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Legal panel discusses wrongful convictions, DNA testing



If the topic " whether wrongful convictions are "isolated events or system failures" " of the Oklahoma Bar Association's annual convention Nov. 8 wasn't enough to spark interest, the people slated to speak sure were.

The talk centered the case of Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson, who were convicted of the 1982 murder of Debra Sue Carter in Ada. But after DNA testing, both were released from prison in 1999. Fritz was serving a life sentence while Williamson lay on death row. Williamson died in 2004.

What rocketed the case to national outrage was the 2006 nonfiction book "The Innocent Man," written by John Grisham, unveiling the story of Williamson and Fritz, and portraying William Peterson, the district attorney, in not the best light.

Peterson was one of the panelists taking part in the session. Also on the list: Fritz.

However, Fritz was a no-show. An announcement was made that on the advice of his attorney, Fritz had to decline because is being sued by Peterson, who is also suing Grisham.

On the other hand, Williamson's attorney, Mark Barrett, made the panel.

So are wrongful convictions isolated events or system failure? Prosecutors: isolated events. Defense attorney: system failure.

"The system failed, but also we don't know (if it was isolated)," said Barrett. "Because we don't know, the system failed."

"I believe it's an isolated event," said Peterson. "With DNA, it's not going to happen again. These men were freed. The system worked." "Scott Cooper


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