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Prisoner from Netflix’s ‘The Innocent Man’ has murder conviction reinstated

A prisoner featured in the Netflix original documentary series The Innocent Man has had his murder conviction, and life sentence reinstated after his previous acquittal. 

Thomas Ward, known widely as Tommy Ward, was convicted of the 1984 murder of Donna Denice Haraway in Ada, Oklahoma, in 1989. In 2020, District Judge Paula Inge rescinded his conviction, dismissed all charges against him, and ordered his freedom pending appeal. Ward remained in prison while the state appealed the ruling, The Associated Press reported at the time.

However, on Monday, court documents reported that Oklahoma’s Court of Criminal Appeals had reversed the judge’s decision and reinstated Ward’s conviction at the end of last week. 

“He’s very disappointed that he’s still in prison for a murder he didn’t commit,” Ward’s attorney Mark Barrett told The Associated Press yesterday, adding that the legal team is “pressing forward” and “exploring the possibility of going to federal court.”

The Innocent Man, released by Netflix in 2018, examined two high-profile murder cases that took place in Ada in the 1980s, including the one which resulted in Ward’s conviction. It was based on the 2006 true-crime book The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by author John Grisham.

The victim, Haraway, had been working as a clerk at a convenience store when she went missing in Ada in 1984. Ward was convicted in the case in 1989 alongside co-defendant Karl Fontenot.

The Associated Press report that the convictions “were based almost entirely on accounts they said they retrieved from dreams” and “came after hours of interrogation by Ada police and state agents desperate to solve the disappearance of Haraway in 1984, just two years after the unsolved rape and murder of another young woman in the small central Oklahoma town.”

After the initial convictions, Haraway’s body was located, and the autopsy showed evidence that she had been shot and not stabbed. This contradicted the confessions, which stated that Haraway had been stabbed to death.

Fontenot’s conviction was overturned in 2019, and he was freed pending an appeal by the state. In June this year, the US Supreme Court refused to take up the case and examine the state’s appeal.

Watch the trailer for the Netflix documentary, The Innocent Man, below.