How Netflix's 'The Innocent Man' Explores Wrongful Convictions In Murder Cases

How Netflix’s ‘The Innocent Man’ Explores Wrongful Convictions In Murder Cases

*trigger warning: content contains rape and violence*

It’s no surprise that sometimes people are wrongfully convicted of crimes and unfortunately, this happens a lot in cases of rape and murder. Gathering evidence and talking to witnesses can be super challenging and it’s nearly impossible to put the pieces together to have a definitive case.

One of Netflix’s docuseries, The Innocent Mantells the stories of two different and gruesome murder cases in Ada, Oklahoma. Everyone wants to know what happened and who actually did it.

In 1982, 21 year-old Debbie Carter was brutally strangled, raped, and murdered in her own home. Police found her body on the floor, naked and with an electric cord blanket wrapped around her neck. Evidence also showed that she was raped, probably by a ketchup bottle because the lid was found inside of her. The word “DIE” was written on her skin, palm prints were left on a wall, and on the kitchen table was written “DONT LOOK FORE US OR EALSE.” 

The “us” seemed to show that there was more than one person involved…unless it was a fake out…

Years later, Ada Police arrested, charged, and convicted two men for this crime: Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz.

Then, one night in 1984, a young woman named Denise Haraway was reported missing. Police finally found her body after she had been brutally raped and murdered with multiple, deep stab wounds all over her body.

Shortly after, they arrested and convicted two different men, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot for this abduction, rape, and murder.

Throughout this true crime docuseries on Netflix, we hear the confession tapes from Ward and Fontenot. They were cold and emotionless when they told “their story” from the night of the murder. They told police that Odell Titsworth was the “leader” that night, but after some investigation, they found out Titsworth was actually at the emergency room with a broken arm that night. And where the body was buried? Both Ward and Fontenot gave different answers on that one.

Interesting…

The weird thing about both of these cases, with all four men who were arrested, charged, and convicted of the murders, was that there was little to no evidence that they did it at all.

Witness testimonies were what got all four men arrested and convicted, even if they weren’t guilty.

A witness, a man known as Glen Gore, told Ada Police that Williamson and Fritz were guilty for the rape and murder of Debbie Carter. After police made their arrest and continued to search for more evidence, they actually found these two men to be innocent because Glen Gore–yes, the witness–was actually the one who raped and killed her.

Ward and Fontenot weren’t so lucky as Williamson and Fritz, though. The Ada Police Department and the District Attorney couldn’t gather enough evidence for the trial, and so both Ward and Fontenot were stuck in prison and with guilty signs flashing over their heads.

If you watch the confession tapes and really pay attention to every detail, you’ll notice all the contradictions and mistakes. I mean, Ward and Fontenot gave police two different locations as to where Haraway’s body was buried. Their recollection of what shirt she was wearing that night was vague and not helpful to police and doesn’t prove they actually did anything.

There were a lot of loose threads in this investigation, specifically with Ward and Fontenot. To this day, no one knows who actually raped and murdered her. It’s unsolved.

This docuseries proves that witnesses can give false statements and the convicted might be wrongfully accused and sometimes even coerced into giving false testimonies.

After watching this on Netflix, I kept thinking about all the other true crime documentaries I’ve watched and read about. I wondered how often people are in positions of being wrongfully accused. I mean, seriously, what’s the truth? Who should we believe?

About the author
Brooklyn-based poet, writer, avid coffee drinker, and music lover. Follow Kelly on Instagram or read more articles from Kelly on Thought Catalog.

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