacates Karl Fontenot’s Conviction

Wednesday, July 14th 2021, 11:02 pm

A big decision from the 10th circuit federal appeals court in the case of Karl Fontenot. Fontenot's case was featured in the John Grisham book and Netflix documentary The Innocent Man..

The upper court agreed Fontenot's conviction should be reversed.

Fontenot has been out of prison since 2019 while his case was on appeal. The Oklahoma attorney general now has 120 days to re-try the case or Fontenot will remain free.

Fontenot spent 35 years behind bars for the 1984 kidnapping, robbery, and murder of Denise Haraway in what the 10th circuit now calls a "fundamental miscarriage of justice."

In 2019 a federal judge ruled prosecutors withheld evidence of Fontenot's probable innocence, adding that there was no physical evidence linking Fontenot to the crime. The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office appealed that ruling on statute of limitations and procedural issues.

In the 178-page decision the 10th circuit agreed with the lower court saying, "Almost no evidence connected him to the crime other than his own videotaped confession, a confession that rang false in almost every particular."

Fontenot and Tommy Ward, who was convicted in the same case, gained national attention after the Grisham book and Netflix documentary that focused on confessions defense attorneys argued was coerced. 

But Fontenot and Ward's appeals gained momentum once it was discovered that police and prosecutors failed to turn over thousands of pages of evidence.  

“The jury never heard this evidence, correct?” One of the judges asked during the appeals hearing. “None of it?”

Ward, meanwhile, is still in prison while prosecutors appeal a decision by an Oklahoma judge to vacate his sentence.

A spokesperson for the attorney general's office said they are currently reviewing the decision.