Bad News for Oklahoma Murder Convict of Netflix Fame


The murder conviction of a prisoner featured in the Netflix documentary series The Innocent Man will stand after all because he waited too long to raise concerns about suppressed evidence, a court has ruled. Tommy Ward, convicted in the 1984 murder of 24-year-old convenience store clerk Donna Haraway in Oklahoma, has maintained his innocence for decades while serving life in prison. He and Karl Allen Fontenot were initially convicted of murder in a joint trial in 1985 before Haraway’s remains were found. Both confessed, saying the clerk was kidnapped during a robbery, then fatally stabbed. But they quickly recanted amid claims of police coercion, per the Oklahoman.

Their confessions certainly didn’t line up with the evidence. In 1986, Haraway’s remains were found 30 miles from where Fontenot said her body had been dumped in Ada, per the AP. She had been shot in the head and was wearing clothes different from those Ward and Fontenot described, reports the Frontier. They were later retried separately “because of a US Supreme Court opinion on defendants being tried together,” per the Oklahoman, but both were again convicted. However, Fontenot’s 1988 conviction was overturned in 2019 due to suppressed evidence supporting an alibi, and the 58-year-old is now free, waiting to learn whether he will face another trial. Ward’s 1989 conviction was similarly vacated in 2020.

District Court Judge Paula Inge ruled that he must be released from prison and could not be retried because investigators decided “the only ‘relevant’ evidence was evidence which fit their theory” and it was “highly probable the district attorney’s office knew favorable evidence was being suppressed.” Ward remained behind bars as the state appealed the decision and on Friday, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals voted 5-0 to reverse the ruling, deciding Ward forfeited his claim because he waited too long in first raising complaints about the evidence in 2017, per KOCO. The appellate judges “sent the case back to Inge to consider a remaining claim by Ward about newly discovered evidence,” per the Oklahoman. (Read more murder stories.)