An Oklahoma man convicted of first-degree murder almost 30 years ago is innocent and should be freed, the head of the Oklahoma Innocence Project said Wednesday.
Karl A. Fontenot, 48, is serving a life sentence without parole for the 1984 killing of Donna Haraway.
Wednesday, the Oklahoma Innocence Project at the Oklahoma City University School of Law filed an application and brief in Pontotoc County in support of post-conviction relief on behalf of Fontenot.
Tiffany Murphy, the project's director, said the organization believes that the evidence its students and staff members discovered during its investigation into Fontenot's case proves he was not involved. Murphy said Fontenot should regain his freedom “as soon as humanly possible.”
“There were many inconsistencies throughout the investigation into Ms. Haraway's disappearance, many of which help our case for post-conviction relief for Karl,” Murphy said. “We firmly believe an innocent man has been in prison for nearly 30 years for a crime he did not commit.”
The state of Oklahoma has 30 days to respond to the documents the Oklahoma Innocence Project filed, Murphy said.
“We will be moving for an evidentiary hearing to present our case to the court, and after that the court will make a decision, provided everything moves according to statute,” Murphy said.
This is the first action that the Oklahoma Innocence Project has filed in an Oklahoma court. The project, which launched in August 2011, is a collaboration of Oklahoma City University law students and attorneys who pursue cases “where there is credible evidence of factual innocence,” according to the organization.
Fontenot and his co-defendant, Thomas J. 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.
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We will be moving for an evidentiary hearing to present our case to the court, and after that the court will make a decision provided everything moves according to statute.”
Director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project at the Oklahoma City University School of Law