The Innocent Man Chapter 16

The daily rituals of Yankee Stadium vary slightly when the team is out of town. Without the urgency of crowds and cameras and without the expectation of another pristine playing surface, the old house creaks slowly to life, so that by late morning the groundskeepers in their khaki shorts and ash T-shirts are tending the field at a languid pace. Grantley, the chief grass cutter, tinkers with a spiderlike Toro mower, while Tommy, the clay specialist, packs and levels the dirt behind home plate. Dan pushes a smaller mower across the thick bluegrass along the first-base line. Sprinklers erupt at orchestrated intervals around the outfield warning track. A tour guide huddles with a group behind the third-base dugout and points to something in the distance, beyond the Scoreboard.

The fifty-seven thousand seats are empty. Sounds echo softly around the place-the muffled engine of a small mower, the laughter of a groundskeeper, the distant hissing of a spray washer cleaning seats in the upper deck, the 4 train rumbling by just beyond the right-field wall, the pecking of a hammer near the press box. For those who maintain the house that Ruth built, the off days are cherished, wedged between the nostalgia of Yankee greatness and the promise of more to come.

Some twenty-five years after he was expected to arrive, Ron Williamson stepped up from the bench in the Yankee dugout and onto the brown crushed-shell warning track that borders the field. He paused to take in the enormity of the stadium, to soak in the atmosphere of baseball's holiest shrine. It was a brilliantly blue clear spring day. The air was light, the sun was high, the grass so flat and green it could have been a fine carpet. The sun warmed his pale skin. The smell of freshly cut grass reminded him of other fields, other games, old dreams.

He was wearing a Yankee cap, a souvenir from the front office, and because he was a celebrity at the moment, in New York for a segment on Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer, he was wearing his only sport coat, the navy blazer Annette had hurriedly purchased two weeks earlier, and his only tie and pair of slacks. The shoes had changed, though. He'd lost interest in clothes. Though he'd once worked in a haberdashery and offered ready opinions about what others wore, he didn't care now. Twelve years of prison garb does that to you.

Under the cap was a bowl-cut mess of bright gray hair, thick and disheveled. Ron was now forty-six but looked much older. He adjusted the cap, then stepped onto the grass. He was six feet tall, and though his body showed the damage of twenty years of abuse and neglect, there were still hints of the great athlete. He strolled across foul territory, stepped over the dirt base path, and headed for the mound, where he stood for a moment and gazed up at the endless rows of bright blue seats. He gently put his foot on the rubber, then shook his head. Don Larsen had pitched the perfect game from this exact spot. Whitey Ford, one of his idols, had owned this mound. He looked over his left shoulder, out to right field, where the wall seemed too close, where Roger Maris had placed so many fly balls just far enough to clear the fence. And far away in deep center, beyond the wall he could see the monuments of the greatest Yankees.

Mickey was out there.

Mark Barrett stood at home plate, also wearing a Yankee cap, and wondered what his client was thinking. Release a man from prison, where he'd spent twelve years for nothing, with no apologies because no one has the guts to admit wrongdoing, no farewells, just get the hell out of here and please go as quietly as possible. No compensation, counseling, letter from the governor or any other official; no citation for public service. Two weeks later he's in the midst of a media storm, and everybody wants a piece of him.

Remarkably, Ron was holding no grudges. He and Dennis were too busy soaking up the richness of their emancipation. The grudges would come later, long after the media went away.

Barry Scheck was near the dugout, watching Ron and chatting with the others. A die-hard Yankee fan, he had made the phone calls that set up the special visit to the stadium. He was their host in New York for a few days.

Photos were taken, a camera crew filmed Ron on the mound, then the little tour continued along the first-base line, drifting slowly as their guide rambled on about this Yankee and that one. Ron knew many of the stats and stories. No baseball had ever been hit completely out of Yankee Stadium, the guide was saying, but Mantle got close. He bounced one off the facade in right center, right up there, he said as he pointed to the spot, about 535 feet from home plate. "But the one in Washington was further," Ron said. "It was 565 feet. Pitcher was Chuck Stobbs." The guide was impressed.

A few steps behind Ron was Annette, following along, as always, sweating the details, making the tough decisions, cleaning up. She was not a baseball fan, and at that moment her primary concern was keeping her brother sober. He was sore at her because she had not allowed him to get drunk the night before.

