Wrongfully convicted author to speak at NAU

Freed by DNA

Dennis Fritz, who was exonerated of murder charges after spending 12 years in prison, will discuss his ordeal during a lecture beginning at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6 at Cline Library Assembly Hall.

Fritz was wrongfully convicted of murdering an Ada, Okla., waitress and sentenced to life in prison in 1987. He served 12 years in an Oklahoma prison before being exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence.

Fritz was cleared with the help of Barry C. Scheck of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization which handles post conviction DNA testing that provides conclusive proof of innocence.

Hair recovered at the crime scene had been microscopically matched to Fritz, and one of Fritz’s fellow jailhouse inmates testified that Fritz had confessed to the murder, allowing the prosecution to proceed with their case just one day before charges were to be dropped, according to the Innocence Project’s website. DNA evidence later proved that the hair and other physical evidence did not match Fritz.

Fritz’s recently released book, Journey Toward Justice, tells the story of his arrest, trial, conviction and exoneration. Fritz’s story is “compelling and fascinating,” says John Grisham, who wrote the book’s forward. Grisham’s book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, is the story of Ron Williamson, Fritz’s co-defendant. It will be released this month.

“We want to expose people to real exonerees,” said Robert Schehr, professor of criminal justice at NAU, which is hosting Fritz. Schehr said seeing the human face of this issue will have a bigger impact than reading or being taught, especially in a state like Arizona that is one of the worst in wrongful convictions.

“Wrongful conviction is an extraordinary problem. We want to make sure that people are alert to these issues,” said Schehr, who also is director of NAU’s Northern Arizona Justice Project, a non-profit organization that investigates claims of innocence.