Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot were convicted of murdering Denice Haraway. Haraway, 24, worked part-time at McAnally’s convenience store in Ada, Oklahoma, USA. She was last seen leaving the store on April 28, 1984, with a man who had his arm around her waist. The two appeared to be a pair of lovers. The store was found deserted with the cash register drawer opened and emptied. Haraway’s purse and driver’s license were found inside, and her car nearby.
Months later, after Haraway still remained missing, police questioned Tommy Ward, who resembled the man accompanying Haraway from the store. After days of interrogation, Ward confessed to the crime. On the day that he "confessed" he had been interogated for over 8 hours and was exhausted. He also implicated his friend, Karl Fontenot, and Odell Titsworth, a man he never met. During the videotaped confession, Ward frequently forgot Titsworth’s name and called him “Titsdale.” Ward said the three gang-raped Haraway, murdered her with Titsworth’s knife, and dumped her body near Sandy Creek.
Fontenot was soon arrested and confessed after only two hours of interrogation. His confession was similar to Ward’s but contradicted it on many details, like the order in which the three raped Haraway, or the location and number of stab wounds on her. Fontenot said the three brought Haraway into an abandoned house, where Titsworth poured gasoline over her body and burned down the house. Ward had mentioned a burned down house in an earlier unrecorded confession, and police knew it existed.
Titsworth was arrested, but he had broken his arm two days before the murder in a fight with police. Medical and police records made him an unlikely suspect, and he was never charged with murder. While police were sifting through the remains of the burned down house, the owner appeared. After police told him of Fontenot’s confession, the owner said Fontenot’s story was impossible, as he himself had burned down the house 10 months before the murder.
At trial, the prosecutor presented the confessions and was forced into the position of telling the jury the defendants were lying about details while asking the jury to believe them anyway. Two jailhouse informants supplemented the confessions. One said Ward confessed, while the other said he overheard Fontenot talking to himself, saying, “I knew we’d get caught. I knew we’d get caught.” The jurors returned with guilty verdicts and death penalties.
Haraway’s body was found four months later in Hughes County, far from any place that was searched. She had not been stabbed or burned, but died from a single gunshot to the head.
The case attracted the attention of New York journalist Robert Mayer, who published a book about the case entitled The Dreams of Ada and more widely by John Grisham in what he called his first "non-fiction" entitled The Innocent Man. Both men are currently still in prison. Ward is serving a life sentence and Fontenot is serving a life sentence without parole.
The Ada, Oklahoma District Attorney (who later sued Grisham) took on a personal quest rallying against Grisham online and elsewhere. He maintains a website he calls Grisham's Folly. There he details, point by point, his defense and disagreement with Grisham personally and Grisham's book. He had yet to initiate suit. He also posts the various letters that went back and forth between him and Grisham.