“If I wrote The Innocent Man as a novel, folks probably wouldn’t believe it,” says author John Grisham in Netflix’s trailer for the six-part docuseries based on his non-fiction book.
The series digs into the controversy behind two small town murders in Ada, Okla. in the 1980s.
It focuses on 21-year-old Debra Sue “Debbie” Carter, who was raped and killed inside her home in 1982, and Denice Haraway, who was killed in 1984 after being kidnapped from the convenience store where she worked.
Police charge local men Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot with Haraway’s murder, and they are sentenced to life in prison. A couple years later, police charge two other men, Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, with killing Carter. Fritz receives life in prison, while Williamson is sentenced to the death penalty.
But similarities emerge between how the two cases are handled. Their videotaped confessions are questioned, as are forensics results and physical evidence—or lack thereof. In 1999, with help from non-profit legal organization the Innocence Project, DNA testing helps exonerate Williamson and Fritz. To this day, Ward and Fontenot remain in prison and maintain their innocence.
“How close did you become to being executed?” Williamson is asked in the trailer.
“Five days,” he responds.
The trailer presents the cases as “rotten at the core” and casts Ada as “a town full of secrets,” as it blends new footage with archival videos and photos, along with interviews with victims’ friends and families, local residents and attorneys, journalists and others involved in the cases.
The Innocent Man is developed and executive produced by Clay Tweel (Finders Keepers, Gleason, Out of Omaha), who also directs, and Ross Dinerstein. Executive producers also include Grisham and David Gernert. The series is produced by Maura Anderson and Shannon Riggs.
It premieres December 14 on Netflix.