Monday, August 5, 2013

The Oklahoman: Report sparks debate over innocence of Karl Fontenot

By Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: August 4, 2013

ADA — Chris Ross is the only person left in his office who was there when Donna Denice Haraway went missing. Haraway's murder was one of the first murder trials he worked on as a 27-year-old prosecutor.

Photo - Chris Ross, district attorney for Pontotoc County, discusses the murder conviction of Karl Fontenot in his office in Ada. Ross says he remains confident that Fontenot is guilty. <strong>Jim Beckel - THE OKLAHOMAN</strong>
Chris Ross, district attorney for Pontotoc County
And almost 30 years later, nothing has changed his mind on who killed Haraway.

Meanwhile, efforts are underway to free Karl Fontenot and Tommy Ward from prison, the two men convicted of the 1984 killing of the 24-year-old Ada woman.

The Oklahoma Innocence Project, an initiative based out of Oklahoma City University's law school, filed a brief in support of application for post-conviction relief on July 24 that outlines why the organization's legal staff believes Fontenot should be released from prison

“There were many inconsistencies throughout the investigation into Ms. Haraway's disappearance, many of which help our case for post-conviction relief for Karl,” Tiffany Murphy, the Oklahoma Innocence Project director, said during the July 24 news conference. “We firmly believe an innocent man has been in prison for nearly 30 years for a crime he did not commit."

And Ward, also convicted of Harraway's murder, awaits a similar brief to be filed.

His attorney Mark Barrett said he has been working on Ward's case for several years and anticipates that a brief will be filed for Ward. It will outline issues similar to what can be found in the Oklahoma Innocence Project brief, although it won't likely be identical.

Barrett said he believes that Ward and Fontenot are both innocence.

“You can expect something that will be filed on Tommy Wards' behalf not too far in the distant future,” Barrett said. “Exactly when, we're not sure.”

The state has 30 days to respond to the Innocence Project's brief, but Ross said he plans to ask for a one-year extension to respond.

But Murphy said she believes a year is too long of an extension.

“I have no disagreement that an extension can be had, and the statute allows for an extension of another 30 days,” she said. “So he's entitled to at least 60 days under the statute. The statute was built to accommodate the need for additional time. The statute was never built to accommodate a year.”

Fontenot and Ward were tried in court in September 1985. Both men were found guilty and sentenced to death. They were scheduled to die in January 1986. Fontenot's case was appealed, and he was granted a new trial.

During the time span of Fontenot's appeal, Haraway's remains were found about 30 miles east of Ada. In 1988, Fontenot was retried, convicted and sentenced to death a second time.

His sentence was later commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to the Oklahoma Innocence Project.

After talking to Ross, it becomes obvious there's little that he and Murphy would agree upon regarding the case.

Ross can spend hours outlining why he feels the men are guilty. Murphy has a 91-page brief that she and a team of lawyers and law students from OCU have worked on since last year.

The brief outlines “substantial evidence not presented during (Fontenot's) trial or appeals establishing not only his innocence but the incompetence of the police investigation which led to his false confession and violations of his state and federal constitutional rights.”

But after reading the brief, Ross is left with a growing Microsoft Word document with red notes throughout it, explaining how and why he disagrees with the Innocence Project.

“I have extreme confidence that nothing that they have presented in their brief would have changed a jury's verdict,” Ross said.

For one, Ross disagrees on how the Oklahoma Innocence Project presents Fontenot's alibi.

The Innocence Project argues that Fontenot told police during a lie-detector test that he was at a party the night that Haraway disappeared from her job at McAnally's, an Ada convenience store. Affidavits from partygoers along with police reports place Fontenot at the party for the entirety of the night, according to the Innocence Project brief.

“Both OSBI and Ada Police Department were aware of this party based upon several witness reports, dispatch records, and police reports,” the brief reads. “However, not only did this evidence not eliminate Mr. Fontenot as a suspect, it was impermissibly withheld from his trial attorney, George Butner, to use in building his defense.”

Ross said he does not believe police suppressed evidence nor does he think witness statements add up to place Fontenot at the party.

“If we can use common sense — let's say me and you are charged with a crime, and me and you say we know that we're at a party the time that crime was committed — how do the police and prosecutors keep us from telling our attorneys that?” Ross said. “They can't.

Ross said three partygoers who were initially interviewed told police that Fontenot wasn't at the party, or that they didn't know when the party was or that they didn't know who Fontenot was.

Murphy said the Innocence Project staff still continues to look for DNA to test to add to its case for Fontenot's innocence.

“The primary reason there's nothing to test is because the police destroyed it,” Murphy said.

Murphy said, for one, police did not properly collect evidence at the convenience store the night Haraway disappeared.

So far, the Innocence Project staff hasn't found anything to send off for DNA testing, but Murphy does not think they're finished looking.

Meanwhile, Ross said he has always had an open-book policy, allowing anyone to test anything he has for DNA.

“I think there is zero percent chance that there's any DNA,” he said. “DNA (is) what we believe to be a certainty, what we're taught is certainty, and past that, there is no certainty — short of crimes committed on videotape.


While this is an even handed article, it misses many of the important forensic issues in the case, or perhaps avoids them entirely.

For the Forensic report by the author (Brent E. Turvey, PhD) filed with Fontenot's application for relief, see: Investigative and Forensic Assessment: Abduction and Homicide of Donna "Denice" Haraway.

For the complete filing by attorney Tiffany Murphy, see: Karl Fontenot v. State of Oklahoma, District Court of Pontotoc County State of Oklahoma, No. CR-88-43. Brief in Support of Application for Post-Conviction Relief.