Karl Fontenot is currently serving out a life sentence with no possibility of parole at the North Fork Correctional Center in Sayre, Oklahom, for the kidnapping and murder of Donna Denice Haraway. He is 54 years old.
Fontenot and Tommy Ward were both charged with the death of Haraway, in the wake of their “confessions” in police interrogations, the validity of which have since been challenged. They are the partial subject of John Grisham’s true-crime book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. In an interview with The Marshall Project in 2017, John Grisham said of Fontenot and Ward,
“I received Christmas cards last week from both Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, so we keep in touch. They have now been in prison for 31 years, serving hard time for a murder committed by someone else. Both are model prisoners. Tommy has been recommended for parole at least twice, but turned down by the board in Oklahoma. Both have excellent teams of lawyers who continue to work for their release.”
The disappearance and subsequent death of Haraway, as well as the rape and murder of Carter, are the inspiration behind the Netflix docu-series The Innocent Man.
Here’s what you need to know about what happened to Fontenot, and where he is now:
Karl Fontenot & Tommy Ward Were Convicted of the Kidnapping & Murder of Donna Denise Haraway in 1985
When Fontenot was arrested in connection to the disappearance of Donna Denise Haraway, Tommy Ward had already “confessed” that he, Fontenot, and a third man named Odell Titsworth had kidnapped, raped, and murdered Haraway. Fontenot initially insisted that he didn’t know Haraway, but under the pressure of a similar (and equally controversial) confession, he soon confessed. Titsworth was soon dropped as a suspect, according to The Oklahoman.
However, following his “confession,” Fontenot immediately rescinded his admission of guilt. Via Grisham, Fontenot later said, “I’ve never been in jail or had a police record in my life and no one in my face telling me I’d killed a pretty woman, that I’m going to get the death penalty so I told them the story hoping they would leave me alone. Which they did after I taped the statement. They said I had a choice to write it or tape it. I didn’t even know what the word statement or confessing meant till they told me I confessed to it. So that’s the reason I gave them an untrue statement so they would leave me alone.”
Within Fontenot’s confession, there were both discrepancies between what Ward said, and also what would later be found to be true. For example, Grisham notes that Fontenot’s confession directly contradicted Ward’s in terms of the order in which they had allegedly raped Haraway, whether she had been stabbed during her rape, and when she finally died.
Then, when Haraway’s body was eventually found after the trial, it was found that the details Ward and Fontenot had “provided” during their confession didn’t match her cause of death at all; she had died with a single bullet to the head, and Ward and Fontenot’s confessions detailed stabbing and burning of the body.
In September of 1985, Ward and Fontenot were tried for first-degree murder, as well as one count of kidnapping and one count of robbery.
On Oct. 26, despite the fact that Ward and Fontenot couldn’t tell the police where Haraway’s body was, and despite the fact that they had both recounted their confessions and insisted that they had never met Haraway, and despite the fact that the prosecutors had no other physical evidence connecting the two with Haraways disappearance, both men were convicted of her murder and sentenced to death.
In 2013, Fontenot Became the First Client of the Oklahoma Innocence Project
In 2013, the newly established Oklahoma Innocence Project took on Karl Fontenot’s case as its first. At the time, Oklahoma Innocence Project Director Tiffany Murphy said, “We firmly believe an innocent man has been in prison for nearly 30 years for a crime he did not commit. We also know that more than 800 pages of records from the case were not turned over to the defense during Karl’s trials.”
The Ohio Innocence Project began to work on an appeal for Fontenot on the grounds that multiple witnesses placed Fontenot at a birthday party on the night of Haraway’s disappearance, but that law enforcement ignored their statements, and that none of the witnesses were called by the defense at Fontenot’s trial.
Additionally, the Ohio Innocence Project maintained that the crime scene (which was found after Fontenot was convicted) was “botched.” Murphy said, “It is our belief that the evidence we discovered during the course of our investigation into this case proves Karl was not involved.”
In 2015, a judge denied Fontenot’s appeal to overturn his murder conviction. The judge, Tom Landrith, was due to retire the next day. He rejected the appeal based on the argument that Fontenot should have file his request for post-conviction relief much earlier. Via News Oklahoma, Landrith said, “Simply, too much time has elapsed due to Petitioner’s own inaction.”
Murphy said to News Oklahoma as well, “Both Karl and his legal team were disappointed with the judge’s ruling. We’ll continue to litigate on Karl’s innocence.”
READ: Karl Fontenot’s Prison Entry & Photos
Karl Fontenot currently resides at the North Fork Correctional Center in Sayre, Oklahoma, according to his prison record. He is 54 years old.
Via his prison record, Fontenot’s prison entry reads,
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