Their group included Dennis, Greg Wilhoit, and Tim Durham. All four exonerees had appeared on Good Morning America. ABC was covering the expenses for the trip. Jim

Dwyer was there from the New York Daily News.

They stopped in center field, on the warning track. On the other side was Monument Park, with large busts of Ruth and Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio, and dozens of smaller plaques of other great Yankees. Before renovation, this little corner of near-sacred ground had actually been in fair territory, the guide was saying. A gate opened and they walked through the fence, onto a brick patio, and for a moment it was easy to forget they were in a baseball stadium.

Ron stepped close to the bust of Mantle and read his short biography. He could still quote the career stats he had memorized as a kid.

Ron's last year as a Yankee had been 1977, at Fort Lauderdale, Class A, about as far away from Monument Park as a serious ballplayer could get. Annette had some old photos of him in a Yankee uniform, a real one. In fact, it had once been worn by a real Yankee in this very ballpark. The big club simply handed them down, and as the old uniforms made their sad little trek down the minor-league ladder, they collected the battle scars of life in the outposts. Every pair of pants had been stitched in the knees and rear end. Every elastic waistband had been downsized, enlarged, smudged with markers on the inside so the trainers could keep them straight. Every jersey was stained with grass and sweat.

1997, Fort Lauderdale Yankees.

Ron made fourteen appearances, pitched thirty-three innings, won two, lost four, and got knocked around enough so that the Yankees had no trouble cutting him when the season was mercifully over.

The tour moved on. Ron paused for a second to sneer at the plaque of Reggie Jackson. The guide was talking about the shifting dimensions of the stadium, how it was bigger when Ruth played, smaller for Maris and Mantle. The film crew tagged along, recording scenes that would never survive editing.

It was amusing, Annette thought, all this attention. As a kid and a teenager, Ronnie had craved the spotlight, demanded it, and now forty years later cameras were recording every move.

Enjoy the moment, she kept telling herself. A month earlier he'd been locked up in a mental hospital, and they were not sure he would ever get out.

They slowly made their way back to the Yankee dugout and killed some time there. As Ron absorbed the magic of the place for a few final minutes, he said to Mark Barrett, "I just got a taste of how much fun they were having up here."

Mark nodded but could think of nothing to say.

"All I ever wanted to do was play baseball," Ron said. "It's the only fun I've ever had." He paused and looked around, then said, "You know, this all sort of washes over you after a while. What I really want is a cold beer."

The drinking began in New York.

From Yankee Stadium, the victory lap stretched to Disney World, where a German television company paid for three nights of fun for the entire entourage. All Ron and Dennis had to do was tell their story, and the Germans, with typical European fascination with the death penalty, recorded every detail.

Ron's favorite part of Disney World was Epcot, at the German village, where he found Bavarian beer and knocked back one stein after another.

They flew to Los Angeles for a live appearance on the Leeza show. Shortly before airtime, Ron sneaked away and drained a pint of vodka. Without most of his teeth, his words were not crisp to begin with, and no one noticed his slightly thick tongue.

As the days passed, the story lost some of its urgency, and the group-Ron, Annette, Mark, Dennis, Elizabeth, and Sara Bonnell- headed home.

The last place Ron wanted to be was Ada.


He stayed with Annette and began the difficult process of trying to adjust. The reporters eventually went away.

Under Annette's constant supervision, he was diligent with his medications and stable. He slept a lot, played his guitar, and dreamed of becoming famous as a singer. She did not tolerate alcohol in her home, and he seldom left it.

The fear of being arrested and sent back to prison consumed him and forced him to instinctively glance over his shoulder and jump at any loud noise. Ron knew the police had not forgotten about him. They still believed he was somehow involved in the murder. So did most folks in Ada.

He wanted to get out, but had no money. He was unable to hold a job and never talked about employment. He hadn't had a driver's license in almost twenty years and wasn't particularly interested in studying a driver's manual and taking tests.

Annette was arguing with the Social Security Administration in an effort to collect the back payments for his disability. The checks stopped when he went to prison. She finally prevailed, and the lump sum award was $60,000. His monthly benefits of $600 were reinstated, payable until his disability was removed, an unlikely event.

Overnight, he felt like a millionaire and wanted to live on his own. He was also desperate to leave Ada, and Oklahoma, too. Annette's only child, Michael, was living in Springfield, Missouri, and they hatched the plan to move Ron there. They spent $20,000 on a new, furnished, two-bedroom mobile home, and moved him in.

Though it was a proud moment, Annette was worried about Ron living by himself. When she finally left him, he was sitting in his new re-cliner watching his new television, a very happy man. When she returned three weeks later to check on him, he was still sitting in his recliner with a disheartening collection of empty beer cans piled around it.

When he wasn't sleeping, drinking, talking on the phone, or playing his guitar, he was loitering at a nearby Wal-Mart, his source for beer and cigarettes. But something happened, an incident, and he was asked to spend his time elsewhere.

In those heady days of being on his own, he became fixated on repaying all those who'd loaned him money over the years. Saving money seemed like a ridiculous idea, and he began giving it away. He was moved by appeals on television-starving children, evangelists about to lose their entire ministries, and so on. He sent money.

His telephone bills were enormous. He called Annette and Renee, Mark Barrett, Sara Bonnell, Greg Wilhoit, the Indigent Defense System lawyers, Judge Landrith, Bruce Leba, even some prison officials. He was usually upbeat, happy to be free, but by the end of every conversation he was ranting about Ricky Joe Simmons. He was not impressed by the DNA trail left by Glen Gore. Ron wanted Simmons arrested immediately for the "rape, rape by instrumentation and rape by forcible sodomy and murder [of] Debra Sue Carter at her home at 1022 1/2, East 8th Street, December the 8th, 1982!!" Every conversation included at least two recitations of this detailed demand.

Oddly enough, Ron also called Peggy Stillwell, and the two developed a cordial relationship by phone. He assured her he had never met Debbie, and Peggy believed him. Eighteen years after losing her daughter, she was still unable to say good-bye. She confessed to Ron that for years she'd had a nagging suspicion that the murder was not really solved.

As a general rule he avoided bars and loose women, though one episode burned him. Walking down the street, tending to his own business, a car with two ladies stopped and he got in. They went out for a round of barhopping, the night grew long, and they retired to his trailer, where one of his companions found his stash of cash under his bed. When he later discovered the theft of $1,000, he swore off women altogether.

Michael Hudson was his only friend in Springfield, and he encouraged his nephew to buy a guitar and taught him a few chords. Michael checked on him regularly and reported to his mother. The drinking was getting worse.

The booze and his medications did not mix well, and he became extremely paranoid. The sight of a police car provoked serious attacks of anxiety. He refused to even jaywalk, thinking the cops were always watching. Peterson and the Ada police were up to something. He taped newspapers over the windows, padlocked his doors, then taped them, too, from the inside. He slept with a butcher's knife.

Mark Barrett visited him twice and slept over. He was alarmed at Ron's condition, his paranoia and drinking, and he was particularly worried about the knife.

Ron was lonely, and terrified.

Dennis Fritz wasn't jaywalking, either. He returned to Kansas City and moved in with his mother in the little house on Lister Avenue. When he had last seen it, the house had been surrounded by a dejected SWAT team.

Months after their release, Glen Gore had not been charged. The investigation was plodding along in some direction, and as Dennis understood things, he and Ron were still suspects. Dennis flinched at the sight ofa police car. He watched his back whenever he left the house. He jumped when the phone rang.

He drove to Springfield to visit Ronnie and was startled by the extent of his drinking. They tried to laugh and reminisce for a couple of days, but Ronnie was drinking too much. He wasn't a mean drunk, or an emotional one, just a loud and unpleasant one. He would sleep until noon, wake up, pop a top, have a beer for breakfast and lunch, and start playing his guitar.

They were driving around one afternoon, drinking beer and enjoying their freedom. Ron was playing his guitar. Dennis was driving very carefully. He did not know Springfield, and the last thing he wanted was trouble with the cops. Ron decided they should stop at a certain nightclub where he would somehow talk his way into a gig that night. Dennis thought this was a bad idea, especially since Ron was not familiar with the club and didn't know the owner or bouncers. A heated argument ensued, and they made their way back to the trailer.

Ron dreamed of being onstage. He wanted to perform for thousands and sell albums and become famous. Dennis was reluctant to tell him that with his scratchy voice and damaged vocal chords, and marginal talent with the guitar, it was nothing more than a dream. He did, however, press Ron to cut back on the booze. He suggested that Ron mix in a nonalcoholic beer every now and then with his daily onslaught of Budweiser and lay off the hard stuff. He was getting fat, and Dennis urged him to exercise and stop smoking.

