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Top 10 Things to Know About Netflix’s The Innocent Man

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
The perfect lie can be presented as the perfect truth. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Things to Know About Netflix’s The Innocent Man For this list, we’re taking a look at interesting facts regarding this six-part documentary series premiering on Netflix.

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The perfect lie can be presented as the perfect truth. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Things to Know About Netflix’s The Innocent Man

For this list, we’re taking a look at interesting facts regarding this six-part documentary series premiering on Netflix.

#10: The Crime & the Controversy

This true crime series revolves around the rape and murder of 21-year old waitress Debra Sue Carter, whose body was found on December 8, 1982 in Ada, Oklahoma. In 1988, former minor league baseball player Ron Williamson and friend Dennis Fritz were convicted for the crime, with Fritz sentenced to life in prison and Williamson sent to Death Row. Their convictions, however, depended on unreliable testimony and junk science - leading to a campaign for their release. The series also explores the trials of Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, locked up for murder based on similarly dubious evidence, and also linked to DA/prosecutor Bill Peterson, who’s been criticized for botching both cases.

#9: It’s Adapted from John Grisham’s Only Nonfiction Book

Beginning his career as a lawyer and politician, Grisham established himself as a novelist with bestsellers like “A Time to Kill,” “The Firm,” and “The Runaway Jury.” While he specializes in fictional legal thrillers, he stepped out of his comfort zone to tackle real life legal cases in “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town,” his only nonfiction novel. Despite being one of his few works outside of fiction, Grisham is well-versed in the issues discussed. He was a key story contributor for Netflix’ series, along with “Dreams of Ada” writer Robert Mayer and Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck.

#8: It Shines a Light on The Innocence Project and Wrongful Accusations

Almost a decade after Debra Carter’s murder, attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld founded the Innocence Project. For over 25 years, this non-profit legal group has made it their mission to exonerate falsely convicted individuals using DNA testing. In the 1990s, the Innocent Project assisted both Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz on appeal. To date, the organization has helped to exonerate over 360 wrongfully convicted people, 20 of whom had been sent to death row, and to find 158 real perpetrators. Their dedication to correcting the mistakes of the past is part of a broader mission to improve a flawed legal system that too often results in the wrong people behind bars.

#7: The Filmmakers

“The Innocent Man” has attracted a slew of talent behind the camera, including director Clay Tweel, one of the most versatile documentary filmmakers of recent years. Along with Bryan Carberry, Tweel co-directed the quirky documentary “Finders Keepers,” which centered on a man trying to retrieve his mummified leg. Tweel followed up that film with the award-winning “Gleason,” a heartbreaking documentary about football player Steve Gleason’s battle against ALS. As different as his films are, each shares a common theme about strong-willed people fighting to overcome obstacles beyond their control, making Tweel an ideal candidate to tell Ron Williamson’s story.

#6: It Exposes Cracks Within the Justice System

Netflix is promoting the series as “An uncompromising look at how the justice system can be manipulated to work in favor of those in power regardless of the cost to innocent lives.” In addition to Bill Peterson, Assistant DA Chris Ross, Lead Police Investigator Dennis Smith, OSBI Agent Gary Rogers, and star witness Glen Gore were all prominent figures in the mishandled murder case of Debbie Carter. By shining a spotlight on the prosecution, investigative team, and witnesses who contributed to multiple wrongful convictions, “The Innocent Man” encompasses a harrowing message: “Being innocent isn’t enough to stay out of prison.”

#5: There May Be 100,000 Innocent People in Prison in the U.S.

Although the Innocence Project has helped to exonerate hundreds of wrongfully convicted individuals, chances are that they’ve only scratched the surface. The Innocence Project acknowledges that there’s no way to pin down a conclusive number, but studies show that anywhere between 2.3% and 5% of U.S. prisoners are innocent. To give you an idea of how many people that implicates, even if only 1% of inmates aren’t guilty, it would amount to 20,000 innocent souls behind bars; 5% would mean that 100,000 Americans are doing time for crimes they didn’t commit.

#4: This Is a Story That Hollywood Wanted to Tell for Years

Long before Netflix was the streaming giant it is today, Hollywood was keen on adapting Grisham’s nonfiction novel to the big screen. The same year “The Innocent Man” hit bookstore shelves, George Clooney and Grant Heslov set out to purchase the screen rights. The film would be produced through their production company, Smoke House Pictures, in a collaboration with Warner Independent Pictures. David Gordon Green of 2018’s “Halloween” was also in talks to direct at one point. Following the closure of Warner Independent, however, the project was taken to Sony and inevitably fell through the cracks. Netflix eventually gave “The Innocent Man” a second life as a documentary series rather than a feature film.

#3: It Goes Far Deeper Than a Feature Can

In a golden age of television, people are starting to realize that some stories are better suited for an episodic format as opposed to a feature-length adaptation. Considering how many characters are attached to the murders of Debra Carter and Donna Haraway, a docuseries was perhaps the only way to do this story justice. The filmmakers go into great depth through interviews with family members, witnesses, attorneys, journalists, and other suspects. Showcasing new and archival footage, it’s everything we expect from the best in true crime. Grisham describes the series as “gripping, compelling, and ultimately just as heartbreaking as the book,” adding, “Though I know the story well, I can’t wait to watch it again.”

#2: The Injustice in Ada Goes Far Beyond a Single Case

Where Grisham’s “The Innocent Man” put an emphasis on Williamson and Fritz’s convictions, Robert Mayer’s “The Dreams of Ada” delves deeper into the wrongful incarcerations of Ward and Fontenot. Warm was notably coerced into a false confession littered with holes. Between these four wrongful convictions and two murders, the curtain of injustice has been pulled back in Ada, Oklahoma. The crimes don’t necessarily end there, as both of these cases are possibly connected to a drug ring and a cover-up. The Netflix adaptations puts Ada under a magnifying glass, revealing just how deep corruption runs in this small town.

#1: It Has a Lot in Common with “Making a Murderer”

Netflix set a new gold standard for true crime docuseries with “Making a Murderer,” leading to other hits like “The Keepers,” “The Confession Tapes,” and “Evil Genius.” “The Innocent Man” in particular shares a fair deal in common with the story of Steven Avery. Both take place in small towns where the authorities manipulated evidence to fit the narrative they crafted, resulting in questionable convictions. What separates the two are the fates of the men involved, an extra layer in “The Innocent Man” that makes it an experience both familiar and fresh for fans of the genre.

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