The top assistant in the Pontotoc County district attorney's office has been named to head the office. Gov. Brad Henry announced the appointment Chris L. Ross as district attorney for the 22nd District, which encompasses Pontotoc County, Oklahoma.
He succeeds William Peterson, who is resigning effective Jan. 1.
Chris L. Ross, who is 50 has 24 years of experience and has been with the prosecutor's office since 1983. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1979, Ross earned his law degree from the OU College of Law in 1982. Chris Ross is married and has two children.
During a question-and-answer period at the Oklahoma Bar Association annual meeting urged to tackle wrongful convictions, Pontotoc County First Assistant District Attorney Chris Ross, who prosecuted Glen Gore, outlined changes that have been made in the office since the Debra Sue Carter Rape and Murder case.
He said defense attorneys have immediate access to documents,tapes and other items in the prosecution's files, so a defendant's lawyers do not have to wait until a discover date to obtain information. Ross also said that prosecutors' offices, particularly those in small counties that rarely see capital cases, need more training in handling them. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who said his office also maintains an "open file" policy with defense attorneys, said prosecutors must be kept up to date on forensic science.
It is also important not to gauge prosecutors' success or failure by their conviction rate, he said.
"We've got to change that culture," Prater said.
The idea, he said, is seeing that justice is done.
"It's not a hash mark," Prater said. "It's a human life.
Big changes for Ada, Oklahoma. I wish the Best for Chris Ross and the Great and Proud people of Oklahoma.
During Peterson’s career several high profile murder cases have been tried. Bill Peterson has also been the subject of much controversy because of his prosecutions of Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson. Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson, who were both convicted of the 1982 murder and rape of Debra Sue Carter. After Williamson received a last-minute stay of execution, and Fritz's long-standing efforts to obtain post-conviction DNA testing were successful, DNA results conclusively excluded both men as the source of the semen found in the victim's body. The profile from the semen instead matched Glen Gore. Glen Gore was the prosecutor's key witness. Further DNA testing also proved that not one of the seventeen hairs deemed to be "matches" with Williamson and/or Fritz at the time of trial (under the microscopic analysis then available) belonged to either. As a result, both defendants were exonerated and released from prison in 1999. Bill Peterson also got questionable convictions on Ward and Fontenot , and they are still in prison.
Peterson sued author John Grisham in September 2007 for libel for the portrayal of him in Grisham's first nonfiction book, "The Innocent Man." Other defendants in the lawsuit are:
- Author Dennis Fritz ,who tells his story of his unwarranted prosecution and wrongful conviction his book "Journey Toward Justice".
- Barry Scheck, one of Fritz's lawyers who helped exonerate him in 1999, and a co-author of "Actual Innocence," that discusses the case of Williamson and Fritz.
- Robert Mayer, author of "The Dreams of Ada." - Mayer's book discusses another Pontotoc County murder case that is also mentioned in Grisham's book. The murder of Denice Haraway and the subsequent investigation, prosecution and conviction of Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot. Bill Peterson got questionable convictions on Ward and Fontenot , and they are still in prison. Robert Mayer, author of The Dreams of Ada; and Barry Scheck, with The Innocence Project, have also filed motions asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit against them.
- The Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, publisher of "The Innocent Man" and "Actual Innocence."
- Random House Inc., which owns Doubleday Dell.
- Broadway Books, publisher of "The Dreams of Ada."
- Seven Locks Press and/or James C. Riordan, publisher of "Journey Toward Justice."Seven Locks Press and James Riordan have asked that the complaint against them be dismissed for failure to state a claim.
- In addition to Peterson, other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Gary Rogers, a former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent, and Melvin Hett, a retired OSBI criminalist. Bill Peterson and Gary Rogers were instrumental in the conviction of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz in the murder of Debbie Sue Carter in Ada, Oklahoma in 1982. The Peterson and Rogers lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges civil conspiracy, libel, placing a person in a false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress.