Novelist John Grisham has been named in a libel lawsuit filed over The Innocent Man, a nonfiction best-seller he wrote about the 1982 murder of a cocktail waitress.
The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, named several other defendants including Robert Mayer of Santa Fe, author of a similar true-crime book, The Dreams of Ada, published in 1987. The suit seeks relief of more than $75,000 and demands a jury trial. The plaintiffs are Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson and Gary Rogers, a former agent for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
The two men originally convicted of Debbie Sue Carter’s murder in Ada, Okla., Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, were exonerated by DNA evidence and freed after 12 years in prison. Their experiences are chronicled in Grisham’s book as well as in Fritz’s story, Journey Toward Justice. Fritz is among those named as a defendant because of the content of his book.
Mayer said he and Grisham exchanged e-mails Friday on the lawsuit’s impact on sales of their books and on personal fame. In his reply, Grisham told Mayer, “Now we’ll sell a few books.”
The Dreams of Ada, which also involved Peterson, was reissued in 2006 with a new five-page afterward to coincide with the publication of Grisham’s first nonfiction book. The first edition, Mayer pointed out, generated no lawsuits.
“It’s nothing more than a power play to get people to believe (Peterson) did nothing wrong,” Fritz said Friday from his Kansas City, Mo., home. “It has no merit. We simply told the truth, and I have a right to write what my thoughts were.”
The lawsuit claims the defendants conspired to commit libel against the plaintiffs, generate publicity for self-interest by placing them in a false light and intentionally inflict emotional distress upon them.
It claims “the defendants launched this attack through the use of speeches, interviews and simultaneously publishing three books that were all three strategically released in October of 2006.”
Peterson prosecuted Williamson and Fritz in the Carter murder, while Rogers investigated the death.