Ron listened but kept drinking, real beer. After three days, Dennis left for Kansas City.

He returned a few weeks later with Mark Barrett, who was passing through. They drove Ron to a coffeehouse where he took to the tiny stage with his guitar and sang Bob Dylan songs for tips. Though the crowd was small and more interested in eating than listening, Ron was performing and quite happy.

To stay busy and earn something, Dennis found a part-time job grilling hamburgers for minimum wage. Since he'd kept his nose in law books for the past twelve years, he found the habit hard to break. Barry Scheck encouraged him to consider law school, and even promised to help with the tuition. The University of Missouri-Kansas City was nearby, with a law school and flexible classes. Dennis began studying for the admissions test but was soon overwhelmed.

He was suffering from post-traumatic stress of some variety, and at times the pressure was debilitating. The horror of prison was always there-nightmares and flashbacks and fears of being arrested again. The murder investigation was ongoing, and with the Ada cops running loose, there was always the chance of the midnight knock on the door, or maybe even another assault from a SWAT team. Dennis eventually sought professional help, and slowly he began putting his life together. Barry Scheck was talking about a lawsuit, a massive claim against those who'd created and carried out the injustice, andDennis focused on the idea. There was a new fight on the horizon, and he geared up for it.

Ron's life was headed in the opposite direction. He was acting strange, and the neighbors noticed. Then he began carrying the butcher's knife through the mobile home park, claiming that Peterson and the Ada cops were after him. He was protecting himself, and not going back to prison.

Annette received an eviction notice. When Ronnie refused to answer her calls, she obtained a court order to have him picked up for a mental evaluation.

He was in his trailer, doors and windows taped and covered, drinking a beer and watching television, when he suddenly heard words squawk from a bullhorn, "Come out with your hands up!" He peeked outside, saw the cops, and thought his life was over, again. He was going back to death row.

The police were as afraid of him as he was of them, but both sides eventually found common ground. Ron was taken not to death row but instead to a mental hospital for evaluation.

The trailer, less than a year old but quite a mess, was sold. When he was released from the hospital, Annette searched for a place to put him. The only bed she could find was in a nursing home outside of Springfield. She drove to the hospital, packed him up, and moved him into the Dallas County Care Center. The daily structure and regular care were at first welcome. His pills were taken on time, and alcohol was forbidden. Ron felt better, but soon grew weary of being surrounded by old and frail seniors in wheelchairs. He began complaining and was soon unbearable, so Annette found another room in Marshfield, Missouri. It, too, was filled with sad old folks. Ron was only fortyseven. What the hell was he doing in a nursing home?

He asked this question over and over, and Annette finally decided to bring him back to Oklahoma.

He would not return to Ada, not that anyone wanted him to. In Oklahoma City, Annette found a bed at the Harbor House, an old motel that had been converted into a home for men who were transitioning from one phase of life to something that was hopefully better. No alcohol was allowed, and Ron had been sober for months.

Mark Barrett visited him several times at Harbor House and knew Ron couldn't stay there very long. No one could. Most of the other men were zombielike and scarred worse than Ron.

Months passed and Glen Gore was not charged with murder. The new investigation was proving to be as fruitful as the old one, eighteen years earlier.

The Ada police, the prosecutors, and the OSBI had infallible DNA proof that the source of the crime scene semen and hair was Glen Gore, but they just couldn't solve the murder. More proof was needed.

Ron and Dennis had not been ruled out as suspects. And though they were free men and thrilled to be so, there was always a dark cloud hanging over them. They talked weekly and sometimes daily to each other, and to their lawyers. After a year of living in fear, they decided to fight back.

Had Bill Peterson, the Ada police, and the state of Oklahoma apologized for the injustice and closed the books on Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, the authorities would have taken the honorable course and ended a sad story.

Instead, they got themselves sued.

