Tommy Ward is currently serving out a life sentence without parole for the murder of Donna Denise Haraway, who disappeared in 1984. Ward, 58, was sentenced to death in 1985; that sentence has since been commuted to life without parole.
Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot 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 Ward, and where he is now:
Tommy Ward Was Convicted of the Murder of Donna Denise Haraway in 1985
Ward was born on September 21, 1960, according to prison records. He was arrested in October of 1984 after a man named Jeff Miller told police that he’d heard from two unidentified women that they had been at a party with Ward the night of Haraway’s disappearance, and that Ward had told the women he’d done something “terrible.”
Ward then went through a series of interrogations, Grisham wrote, in which he repeatedly said he didn’t know who the girl was or where her body could be found, and police repeatedly asked him where she was, who killed her, and where her body could be found.
Ward finally confessed to the murder after an eight-hour interrogation, according to Grisham, and after the police told him that he’d failed a polygraph test and was “clearly” involved in the kidnapping and murder of Haraway.
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.
READ: Tommy Ward’s Prison Entry & Photos
Despite multiple attempts to appeal his conviction, Tommy Ward is still in prison, his death sentence having been commuted to life without parole. Currently, Ward presides at the R.B. Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy, Oklahoma. He is 58 years old.
Ward’s prison entry reads: