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Report sparks debate over innocence of Karl Fontenot

Karl Fontenot was convicted in the 1980s for the killing of Donna Denice Harraway, a 24-year-old Ada woman. But a recent effort is underway to prove his innocence. Meanwhile, Pontotoc County District Attorney Chris Ross says the facts still prove Fontenot is guilty.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: August 4, 2013
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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.

Almost 30 years later, Ross serves as the district attorney for Pontotoc, Hughes and Seminole counties.

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.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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I have extreme confidence that nothing that they have presented in their brief would have changed a jury's verdict.”

Chris Ross,
District Attorney for Pontotoc County

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