The Innocent Man
The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town (2006) is a nonfiction book written by John Grisham
John Grisham
John Ray Grisham, Jr. is an American lawyer and author, best known for his popular legal thrillers.John Grisham graduated from Mississippi State University before attending the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1981 and practiced criminal law for about a decade...

, and his first outside the legal fiction
Legal fiction
A legal fiction is a fact assumed or created by courts which is then used in order to apply a legal rule which was not necessarily designed to be used in that way...

 genre. He tells the story of Ronald 'Ron' Keith Williamson
Ron Williamson
Ronald "Ron" Keith Williamson was a former minor league baseball catcher/pitcher who was one of two men wrongly convicted in 1988 in Oklahoma for the rape and murder of Debra Sue "Debbie" Carter. His friend Dennis Fritz was sentenced to life imprisonment, while Williamson was sentenced to death...

 of Ada, Oklahoma
Ada, Oklahoma
Ada is a city in and the county seat of Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 16,008 at the 2000 census. As of 2009, the city population was estimated at 17,019....

, a former minor league baseball player who was convicted in 1988 of the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter in Ada and sentenced to death. After serving 11 years on Death Row, he was exonerated by DNA evidence and other material introduced by the Innocence Project
Innocence Project
An Innocence Project is one of a number of non-profit legal organizations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand dedicated to proving the innocence of wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA testing, and to reforming the criminal justice systems to...

 and was released in 1999.


Ron Williamson has returned to his hometown of Ada, Oklahoma after multiple failed attempts to play for various minor league baseball teams, including the Fort Lauderdale Yankees
Fort Lauderdale Yankees
The Fort Lauderdale Yankees, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was an American minor league baseball franchise that existed from 1962 through 1992. The team was a Class A Florida State League affiliate of the New York Yankees and won seven FSL championships during its 31 years of existence.The...

 and two farm teams owned by the Oakland A's. His failures lead to, or aggravate, his depression
Depression (mood)
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless...

 and problem drinking.

Early in the morning of December 8, 1982, the body of Debra Sue Carter, a 21-year-old cocktail waitress, was found in the bedroom of her garage apartment in Ada. She had been beaten, raped and suffocated. After five years of false starts and shoddy police work by the Ada police department, Williamson--along with his "drinking buddy", Dennis Fritz
Dennis Fritz
Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were wrongly convicted of the murder of Ada, Oklahoma resident Debra Carter. Fritz was given a life sentence, while Williamson was sentenced to death in 1988. Fritz and Williamson were the subjects of a non-fiction book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a...

--were charged, tried and convicted of the rape and murder charges in 1988. Williamson was sentenced to death. Fritz was given a life sentence. Fritz's wife had been murdered seven years earlier in 1975 and he was raising their only daughter when he was arrested.

Grisham's book describes the aggressive and misguided mission of the Ada police department and Pontoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson to solve the mystery of Carter's murder. The police and prosecutor used forced "dream" confessions, unreliable witnesses, and flimsy evidence to convict Williamson and Fritz. Since a death penalty conviction automatically sets in motion a series of appeals, the Innocence Project
Innocence Project
An Innocence Project is one of a number of non-profit legal organizations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand dedicated to proving the innocence of wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA testing, and to reforming the criminal justice systems to...

 aided Williamson's attorney, Mark Barrett, in exposing several glaring holes in the prosecution's case and the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses. Frank H. Seay
Frank Howell Seay
-Early life and education:Born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, Seay received a B.A. from the University of Oklahoma in 1961 and an LL.B. from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1963.-Career:...

, a U.S. District Court judge, ordered a retrial.

After suffering through a conviction and 11 years on Death Row, Williamson and Fritz were exonerated by DNA evidence and released on April 15, 1999. Williamson was the 78th inmate released from Death Row since 1973.

Ron Williamson suffered deep and irreversible psychological damage during his incarceration and eventual stay on death row. For example, on September 22, 1994, he was five days away from being executed when the execution was stayed by the court, following the filing of a habeas corpus
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

petition). He was intermittently treated for manic depression, personality disorders
Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder, historically known as manic–depressive disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one or...

, alcoholism
Alcoholism is a broad term for problems with alcohol, and is generally used to mean compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages, usually to the detriment of the drinker's health, personal relationships, and social standing...

 and mild schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of thought processes and of emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests itself as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and it is accompanied by significant social...

. It was later proven that he was indeed mentally ill and therefore was unfit to have been tried or sentenced to death in the first place. The State of Oklahoma, the city of Ada, and Pontotoc County officials never admitted any errors and threatened to re-arrest him.
Another criminal from Ada, Glen Gore, was eventually convicted of the original crime on June 24, 2003. He was sentenced to death but his sentence was overturned in August 2005. He was convicted at a second trial on June 21, 2006 and sentenced by Judge Landrith to life in prison without parole. This was required by law due to a jury deadlock on sentencing.

Williamson and Fritz sued and won a settlement for wrongful conviction of $500,000 in 2003 from the City of Ada, and an out-of-court settlement with the State of Oklahoma for an undisclosed amount. By 2004, Williamson was diagnosed with cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is a consequence of chronic liver disease characterized by replacement of liver tissue by fibrosis, scar tissue and regenerative nodules , leading to loss of liver function...

 of the liver and died soon after on December 4, 2004 in a Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
Broken Arrow is a city located in the northeastern part of the U.S. state of Oklahoma, primarily in Tulsa County but also with a small section of the city in western Wagoner County. It is the largest suburb of Tulsa. According to the 2010 US Census, Broken Arrow has a population of 98,850 residents...

, nursing home. Fritz returned to Kansas City, where he lives with his daughter, Elizabeth . In 2006, Fritz published his own account of being wrongly convicted in his book titled Journey toward Justice.

The book includes accounts (as subplots) of the false conviction, trial and sentencing of Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot in the abduction, rape, and purported murder of Denice Haraway, as well as the false conviction of Greg Wilhoit in the rape and murder of his estranged wife, Kathy. At one time, all the men were, incarcerated in the same Death Row. About two decades before Grisham's book, Ward and Fontenot's wrongful convictions were detailed in a book published in 1987 called The Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer.

Book edition

  • The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham, Doubleday Books, 2006, ISBN 0385517238, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 2006048468.

External links

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