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Judge dismisses libel suit against John Grisham

Judge dismisses libel suit against John Grisham

A federal judge has dismissed a libel lawsuit filed against best-selling author John Grisham and two other writers over books they wrote about the wrongful conviction of two men in a 1982 murder.

The lawsuit was filed last year by former Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson, former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation investigator Gary Rogers and Melvin Hett, a state criminalist. All three helped win the original convictions in the slaying of cocktail waitress Debbie Sue Carter.

The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants conspired to commit libel, generate publicity for themselves by placing the plaintiffs in a false light and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

But U.S. District Judge Ronald White rejected those claims in his ruling Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.

The two men initially convicted in the slaying — Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz — were later cleared by DNA evidence and freed after 12 years in prison.

A key witness for the prosecution, Glen Gore, was later linked to the crime by DNA, found guilty of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In his ruling, the judge wrote that it was important to be able to analyze and criticize the judicial system “so that past mistakes do not become future ones.”

“The wrongful convictions of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz must be discussed openly and with great vigor,” White wrote.

The lawsuit named Grisham — whose account was titled “The Innocent Man” — his publishing company and the authors and publishing companies of two other books critical of Peterson and his prosecution of murder cases. Also named as a defendant was Barry Scheck, founder of the New York-based Innocence Project and an attorney for one of the men falsely accused in the murder.

“This is a victory for free speech and for holding officials publicly accountable for their role in wrongful convictions,” Scheck said in statement.

Gary Richardson, the attorney for Peterson, Rogers and Hett, said he was still reading the judge’s order to determine whether he would file an appeal.

“Of course, I’m quite disappointed and a bit surprised at the ruling,” Richardson said. “I felt that we had a solid case for defamation.”

A message left Wednesday with Grisham’s publishing company was not immediately returned.


  • November 22, 2008 at 7:05 AM Bill Peterson Is Evil

    I sincerely believe that Bill Peterson should be on death row. At the minimum, disbarred and the target of another major civil lawsuit against him and those individuals within Ada law enforcement who knowingly targeted innocent individuals and illegally trampled upon their rights. Bill Peterson: you are an unremorseful, evil man whom I would imagine many will be happier upon your death. Those of you in law enforcement in the area who still engage in such activity: BEWARE; the public is watching you!
    For all practical purposes, Bill Peterson murdered Ron Williamson. He destroyed years of Dennis Fritz life and subjected him to of the most horrible predicaments possible: to be recommended for capital punishment and subsequently sentenced to life in prison and for something of which he was innocent. Bill Peterson sent other innocents to prison including Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot and apparently is content that they continue to suffer in incarceration.
    Residents of Ada and Oklahoma should pressure their senators, congressmen, and govenor’s office to conduct police internal affairs (with FBI involvement if possible) into the present and past connection of members of the police department and possibly district attorney’s office with illegal drug trafficing. The link between the drug trafficing by Glen Gore and the Ada Police was mentioned in Grisham’s The Innocent Man. It just might be continuing today particularly given the large cash flow generally assumed to exist in drug trafficing. John Grisham, Dennis Fritz, Robert Mayer, and the legal team responsible for the exhonoration of Williamson and Fritz should be commended for their perseverance, diligence, and call to duty for justice. It is furthurmore a disgrace that Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot remain in jail. Residents of Oklahoma, you have a civil duty to pressure your public officials to reverse the dreadful injustice led by Bill Peterson which continues to punish two innocent people who remain incarcerated today. Public officials of Oklahoma and especially those of Pontotoc County and in particular Ada: Shame on You!!! Clean up your act and serve your constituents rather than terrorizing them!!!

  • March 22, 2009 at 6:18 PM Jane

    I just read the book and am astounded by the incompetency and corruption of the legal and judicial system in these convictions. This situation looked to be fiction or part of a third-world system. —-After the sending innocent men to prison and one almost to death,and never once even apologizing——Even now, Bill Peterson and the others involved are still working to protect their own pride. It should be the ugliest shame to others who might want to victmize any human being in such a horrific way.

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