In April 2000, co-plaintiffs Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson filed suit against half the state of Oklahoma. The defendants were the city of Ada, Pontotoc County, Bill Peterson, Dennis Smith, John Christian, Mike Tenney, Glen Gore, Terri Holland, James Harjo, the state of Oklahoma, the OSBI, OSBI employees Gary Rogers, Rusty Featherstone, Melvin Hett, Jerry Peters, and Larry Mullins, and the Department of Corrections officials Gary Maynard, Dan Reynolds, James Saffle, and Larry Fields.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court as a civil rights case, alleging violations under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution. It was randomly assigned to none other than Judge Frank Seay, who would later recuse himself. The lawsuit claimed that defendants (1) failed to provide the plaintiffs with a fair trial by fabricating evidence and withholding exculpatory evidence; (2) conspired to falsely arrest and maliciously prosecute the plaintiffs; (3) engaged in deceitful conduct; (4) intentionally inflicted emotional distress; (5) acted negligently in prosecuting the plaintiffs; and (6) initiated and maintained a malicious prosecution.

The claim against the prison system alleged that Ron was mistreated while on death row and that his mental illness was ignored by officials who were repeatedly put on notice. The lawsuit demanded $100 million in damages.

Bill Peterson was quoted in the Ada newspaper as saying, "In my opinion it's a frivolous lawsuit to attract attention. I'm not worried about it."

He also reaffirmed that the investigation into the homicide "continues."

The lawsuit was filed by Barry Scheck's firm and a Kansas City lawyer named Cheryl Pilate. Mark Barrett would join the team later when he left the Indigent Defense System and entered private practice.

Civil suits for wrongful convictions are extremely difficult to win, and most exonerees are shut out from the courthouse. Being wrongfully convicted does not automatically give one the right to sue.

A potential plaintiff must claim and prove that his civil rights were violated, that his constitutional protections were breached, and that this resulted in a wrongful conviction. Then, the difficult part: virtually everyone involved in the legal process that led to the bad conviction is cloaked with immunity. A judge is immune from a wrongful conviction lawsuit regardless of how poorly he handled the trial. A prosecutor is immune as long as he does his job-that is, as long as he prosecutes. If, however, he gets too involved in the investigation, then he might become liable. And a policeman is immune unless it can be shown that his actions were so wrong that any reasonable law enforcement officer would have known that he was violating the Constitution.

Such lawsuits are ruinously expensive to maintain, with the plaintiff's attorneys forced to front tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars in litigation costs. And they are almost too risky to file because recovery is such a long shot.

Most wrongfully convicted people, like Greg Wilhoit, never receive a dime. Ron's next stop, in July 2001, was the Transition House in Norman, a well-established facility that offered men a structured environment, counseling, and training. Its goal was to rehabilitate its patients to the point of allowing them to live on their own, with supervision from counselors. The ultimate goal was assimilation back into the community as productive and stable citizens.

Phase one was a twelve-month program in which the men lived in dorms with roommates and plenty of rules. One of the first training exercises was to teach them how to use transit buses and move around the city. Cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene were also taught and emphasized. Ron could scramble eggs and make a peanut butter sandwich.

He preferred to stay near his room and ventured outside only to smoke. After four months he had not figured out the bus system.

Ron's childhood sweetheart was a girl named Debbie Keith. Her father was a minister who wanted his daughter to marry a minister, and Ron didn't come close. Her brother, Mickey Keith, followed his father and was the pastor at the Evangelistic Temple, Annette's new church in Ada. At Ron's request and Annette's urging, Reverend Keith drove to Norman, to the Transition House.

Ron was serious about rejoining the church and cleaning up his life. At his core was a deep belief in God and Jesus Christ. He would never forget the Scriptures he'd memorized as a child nor the gospel hymns he loved. Despite his mistakes and shortcomings, he was desperate to return to his roots. He carried a nagging sense of guilt for the way he'd lived, but he believed in Jesus's promise of divine, eternal, and complete forgiveness.

Reverend Keith talked and prayed with Ron, and discussed some paperwork. He explained that if Ron really wanted to join the church, he needed to fill out an application in which he stated that he was a born-again Christian, that he would support the church with his tithes and with his presence when able, and that he would never bring reproach upon the church. Ron was quick to fill out and sign the form. It was taken to the church board, discussed, and approved.

He was quite content for a few months. He was clean and sober, determined to kick the habit with God's help. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and seldom missed a meeting. His medications were balanced, and his family and friends enjoyed his company. He was funny and loud, always ready with a quick retort or a humorous story. To startle strangers, he enjoyed beginning a new tale with "Back when I was on death row... " His family stayed as close as possible, and were often amazed at his ability to recall minute details of events that happened when he was literally out of his mind.

