Former Ada resident Thomas Jesse Ward, convicted of a murder he insists he did not commit, was ordered on Dec. 18 to be set free.
Ward, now 60, was convicted in 1985, along with Karl Fontenot, now 56, in connection with the disappearance and murder of Donna Denice Haraway. Both were also later convicted in second trials.
According to court records filed Dec. 18, a district judge wrote, "... this court finds that the factual contentions made by the petitioner, Thomas Jesse Ward, in his amended application for post-conviction relief are sufficient as a matter of law to establish a prima facie showing the petitioner is entitled to post-conviction relief. It is therefore ordered, adjudged and decreed that petitioner's amended application for post-conviction relief is granted. Pursuant to Title 22, O.S. 1085, this court hereby vacates and sets aside the judgements and sentences entered against Ward on July 10, 1989, dismisses the charges originally filed against him in Pontotoc County case number CRF-84-183 and re-tried in Pottawatomie County case number CRF-1988-208; and discharges Ward from the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections."
No specific date of release was mentioned, and, as of 1 p.m. Saturday, Ward remained at Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy.
Fontenot was released in December 2019 at the age of 55 after a federal judge ordered he be released or retried.
Both Ward and Fontenot claimed their confessions were coerced and steadfastly maintained their innocence.
In 2006, the crime and subsequent investigation became the subject of part of novelist John Grisham’s only nonfiction work, “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town.”
In December 2018, streaming service Netflix debuted a six-part series examining the 1982 murder of Debbie Sue Carter and the 1984 disappearance and murder of Donna Denice Haraway. The series is based on Grisham’s best-selling book.