Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson

From the left, Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson react as District Judge Tom Landrith orders their release from prison in this file photo from The Ada News archives. Fritz and Williamson are the subject of a Netflix series based on the best-selling book by John Grisham, "The Innocent Man." The series premiered Friday on the streaming service.

Streaming service Netflix debuted a six-part series Friday examining the 1982 murder of Debbie Sue Carter and the 1984 disappearance and murder of Donna Denice Haraway — crimes which shocked Ada to its core.

The crimes and subsequent investigations became the subject of novelist John Grisham’s only nonfiction work, “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town.” The series is based on Grisham’s best-selling book.

“It’s six, one-hour episodes that really goes through the story,” Grisham said. “It’s very well done, and it’s going to really rekindle interest in the story.”

In six episodes, producers explore the murders and ensuing investigations, including the arrests, trials and convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz for Debbie Carter’s murder and Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot for the murder of Denise Haraway. The series also explores Williamson and Fritz’s subsequent release from prison after being exonerated by DNA testing in 1999.

Grisham’s book was used as a foundation to explore both cases, and the appeals that followed.

“I have a very long history with Ada,” Grisham said. “I first went there in 2005 when I started writing the book, when I started researching the book, and I spent a long time there. I still am very much involved with two of those defendants, trying to get them out of prison.”

Throughout the series, Grisham provides commentary on the book, the investigations, the convictions and the appeals. He remains involved in the Ward and Fontenot cases.

“I’ve corresponded with Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot for many years and I’ve worked behind the scenes with their pro-bono attorney to try to secure their release, and they’re still working,” Grisham said. “It’s not like it’s something where I was involved when I wrote the book and then went away.”

Grisham said he’s uncertain if he will write a follow up to the book, but he intends to remain involved in the Ward and Fontenot cases.

“It’s still something that’s very much on my mind these days and I guess it will be until we can get Tommy and Karl out of prison. It’s not over,” Grisham said. “There’s a possibility that we could one day know or figure out who did the murder … If Tommy and Karl could be released, exonerated, found not guilty or whatever.”

All six episodes of the series are currently available for streaming on Netflix.


Contact Carl Lewis at (580) 310-7520, or by email at clewis@theadanews.com

Editor

Carl Lewis is the editor of The Ada News. He's an aspiring photographer, an unabashed fan of Apple products and an avid coffee swiller. Contact Carl at (580) 310-7520, or by email at clewis@theadanews.com.