A federal judge yesterday dismissed a libel lawsuit filed last year by an Oklahoma District Attorney against author John Grisham, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and exoneree Dennis Fritz.
Bill Peterson, the former District Attorney for Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, filed the lawsuit last year, claiming that the defendants made false public statements about Peterson’s role in the wrongful convictions of Fritz and his co-defendant Ron Williamson. Grisham, Scheck and Fritz have said that Peterson ignored signs of Fritz’ and Williamson’s innocence while prosecuting them for murder. Grisham wrote the popular 2006 book “The Innocent Man” about the wrongful convictions of Fritz and his co-defendant Ron Williamson. Fritz wrote a memoir of his own called “Journey Toward Justice.” Scheck and Innocence Project Co-Director wrote “Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make It Right.” In addition to libel, Peterson’s federal lawsuit claimed the books and public comments by all of the authors defamed him and were part of a conspiracy to abolish to the death penalty.
“Where the justice system so manifestly failed and innocent people were imprisoned for 11 years (and one almost put to death),” the judge wrote in his decision throwing out the lawsuit, “it is necessary to analyze and criticize our judicial system (and the actors involved) so that past mistakes do not become future ones.”
"This is a victory for free speech and for holding officials publicly accountable for their role in wrongful convictions," Scheck said in statement.
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. (Associated Press, 09/18/08)