'The Innocent Man': The Books You Need to Read After You Watch the Netflix ShowDecember 23, 2018
“If I wrote The Innocent Man as a novel, folks probably wouldn’t believe it,” says John Grisham in the Netflix docuseries of the same name. The six-episode documentary is based on the best-selling author’s 2006 book about two separate murders that occurred in Ada, Oklahoma, in the 1980s, and the men who were convicted of the crimes.
The show has captivated viewers with its story of murder and injustice in a small town. If you were sucked into the story of Debbie Sue Carter and Denice Haraway and the four men convicted of their murders – even though at least two of them were innocent – then you may want to dive even deeper into the facts of the case. Here are several books written about the Haraway and Carter murders. (Spoilers for The Innocent Man to follow.)
John Grisham’s The Innocent Man
The Netflix series was inspired by Grisham’s only work of non-fiction. The author of The Firm and The Pelican Brief decided to try his hand at true-crime after reading an obituary for Ron Williamson, a former minor league baseball player who was wrongfully convicted of the 1982 murder of Debbie Sue Carter. His friend Dennis Fritz also went to prison for the crime.
Grisham’s book explores how two men ended up going to prison for a murder they did not commit. It primarily covers the Carter case and efforts by Fritz and Williamson to clear their names. However, it also touches on Denice Haraway’s murder, which is covered in more depth in the Netflix series.
The Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer
Grisham wasn’t the first writer to take a closer look at alleged miscarriages of justice in Ada. Back in 1987, Robert Mayer wrote The Dreams of Ada. That book is about Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, the two men who were convicted of Haraway’s murder based on flimsy evidence and, they say, false confessions. A reviewer at the time called the story “nightmarish” but criticized the book’s lack of objectivity.
Journey Toward Justice by Dennis Fritz
Fritz, one of the men wrongfully convicted of killing Debbie Sue Carter, penned Journey Toward Justice, a memoir about the 12 years he spent in prison and his eventual exoneration. The book appears to be out of print, but you can still pick up a used copy on Amazon.
Actual Innocence by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufelt, and Jim Dwyer
Barry Scheck speaks at a 2011 event in New York City. | Amy Sussman/Getty Images for The New Yorker
Barry Scheck was one of the lawyers instrumental in overturning the conviction of Williamson and Fritz. In this now out-of-print book, he and fellow Innocence Project lawyer Peter Neufelt, along with journalist Jim Dwyer, relate the stories of 10 people who were wrongfully convicted, including Williamson and Fritz.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This acclaimed 2014 book doesn’t relate to either case featured in The Innocent Man. But it does tell the story of another wrongful conviction. In this case, an African-American man, Walter McMillian, was sent to death row for murdering a white woman — a crime he insisted he didn’t commit. Stevenson, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, took on the case and eventually able got McMillian’s conviction overturned. An upcoming film adaptation will star Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as McMillian.
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