A prisoner featured in the Netflix documentary series the innocent man he has had his murder sentence and life sentence reinstated after previously receiving relief.
Thomas Ward, known to the public as Tommy Ward, was convicted in 1999 of the 1984 murder of Donna Denice Haraway in Ada, Oklahoma.
In 2020, District Judge Paula Inge overturned his conviction, dismissed the charges against him, and ordered his release. Ward remained in prison while the state appealed the ruling, The Associated Press reported at the time.
However, court documents filed Monday (Aug 29) show that on Friday (Aug 26), the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the judge’s decision and reinstated Ward’s conviction.
“He is very disappointed that he is still in prison for a murder he did not commit,” Ward’s attorney, Mark Barrett, told The Associated Press on Tuesday (Aug. 30), adding that the legal team is “pressing on” and “Exploring the possibility of going to federal court.”
the innocent man, released by Netflix in 2018, looked at two murder cases that took place in Ada in the 1980s, including the one that 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 John Grisham.
Haraway was working as a convenience store clerk when she disappeared in Ada in 1984. Ward was convicted in the case in 1989 along with a co-defendant named Karl Fontenot.
According to The Associated Press, the convictions “were based almost entirely on accounts they said they recovered from dreams” and “come after hours of questioning by Ada police and state agents desperate to solve Haraway’s disappearance in 1984, just two years after the unsolved rape and murder of another young woman in the small town of central Oklahoma.”
Haraway’s body was located after the convictions. An autopsy showed evidence that she had been shot and no sign of being stabbed, according to The AP. This contradicted the confessions, which said that Haraway had been stabbed to death.
Fontenot’s conviction was overturned in 2019 and he was released pending an appeal by the state. In June of this year, the US Supreme Court declined to take up the case and to hear the state’s appeal.
In her 2020 ruling overturning Ward’s conviction, Judge Inge pointed to what she said were evidentiary problems in the case and found that, due to the passage of time, Ward would not be able to receive a fair trial.
However, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals argued that the district court had “abused its discretion” in that case.
The appeals court tasked the district court with handling one remaining claim from Ward’s team, according to which newly discovered evidence requires his conviction to be overturned.
Additional information from The Associated Press