Oklahoma man in 'The Innocent Man' case released from prison

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A man who spent 35 years in prison in a murder case featured in the book and television series "The Innocent Man" was released Thursday morning from an Oklahoma prison.

Karl Fontenot, 55, was transferred to the custody of the U.S. Marshal's Office, said Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman Matt Elliott. A telephone message left with the U.S. Marshal's office wasn't immediately returned.

Fontenot was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1984 kidnapping and killing of Donna Denice Haraway, a convenience store clerk in Ada, Oklahoma.

But a federal judge ordered his release in August, writing that newly discovered evidence provides "solid proof of Mr. Fontenot's probable innocence." The state is appealing the judge's ruling, but a federal appeals panel ruled Fontenot could be released in the meantime.

The convictions of Fontenot and a co-defendant, Thomas Ward, have come under intense scrutiny for years and have been the subject of numerous books, including the bestselling book "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham. It was later made into a six-part documentary series recently released on Netflix.

Ward remains imprisoned while his appeal is proceeding separately in state court.


Jury finds man fit for trial in 1999 slayings in Oklahoma

VINITA, Okla. (AP) — A man suspected in the deaths of an Oklahoma couple and the vanishing and presumed deaths of their teenage daughter and her friend two decades ago was found competent to stand trial.

A three-man, three-woman jury deliberated for 45 minutes before returning with that verdict Wednesday in a competency hearing for Ronnie Dean Busick. Busick showed no emotion as the decision was announced, the Tulsa World reported.

Authorities believe Busick was one of three men who shot Danny and Kathy Freeman, set the Craig County couple's mobile home on fire with them inside, and kidnapped their then-16-year-old daughter, Ashley Freeman, and friend Lauria Bible on Dec. 30, 1999. The other two suspects have since died.

Busick had been living in Kansas when he was arrested in April 2018 and charged with four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count of first-degree arson.

The defense has argued that Busick is not competent to stand trial because he suffered a traumatic brain injury in 1978 and has trouble focusing, getting a clear story, and rationalizing the case.

Four witnesses testified during a two-day competency hearing.

Scott Orth, director of forensic psychology at the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita, told jurors that Busick "was very cooperative and very forthright" when he evaluated him.

Shawn Roberson, a forensic psychologist hired by the state, described Busick as not depressed nor hearing voices. Busick was concerned that the publicity surrounding the case had "tainted the community against him," he said.

Gilbert Martinez, a Texas-based neuropsychologist who was an expert for the defense, testified about a gunshot wound Busick sustained in 1978 and its impact on his brain's ability to process information.

"He is not competent to understand all the complexities of trial," Martinez said.

Gregg Graves, one of Busick's attorneys, testified that Busick didn't know Graves' name.

Busick has has denied any involvement or knowledge of the whereabouts of the teenage girls' remains, Graves said.

After the hearing, District Attorney Matt Ballard vowed that authorities would find the missing pair.

Lorene Bible, Lauria Bible's mother, urged someone to come forward with information.

"We are still looking for the girls," she said. "Somebody out there knows something."

Busick is slated to come back to court on Feb. 7, when his preliminary hearing date will be set.


Tribal leaders in Oklahoma reject governor's extension plan

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Leaders from nearly every Oklahoma-based Indian tribe that has a gambling compact with the state on Thursday rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt's offer to extend the compacts for an additional eight months.

Flanked by leaders from 32 separate tribes, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan said the tribes are united in their rejection of Stitt's offer.

"We stand united today against the proposed extension by Gov. Stitt as utterly unnecessary, given the automatic renewal," Morgan said.

Stitt and the tribes are locked in a disagreement about whether the 15-year compacts between the tribes and the state expire on Jan. 1. Stitt says they do and wants to renegotiate for the state to get a larger slice of casino revenue.

But the tribes contend all the requirements have been met for the compacts to automatically renew on Jan. 1 for another 15-year period. Morgan said Oklahoma-based casinos will be open for business as usual on Jan. 1.

Both sides are increasingly signaling that the dispute is likely to end up in federal court. Stitt said Tuesday that he is finalizing an agreement with a law firm experienced in tribal litigation.

The tribes paid about $139 million to the state last year in "exclusivity fees" under the existing compacts.


Judge found in contempt by Oklahoma watchdog agency

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma County judge has been found in contempt by a state watchdog agency for failing to turn over subpoenaed records.

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission voted 3-0 last week to find Judge Kendra Coleman in contempt. The Oklahoman newspaper reports the commission did not identify Coleman by name, but the judge herself revealed she was the target when she filed a complaint on Wednesday with the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In the complaint, Coleman's attorneys contend the agency must be more specific about the allegations against her and the campaign.

Coleman is facing a felony charge for failing to pay state taxes in 2017.

Earlier this month, the state's high court admonished Coleman for failing to pay her taxes and more than 60 parking tickets, but narrowly decided against filing a petition for her removal. She also was reprimanded for filing to properly file campaign reports.


Oklahoma City officer gets 10 years for fatal shooting

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma City police sergeant was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison, more than a month after a jury convicted him of second-degree murder in the shooting death of an unarmed, suicidal man.

Attorneys for Keith Sweeney sought a lesser sentence than the 10 years recommended by a jury in November, but Oklahoma County District Judge Natalie Mai agreed with the jury's recommendation.

Sweeney was among several officers responding to reports of a suicidal person on Nov. 15, 2017, and found 29-year-old Dustin Pigeon doused in lighter fluid and threatening to set himself on fire in a courtyard.

Prosecutors said Sweeney shot Pigeon after another officer fired a bean bag. An affidavit said Pigeon was unarmed and did not pose a threat when he was shot, and two fellow officers also testified that Pigeon posed no threat.

"I truly believe with every fiber of my being in that moment that Mr. Pigeon had a knife," Sweeney told Pigeon's family shortly before his sentencing, The Oklahoman reported.

But District Attorney David Prater told the judge that Sweeney believed he was a "warrior, not a shepherd." Prater said Sweeney should not have been working as a police officer.

"There is a segment of police officers out there on the street who think and believe that all they are is warriors," Prater said. "And for whatever reason they lose empathy for those that they should be serving."