Wrongful conviction expert Christy Lucas Sheppard lectured at Northern Oklahoma College Thursday, Sept. 19 in the Gantz Student Center’s Montgomery Hall.
Sheppard is an advocate for wrongful convictions after two men were convicted and later exonerated for the murder of Sheppard’s cousin, Debra Sue Carter in 1982 in Ada, Oklahoma.
The case was the subject of Innocent Man, a book by John Grisham and Sheppard appeared on the Netflix Series of the same name where she chronicles how her family was affected by the 1982 murder.
Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz originally admitted to the crime and were convicted of the murder but were later exonerated. Glen Gore, another man from Ada, was later convicted of Carter’s murder.
She shared her own family’s struggles in coming to terms with the murder of her cousin and how she used that struggle to become a champion of those wrongfully convicted.
Sheppard discussed the numerous trials that have taken place and the holes in the investigations over the past 37 years. She said that over 1,300 pages of documents have been discovered regarding the case since 2014 shedding light on the case of her cousin and Denise Haraway, another Ada woman murdered in 1984. Two men were convicted of that crime and are in prison but claim their innocence.
“The only way it will change is if the people who aren’t affected are as outraged as the people who are affected,” she said.
Sheppard, a licensed counselor and instructor at East Central University in Ada, said that prosecutors and investigators promise closure but that is seldom found.
“There is no closure when it comes to grief,” she said. “When you lose a big part of your life that hole is always there. I was 8-years old when Debbie was murdered and I grew up with a ring side seat to the entire process. Murder goes through everything in your family.”
Sheppard said her family didn’t suspect that the wrong men were convicted until years later.
“We thought the system worked like it was supposed to,” she said. “But there was so much going on behind the scenes.”
Williamson was granted a new trial just a few days before his scheduled execution and during a hearing on his competency, it was determined that he could not assist in his own defense due to mental illness.
“We were sideswiped when Ron (Williamson) was granted a new trial,” she said. “But as I started to look into the case, I could see that things didn’t fit.”
DNA testing had just become used in court cases and that evidence was used in exonerating Williamson and Fritz and convicting Gore.
“My goal is to see that these convictions don’t happen,” she said. “But I also want people to remember Debbie and Denise are not forgotten.”
Sheppard has been on numerous committees and testified on wrongful convictions but she said progress is slow.
“There has been a number of recommendations made but little has changed,” she said. “There has to be willingness to change.”
Sheppard is working on a book with the working title, Defending the Lion.
More information is available at www.defendingthelion.com .
Posted on Mon, September 23, 2019
by Scott Cloud