The Transition House was near downtown Norman, an easy walk to Mark Barrett's office, and Ron dropped in often. The lawyer and the client drank coffee, talked about music, and discussed the lawsuit. Ron's primary interest in the litigation, not surprisingly, was when it might be settled and how much money he might get. Mark invited Ron to attend his church, a Disciples of Christ congregation in Norman. Ron joined a Sunday school class with Mark's wife and became fascinated with the open and liberal discussions about the Bible and Christianity. Anything could be questioned, unlike in the Pentecostal churches, where the Word was exact and infallible and contrary views were frowned upon.

Ron spent most of his time on his music, practicing a Bob Dylan song or one from Eric Clapton until he could closely imitate it. And he got hired. He landed some gigs in coffee shops and cafes around Norman and Oklahoma City, playing for tips and taking requests from the slim crowds. He was fearless. His vocal range was limited, but he didn't care. Ron would try any song.

The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty invited him to sing and speak at a fund-raiser held at the Firehouse, a popular hangout near the OU campus. In front of two hundred people, a much larger crowd than what he normally saw, he was overwhelmed and stood too far from the microphone. He was barely heard, but appreciated nonetheless.

During the evening, he met Dr. Susan Sharp, a criminology professor at OU and an active death penalty abolitionist. She invited him to visit her class, and he readily accepted.

The two became friends, though Ron soon considered Dr. Sharp his girlfriend. She worked to keep things on a friendly, professional level. She saw a deeply scarred and wounded man, and she was determined to help him. Romance was not an option, and he was not aggressive.

He progressed through phase one at Transition House, then graduated to the second phase-his own apartment. Annette and Renee prayed fervently that he would be able to live by himself. They tried not to think about a future of nursing homes, halfway houses, and mental hospitals. If he could survive in phase two, then the next step might be to find a job.

He held things together for a month or so, then he slowly fell apart. Away from structure and supervision, he began to neglect his medication. He really wanted a cold beer. His hangout became a campus bar called the Deli, the kind of place that attracted hard drinkers and kids from the counterculture.

Ron became a regular, and, as always, he was not a pleasant drunk.

On October 29, 2001, Ron gave his deposition in his lawsuit. The room, at the stenographer's office in Oklahoma City, was packed with lawyers, all waiting to quiz the man who'd become a celebrity in the area.

After a few preliminary questions, the first defense lawyer asked Ron:

"Are you on any type of medication?"

"Yes, I am."

"And is that medication that a physician has prescribed or directed you to take?"

"A psychiatrist, yes."

"Do you have either a list, or do you have information as to what medication you are taking today? "

"I know what I'm taking."

"And what is that?"

"I'm taking Depakote, 250 milligrams, four times a day; Zyprexa, in the evening, once a day; and Wellbutrin one time a day."

"What do you understand the medication is for?"

"Well, Depakote is for mood swings, and Wellbutrin is for depression, and Zyprexa is for voices and hallucinations."

"Okay. One of the things that we're certainly interested in today is the effect that the medication may have on your ability to remember. Does it?"

"Well, I don't know. You haven't asked anything for me to remember yet."

The deposition proceeded for several hours and left him exhausted.


Bill Peterson, as a defendant, filed a motion for summary judgment, a routine legal maneuver designed to get himself removed from the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs claimed that Peterson's immunity was dissolved when he stepped outside his role of prosecutor and began running the criminal investigation into the murder of Debbie Carter. They alleged two clear examples of evidence fabrication by Peterson.

The first came from Glen Gore's affidavit, prepared to be used in the civil suit, in which Gore stated that Bill Peterson actually came to his cell in the Pontotoc County jail and threatened him if he didn't testify against Ron Williamson. Peterson, according to the affidavit, said that Gore had better hope that his fingerprints "did not show up in Debbie Carter's apartment" and that "he just might be coming after Gore."

The second instance of creating evidence, again alleged by the plaintiffs, involved the reprinting of Debbie Carter's palm. Peterson admitted that he met with Jerry Peters, Larry Mullins, and the Ada investigators in January 1987 to discuss the palm print. Peterson expressed the opinion that he "was at the end of my rope" with regard to the investigation. Peterson suggested that a better print could be obtained some four and a half years after the burial and asked Mullins and Peters to take a second look. The body was then exhumed, the palm reprinted, and the experts suddenly had new opinions.

