Comanche Co. DA discusses “Innocent Man” case with 7News

The Comanche County District Attorney has filed paperwork to try a man accused of killing a woman 38 years ago in Ada, Oklahoma.
Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 7:35 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - The Comanche County District Attorney has filed paperwork to try a man accused of killing a woman 38 years ago in Ada, Oklahoma.

The case has been the subject of a Netflix documentary and has just as many questions as there are answers.

Comanche County District Attorney Kyle Cabelka is away at a conference, but 7NEWS anchor Haley Wilson had a chance to speak with him on the phone to discuss the case.

But why is a D.A. in Comanche County leading the prosecution in a case hours away in Pontotoc County?

First, the Pontotoc County D.A. recused himself, but Kyle Cabelka said he’s taking this case on to help the family.

“This has been a nightmare that they’ve lived now for 38 years, " said Cabelka.

In 1984, Donna Haraway, a newlywed and college student, was abducted from the gas station where she worked. Cabelka said the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s search ultimately led to two suspects Karl Fontenot and Tommy Ward.

“After both men were detained and interviewed, they ended up confessing to kidnapping, robbing, raping and killing Ms. Haraway,” said Cabelka.

A year later, the two men were tried together and convicted but the conviction was soon reversed by a U.S. Supreme Court case.

“At the time of their second trials, Mr. Ward was given a life sentence and Mr. Fontenot was given the death penalty for a second time,” said Cabelka.

The court process and appeals didn’t end there and hasn’t stopped, not for the legal system and certainly not for the victim’s family. The story was turned into a bestselling book by John Grisham and a six-part Netflix documentary called The Innocent Man.

“Ultimately there was a dismissal of the case and Mr. Fontenot has been out of prison since 2019,” said Cabelka.

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit gave the state 120 days to file for a new trial for Fontenot. When Cabelka was assigned the case by Oklahoma’s Attorney General, he had a little over a month to go over nearly 40 years of court transcripts and evidence.

“I very well could have made the decision to not retry Mr. Fontenot and that would been kind of the end of his case,” said Cabelka.

Cabelka filed on Friday and said Haraway’s family played a big part in his decision.

“She still has members of her family that are demanding justice,” said Cabelka.

While a judge has said there were constitutional violations in Fontenot’s case, Cabelka believes that’s referring to procedural issues and not the actual evidence in the case.

“At the end of the day, we have a woman who without a doubt was kidnapped and was murdered, and we have two suspects who ultimately did confess to being involved in her abduction and her murder,” said Cabelka.