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Oklahoma Voices: Dennis Fritz’s
“Journey Toward Justice” (Dec 08, 2008)

In September, a federal judge dismissed a libel lawsuit filed by former Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson, a former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent and a state criminologist. The men claimed their reputations had been damaged by best-selling author John Grisham and two other writers who had authored books about the wrongful convictions and subsequent exonerations of two Ada men for a 1982 murder. In his ruling, Judge Ronald White wrote, “Where the justice system so manifestly failed, and innocent people were imprisoned for eleven years (and one almost put to death), it is necessary to analyze and criticize our judicial system (and the actors involved) so that past mistakes do not become future ones.” The plaintiffs are now asking a federal appeals court to reinstate their suit.

On the next Oklahoma Voices, we speak with one of the people at the center of the case. Dennis Fritz served more than a decade behind bars for the rape and murder of Debbie Sue Carter. He and his co-defendant Ronnie Williamson (pictured above – photo courtesy of the Ada Evening News) were released in 1999 after DNA evidence proved them innocent. Fritz and his attorney Mark Barrett discuss what happened, as chronicled in Dennis’s book Journey Toward Justice. We also hear from Christy Sheppard, the cousin of Debbie Sue Carter, about her efforts to create an Oklahoma Exoneration Review Commission.

WEB EXTRAS: Listen to NPR’s 2006 interview with author John Grisham about his book The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town

Listen to a 2007 press conference at the state capitol announcing the release of Curtis Edward McCarty. He was sentenced to death for the 1982 killing of Pamela Kaye Willis, but an Oklahoma District Court Judge decided to free McCarty after ruling the case had been tainted by the misconduct of former Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist.

The US Department of Justice was supposed to hand out eight million dollars to states seeking to conduct DNA testing on convicts. But so far the Department hasn’t spent any of it. Some Oklahoma members of Congress are asking why. Listen to a report from Capitol News Connection

Read former Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson’s version of the events

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