(Lawyers for Ron and Dennis hired their own fingerprint expert, a Mr. Bill Bailey, who determined that Mullins and Peters arrived at their new conclusions by analyzing different areas of the palm print. Bailey concluded his own analysis by stating that the source of the print on the wall was not Debbie Carter after all.)

The federal judge denied Peterson's motion for summary judgment, saying, "A legitimate question of fact exists as to whether Peterson, Peters and Mullins, as well as others, engaged in a systematic pattern of fabrication in order to obtain the conviction of Williamson and Fritz."

The judge went on to say:

In this case, the circumstantial evidence indicates a concerted pattern by the various investigators and Peterson to deprive Plaintiffs of one or more of their constitutional rights. The repeated omission of exculpatory evidence by investigators while including inculpatory evidence, inclusion of debatably fabricated evidence, failure to follow obvious and apparent leads which implicated other individuals, and the use of questionable forensic conclusions suggests that the involved Defendants were acting deliberately toward the specific end result prosecution of Williamson and Fritz without regard to the warning signs along the way that their end result was unjust and not supported by the facts of their investigation.

The ruling, which came on February 7, 2002, was a major blow to the defense and changed the momentum of the lawsuit.

For years, Renee had tried to convince Annette that she should leave Ada. The people would always be suspicious of Ron and whisper about his sister. Their church had rejected him. The pending lawsuit against the town and the county would create more resentment.

Annette resisted because Ada was her home. Her brother was innocent. She had learned to ignore the whispers and stares, and she could continue to hold her ground.

But the lawsuit worried her. After almost two years of intense pre-trial discovery, Mark Barrett and Barry Scheck felt the tide was turning in their favor. Settlement negotiations were on and off, but there was a general feeling among the lawyers on both sides that the case would not go to trial.

Perhaps it was time for a change. In April 2002, after sixty years, Annette left Ada. She moved to Tulsa, where she had relatives, and soon thereafter her brother arrived to live with her.

She was eager to get him out of Norman. Ron was drinking again, and when drunk, he could not keep his mouth shut. He bragged about his lawsuit, his many lawyers, the millions he would collect from those who'd unjustly sent him to death row, and so on. He was hanging around the Deli and other bars and attracting attention from the sorts of people who would quickly become his best friends when the cash arrived.

He moved in with Annette, and soon learned that her new home in Tulsa had the same rules as her old one in Ada, specifically, no drinking. He sobered up, joined her church, and became close to her pastor. There was a men's Bible-study group called Light for the Lost that raised money for mission trips to poor countries. Their favorite fund-raiser was a monthly steak-andpotato dinner, and Ron joined the crew in the kitchen. His assignment was wrapping baking potatoes in foil, a job he enjoyed.

In the fall of 2002, the "frivolous" lawsuit was settled for several million dollars. With careers and egos to protect, the numerous defendants insisted on a confidential settlement agreement whereby they and their insurers handed over large sums of money without admitting they had done anything wrong. The secret deal was buried in a locked file and protected with a federal court order.

Its details were soon thrashed about in the coffee shops of Ada, where the city council was forced to disclose the fact that it had forked over $500,000 from a rainy-day reserve for its portion of the total settlement. As the gossip roared around town, the amounts varied from cafe to cafe, but it was widely believed to be in the $5 million range. The Ada Evening News, using unnamed sources, actually printed this amount.

Because Ron and Dennis had not been cleared as suspects, many of the good folks of Ada still believed they were involved in the killing. That they were now profiting so handsomely from their crime caused even more resentment.

Mark Barrett and Barry Scheck insisted that their clients take an initial lump sum, then a monthly annuity to protect their settlement.

Dennis bought a new home in a suburb of Kansas City. He took care of his mother and Elizabeth, and buried the rest of it in the bank.

Ron was not quite so prudent.

He convinced Annette to help him buy a condo near her home and their church. They spent $60,000 on a nice two-bedroom unit, and Ron once again struck out on his own. He was stable for a few weeks. If for some reason Annette couldn't drive him, Ron happily walked to church.

But Tulsa was familiar turf, and before long he was back in the strip clubs and bars, where he bought drinks for everyone and tipped the girls thousands of dollars. The money, along with his big mouth, attracted all sorts of friends, both new and old, many of whom took advantage of him. He was generous to a fault and thoroughly clueless about managing his new fortune. Fifty thousand dollars evaporated before Annette could rein him in.

