Spoilers ahead for The Innocent Man.
Most of Netflix's true crime series The Innocent Man is about four Ada, OK men: Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, who were convicted (and later exonerated) of the 1982 murder of Debbie Carter, and Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, who were convicted of Denice Haraway's 1984 murder (though they claim they are innocent).
Gore knew Carter for years.
The series notes that Gore and Carter went to school together and knew each other growing up. But they may have differed on how close they considered one another.
In Episode 5, Gore made statements claiming to be Carter's friend. But Carter's mother said that they were not in the same group of friends and claimed that Carter was actually "leery" and "scared of him."
Gore was not considered an initial suspect.
As the fifth episode shows, there was eyewitness testimony claiming that Gore was seen talking to Carter in the parking lot on the night of her death. But that was changed in the police report. The recorded statement went from naming Gore to stating that "a guy" had been seen talking to Carter that evening.
So, despite claims of bad blood between Carter and Gore, and witnesses claiming to have seen them together the night she died, he was not initially charged with her death.
Gore was the star witness against Williamson.
Eyewitness testimony from Gore was the only thing that placed Williamson at Carter's work on the night of her death. But the Netflix series shows that his story changed several times. A December 8, 1982 statement from Gore made no mention of Williamson at Carter's workplace. But another statement from Gore, this time undated and unsigned, suddenly claimed that Williamson was present that evening.
The series shows in Episode 5 that Gore later signed an affidavit where he claimed he felt pressured to name Williamson as being there, even though he was unsure if it was true.
Williamson and Fritz were sentenced.
Court documents state that Gore's preliminary hearing testimony was read at trial. In his statement, Gore claimed to have seen Carter and Williamson talking. Gore claimed that Carter asked Gore to dance with her to get her away from Williamson. The series shows that this, in addition to faulty hair sample comparisons and jailhouse informant testimony, ultimately resulted in Williamson and Fritz being wrongly convicted. Court records state that Williamson was given the death penalty, and his friend Fritz was sentenced to life in prison.
Williamson and Fritz were freed.
Both Williamson and Fritz maintained their innocence throughout their decades-long incarceration and filed appeals. The same court records state that, years after their convictions, as part of preparation for a possible new trial, Fritz and Williamson submitted DNA samples for testing.
Advances in technology not available in 1982 were able to rule both Williamson and Fritz out as suspects. The New York Times reported that they were freed from prison in 1999 and finally able to move on with their lives.
Gore became a suspect.
The DNA testing not only freed two innocent men, it also helped law enforcement find the real killer. Episode 5 notes that the DNA found at Carter's apartment was tested and linked to Gore. Suddenly he went from star witness to primary suspect.
When that information came to light, Gore was already serving a 40-year prison sentence for burglary, kidnapping, and shooting with intent to injure. As seen in the fifth episode, he escaped during a prison work detail and fled. A week later he retained a lawyer and turned himself in.
Gore's case was tried.
Prosecutor Bill Peterson offered no apologies.
Carter's aunt said in the final episode of the Netflix series that she can't forgive prosecutor Peterson because he allegedly never apologized to Carter's family for not getting the right man at first. A clip of Peterson was then shown explaining that he had no plans to apologize even to the two men he wrongfully convicted.
"Well I don't think I messed up, I don't think anybody messed up," he said. "You're asking me to say, 'Gosh, I'm sorry I convicted you with evidence that was sufficient to convict you with.' … Apologize to them for doing my job? That's not going to happen."
The Oklahoman reported that Peterson retired in 2008 and always maintained that he'd done the best he could. "I'm not ashamed. I'm not embarrassed. I did my job to the best of my ability." he told the outlet. "I went after them. I was convinced they killed Debbie Carter. If that was your mother, your sister or your daddy who was killed, you wouldn't want a pansy prosecutor. You would want someone passionate."
Carter's mother wrote a letter to Gore.
In a quest for answers that she's never gotten, Carter's mother revealed in the last episode that she penned a letter to Gore. She pleaded with him to tell the truth and explain what happened that night and why he went after Carter. Gore has yet to answer.
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