Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Statement of Dennis Fritz U.S. SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE JUNE 12, 2000


Good morning Chairman Hatch, Senator Leahy, and other Members of the Committee. My name is Dennis Fritz. I live in Kansas City, Missouri and I am here today with my mother, Mrs. Wanda Fritz.
It is a great honor and privilege to be here on behalf of all other wrongfully convicted people around the country who are suffering unjustly for crimes that they did not commit.
In May of 1987, I was arrested for a rape and murder that I neither committed, nor had any knowledge of whatsoever. I was arrested five years after the crime occurred, and from that day forward everything went wrong throughout the entire judicial process.
I spent the next twelve years serving a life sentence until I was finally able to prove my innocence, for which my thanks go to Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld for their endless efforts on my behalf.
My co-defendant, Ron Williamson, was also wrongfully convicted of the same crime and he was sentenced to death. He came within 5 days of being executed.
We were both freed on the same day in April 1999, after it was proven through DNA evidence that neither of us could have committed the crime. The prosecutor agreed to dismiss the charges. Furthermore, DNA evidence also established who the real killer was.
At the time of the murder, I was a science teacher and a football coach at a junior high school in Ada, Oklahoma. My daughter Elizabeth was eleven years old.
I loved my family. I loved my job.

Just the fact that I was a suspect in a murder got me fired from my job. Five years later I was arrested. The detectives then told me they knew I had not committed the crime, but they believed I knew who did it. From the very beginning, I always told them I was innocent, but it made no difference.
My trial began on April 8, 1988. It was a living nightmare. The prosecutor's case was almost entirely built on the lies of jailhouse snitches who got their sentences reduced for testifying against me.

Even the real killer was used by the prosecution as a witness against both myself and the co-defendant. At the time of the trial no one had even bothered to test his DNA. After I was convicted, I appealed my case throughout the Oklahoma courts. My appeals were denied at every stage of the judicial proceedings.
At the time of my conviction in 1988, DNA testing had just been accepted by the scientific community. For years while in prison, I repeatedly petitioned the courts to allow me to get my DNA tested. I was flat out denied by one court after another. By the time I got in touch with Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, I had lost seven court decisions, and I had just about lost hope.

For twelve long years, I did not see my daughter Elizabeth or my mother. I could not bear for Elizabeth to see what went on in that prison, so I restricted her from visiting me. It was not the kind of thing that any eleven year-old girl should see, and it tore my heart out by not being able to see her. I was subjected to indignities that no person should have to suffer, let alone a person who was innocent of the crime.

The refusal of the State of Oklahoma to compare my DNA with the crime scene evidence was only one of the reasons why I lost all those years of my life. The other reason was my trial attorney's total ineffectiveness. First, he had no real incentive to defend me since he had only received $500 dollars for representing me in a capital murder case. And besides that, he had never handled a murder case in his life. In fact, he had never handled any type of criminal case whatsoever, due to the fact that he was a civil liabilities lawyer.
I wholeheartedly believe that if I had had adequate representation from a qualified lawyer, I would not have been convicted. I would never have been forced to endure the cruelties which Senator Leahy's bill seeks to prevent.

It is more than past time to put an end to these unmerciful travesties of injustice that occur when the truth is hidden or disregarded. I appeal to you, the Members of this Committee, to enact the necessary laws to fully assure that no human being will ever have to suffer unjustly for something of which they are totally innocent.
Thank you.

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