Near his condo was a neighborhood bar called the Bounty, a quiet little pub where Guy Wilhoit, Greg's father, was a regular. They met, became drinking buddies, and enjoyed hours of lively conversation about Greg and the old ghosts from death row. Guy told the bartenders and the owner of the Bounty that Ron was a special friend of his, and Greg's, and that if he ever ran into trouble, as was his custom, to call him, Guy, not the cops. They promised to protect Ron.

But Ron couldn't stay away from the strip clubs. His favorite was Lady Godiva's, and there he became infatuated with a certain dancer, only to learn that she was already spoken for. Didn't matter. When he found out she had a family and was homeless, he invited them to his place and offered the spare bedroom upstairs. The stripper, her two kids, and their alleged father all moved into Mr. Williamson's nice new condo. But there were no groceries. Ron called Annette with a long list of necessities, and she reluctantly went to the store and bought them. When she made the delivery, Ron was nowhere to be found. Upstairs, the stripper and her family were locked in the bedroom, hiding from Ron's sister, and wouldn't come out. Annette delivered the ultimatum, loudly, through the door, and threatened criminal action if they didn't leave immediately. They fled and Ron missed them greatly.

The adventures continued until Annette, as legal guardian, finally intervened with a court order. They fought again over the money, but Ron knew what was best. The condo was sold, and Ron went to another nursing home.

He was not abandoned by his true friends. Dennis Fritz knew Ron was struggling to find a stable routine. He suggested that Ron come to Kansas City and live with him. He would monitor Ron's medication and diet, make him exercise, and force him to cut back on the drinking and smoking. Dennis had discovered health foods, vitamins, supplements, herbal teas, and such and was anxious to try some products on his friend. They talked about the move for weeks, but Annette eventually vetoed it.

Greg Wilhoit, now a full-fledged Californian and raging death penalty abolitionist, begged Ronnie to move to Sacramento, where the living was easy and laid-back and the past was truly forgotten. Ron loved the idea, but it was more fun to talk about than to actually pursue.

Bruce Leba found Ron and offered him a room, something he'd done many times in the past. Annette approved, and Ron moved in with Bruce, who at the time was driving a truck. Ron rode shotgun and thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of the open highways. Annette predicted that the arrangement would last no more than three months, which was Ron's average. Every routine and every place soon bored him, and three months later he and Bruce argued over something neither could remember. Ron moved back to Tulsa, stayed with Annette for a few weeks, then rented a small hotel suite for three months.

In 2001, two years after the release of Dennis and Ron, and almost nineteen years after the murder, the Ada police concluded the investigation. Then two more years passed before Glen Gore was moved from the prison at Lexington and put on trial.

For a host of reasons, Bill Peterson did not prosecute the case. Standing before a jury and pointing to the defendant and saying something like, "Glen Gore, you deserve to die for what you did to Debbie Carter," would have been a hard sell since he'd pointed at two other men and made the same accusation. Peterson begged off on conflict-of-interest grounds, but sent his assistant Chris Ross to sit at the state's table and take notes.

A special prosecutor was sent in from Oklahoma City, Richard Wintory, who, armed with the DNA results, got an easy conviction. After hearing the details of Gore's long and violent criminal record, the jury had no trouble recommending the death penalty. Dennis refused to follow the trial, but Ron couldn't ignore it. He called Judge Landrith every day and said: "Tommy, you gotta get Ricky Joe Simmons."

"Tommy, forget Gore! Ricky Joe Simmons is the real killer."

One nursing home led to another. Once he grew bored with a new place, or wore out his welcome, the phone calls would start, and Annette would scramble to find another facility willing to care for him. Then she would pack him up and make the move. Some of the homes reeked of disinfectant and looming death, while others were warm and welcoming.

He was in a pleasant one in the town of Howe when Dr. Susan Sharp paid him a visit. Ron had been sober for weeks and felt great. They drove to a lakeside park near the town and went for a walk. The day was cloudless, the air cool and crisp.

"He was like a little boy," Dr. Sharp said. "Happy to be outside in the sun on a beautiful day."

When he was sober and medicated, he was a delight to be with. That night they had a "date," dinner in a nearby restaurant. Ron was quite proud of himself because he was treating a nice lady to a steak dinner.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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