Two separate Pontotoc County juries sentenced Fontenot to death for the April 1984 slaying of Ada convenience store clerk Denice Haraway, although his sentence was later commuted to life in prison without parole because of an improper jury instruction.
OIP director Tiffany Murphy said the group’s request was filed after a lengthy investigation and review of the case that began last year. Pontotoc County District Attorney Chris Ross said the state Attorney General’s office likely will handle the response.
This is the first legal filing that the OIP, which is funded by private donations, has submitted on behalf of a client since its launch in 2011.
Guilty or innocent
The OIP claims law enforcement officials — specifically Ada police and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation — ignored alternate theories about how Haraway died. They also did not disclose that Fontenot had an alibi that had been corroborated by several witnesses, according to Murphy.
“We firmly believe an innocent man has been in prison for nearly 30 years for a crime he did not commit,” she said. “We also know that more than 800 pages of records from the case were not turned over to the defense during Karl’s trials.”
Ross, who helped prosecute Fontenot, said his office only received 144 pages of police material when the trials were held.
“The statement that the prosecution suppressed 800-plus pages of documents is absolutely false,” he said. “There [were] 700-and-something pages that I never received until she (Murphy) gave them to me on a disc.”
Ross said he remains convinced that Fontenot, now 48 and incarcerated at the Cimarron Correctional Center in Cushing, was guilty.
“There is nothing in there that I think would have an impact on the verdict or that would change my mind,” he said.
“I don’t care what she (Murphy) thinks, and it doesn’t matter what I think. Twenty-four jurors have heard this case, and all 24 have found him guilty.”
Fontenot and co-defendant Tommy Ward were tried together in 1985, but both received separate trials three years later, after an appeals court ruled that their confessions could not be used against each other.
Ward was the first to confess to the crime, eventually followed by Fontenot.
Fontenot’s former attorney, George Butner, is now a district judge in Seminole County. He could not be reached for comment. An OSBI spokeswoman declined to remark on the allegations.
About an alibi
According to several witnesses, Fontenot attended a birthday party the night Haraway went missing from a convenience store. The OIP alleges that Ada police and an OSBI agent ignored witness statements that Fontenot was at the party.
Ross said that’s not true. “It’s not that we ignored his alibi.
Everybody said the opposite,” he said. “Two witnesses said they don’t even remember Karl Fontenot, and another said she remembers him being there about 12:30 a.m., four hours after Denice Haraway disappeared.”
At Fontenot’s retrial in 1988, added Ross, none of the alibi witnesses were called by the defense.
Murphy said other evidence demonstrates that Haraway had been stalked by someone other than Fontenot, and that she had received harassing phone calls weeks leading up to her death.
Second- and third-year law students involved in the investigation state in their court filing that “substantial evidence not presented
during his trial or appeals establish not only his (Fontenot’s) innocence, but the incompetence of the police investigation which led to his false confession and violations of his state and federal constitutional rights.”
Among the documents withheld from Fontenot’s defense attorney was a medical examiner’s report that described the crime scene as “botched” by investigators.
Haraway’s body was found in Gerty, a Hughes County town about 30 miles east of Ada. Fontenot and Ward, however, told investigators they dumped the body at a power station west of Ada.
Specifically, neither the state medical examiner nor prosecutors were called to the crime scene, where the remains were found more than a year after Haraway’s disappearance.
A report later filed by the M.E.’s office contended that OSBI agents and other law enforcement personnel did not follow proper procedures to document and preserve the evidence.
The medical examiner also discovered that Haraway died from a single gunshot wound to the head. In confessions given six months after the woman’s disappearance — but 10 months before her corpse was found — Fontenot and Ward told police they had raped and stabbed her before burning her body.
“It is our belief that the evidence we discovered during the course of our investigation into this case proves Karl was not involved,” Murphy said.
“There were many inconsistencies throughout the investigation into Ms. Haraway’s disappearance, many of which help our case for post-conviction relief for Karl.”
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