The Innocent Man Is Netflix’s Next Hit Crime Drama

Following the success of their hit show Making a Murderer, Netflix is hoping to introduce another True Crime Drama to their list with their new show, The Innocent Man. The six-episode documentary series is based on the only nonfiction book written by John Grisham, who also appears on the show to give various bits of information. Grisham has started a program to get innocent people out of jail called the Innocence Program and these two cases were a few of the cases the program looked at. The series takes a dark look at the justice system in a small town in Oklahoma called Ada, as we investigate two old cases and uncover a lot of injustices in each.

The first case is the rape and murder of Debbie Carter in 1982. She was murdered after a long shift at the local bar that she worked. When her body was found there were gruesome messages painted on her and the walls. The blood warned the police not to look into the case. Carter before dying was brutally raped and was sodomized with a bottle of ketchup before dying from being choked to death with a belt. The two men convicted of the crimes were Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz. Williamson was a former minor league baseball player who has a history of mental disorder, and Fritz was his only friend and also had been caring for his daughter after his wife had died at the time. The next murder was of Denice Haraway, two years later in 1984. Haraway was kidnapped from a local gas station that she was working at and was murdered. The two men convicted of the murder were Tommy ward and Karl Fontenot. At the time the men were convicted no body was found, however the two were accused of violently raping her and stabbing her multiple times. The two murders are unlinked besides similar investigators and the type of evidence used, like how in both cases they used dreams that the suspects had as evidence that they murdered them and used them as the confession tapes for the murder. The story follows the trail of evidence to show what really happened with the innocent men.

Throughout the show they switch back and forth between the two cases showing various new evidence, confessions, witnesses and information to the audience. However, the way they just switch between the cases can seem quick and random, especially since they do it out of the chronological order of events. There is little to no warning when they switch between them making it extremely confusing when they are talking about possibly letting one of the men free and then begin talking about the other case and how they are both staying in jail. The way they just switch makes it difficult to follow all the information they are giving at certain parts. It feels like you constantly need to backtrack to make sure you didn’t mix up any of the information due to the suddenness of the changes. It also makes it very difficult to remember all the various people that they introduce for the two cases.

As the show drags on it becomes more and more clear how corrupt the police system is in many similar small towns, since the pressure is so heavy for the police when everyone in the town knows each other and want a case to be solved so quickly. However, with the reveal of the corrupt system, it becomes less clear why these cases are the ones chosen. Of course, the story is important and deserves to be told but no more so then any other case that is similar to it. If it was just an example of the cases in this one small town then why did they only focus on these two cases and not the two other cases that they show in one of the after-credit sequences where they reveal that there were two other cases that were extremely similar in Aba that the Innocence Program also assisted with?

However, for all of its shortcomings The Innocent man is actually a pretty good show. One of the things that it does great is not only show you the defendants and their families, but also the victims’ families and friends as well. In doing so, it gives the viewer a feeling of joy for the innocent men who are released; but also allows you to feel sad for the victims’ family who was told that they were wrong about the killer. Like how you see Peggy Carter, Debbie Carters mom, describe how she felt after the case where they said that Ron Williamson did not kill her daughter felt so much more emotional then expected because we were able to see the difference in how Williamsons family feels in comparison to how she feels.

Another amazing aspect of the show is the amount of information they give you and the way they explain it. Every aspect of the case is laid out for you including the science behind a lot of their evidence. They explain everything from the way they used to analyze hair strands to try and find a match, to the way DNA was brought into use for forensic science and the science behind how it works. They also show small recreations of what happened during each of the crime scenes that they use extremely effectively in order to get the point across as to how all the information they introduce changes the official story.  

The Innocent Man is nothing impressive though it does have everything a person could want in a true crime drama. It has a small connected neighborhood, sad families and stories, and almost endless interview accounts of what happened.  The show is very entertaining and tells a very compelling story to the audience. It isn’t the best show but for anyone itching for some good crime drama while waiting for the next season of Making A Murderer, this is the show for you.