Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz
were convicted in 1988, in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, of the murder of Debra Sue Carter. Her body had been found six years earlier. Fritz was sentenced to life in prison. Williamson was sent to death row.
The 21-year-old victim had left her waitressing job and was found raped and murdered in her apartment the following day. Fritz and Williamson were known to frequent the establishment where the victim worked. The prosecution presented evidence that Carter had previously complained to a friend that they “made her nervous.” Williamson had been seen at the restaurant the night of the murder without Fritz.
Fritz was not charged until five years after the murder (delayed by state exhumation of the victim after an incorrect analysis of finger prints at the scene was noted). An inmate that Fritz was paired with eventually came forward and stated that Fritz had confessed to the murder. This jailhouse snitch gave a two-hour taped interview revealing what Fritz had allegedly confessed to him. This confession came one day before the prosecution would have been forced to drop the charges against Fritz. Another informant testified that she had heard Williamson threaten to harm the informant's mother as he had the victim. Williamson was also been seen at the bar the night of the murder, according to a witness named Glenn Gore.
Additionally, police said that Williamson told them he had a dream about the crime. In his book, "The Innocent Man," John Grisham recounted that police quoted Williamson as saying, "Okay, I had a dream about killing Debbie, was on her, had a cord around her neck, stabbed her, frequently, pulled the rope tight around her neck." Although seconds later, the officers said Williamson said, "I would never confess" and asked for a lawyer, that statement was treated by the prosecution as a confession.
Forensic testing was performed on various items of evidence. Seventeen hairs were recovered and were “matched” to both Fritz and Williamson. The semen evidence suggested that the perpetrator(s) were non-secretors, as Fritz and Williamson are. Fritz could not remember his exact whereabouts during the day of the crime due to the amount of time, five years, that had passed.
Williamson's initial appeals were denied. He then filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In 1995. a federal judge granted the petition and ordered a new trial. The judge held that the prosecution had failed to disclose a 1983 videotape of Williamson making exculpatory statements after taking a polygraph examination as well as a tape of another suspect admitting he committed the crime. The court also found that Williamson's trial attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to develop evidenece of Williamson's mental problems and failing to seek a compentency hearing.
Meanwhile, Fritz’s appeals were denied as well and he later contacted the Innocence Project for help. It was learned that the physical evidence was going to be tested due to appeals filed by Ron Williamson’s lawyers. Fritz filed an injunction to make sure that the evidence would not be totally consumed until the cases were joined with regard to DNA testing.
DNA testing revealed that neither Fritz nor Williamson deposited the spermatozoa found in the victim. Further testing proved that none of the many hairs that were labeled “matches” belonged to them. The profile obtained from the semen evidence matched Glenn Gore, one of the state’s witnesses at trial. Gore escaped from work release shortly after testing was concluded and was later apprehended.
Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson were exonerated and released in April 1999. Williamson had, at one point, come within five days of execution. The two had been wrongfully incarcerated, respectively, for eleven years.
Fritz and Williams later filed a lawsuit and each received $500,000 from the City of Ada. The State of Oklahoma settled with each man for an undisclosed amount.
Five years after his release, Williamson was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. On December 4, 2004, he died in an Oklahoma nursing home, surrounded by his family.
– Maurice Possley