Novelist John Grisham has been named in a libel lawsuit filed over a nonfiction best seller he wrote about the 1982 murder of a cocktail waitress.
The lawsuit, filed Friday morning in U.S. District Court, also names several other defendants, seeks relief of more than $75,000 and demands a jury trial. The plaintiffs are Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson and Gary Rogers, a former agent for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
The two men originally convicted of Debbie Sue Carter’s murder in Ada, Okla., Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, were later exonerated by DNA evidence and freed after 12 years in prison. Their experiences are chronicled in two books, Grisham’s “The Innocent Man,” and Fritz’s “Journey Toward Justice.”
Fritz is among those named as a defendant for the content of his book.
“It’s nothing more than a power play to get people to believe (Peterson) did nothing wrong,” Fritz said Friday from his Kansas City, Mo. home. “It has no merit. We simply told the truth and I have a right to write what my thoughts were.”
Also named are Robert Mayer, author of “The Dreams of Ada,” Barry Scheck, Fritz’s former lawyer and author of “Actual Innocence,” and Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, among others.
The lawsuit claims the defendants conspired to commit libel against the plaintiffs, generate publicity for self interest by placing them in a false light and intentionally inflicting emotional distress upon them.
It claims “the defendants launched this attack through the use of speeches, interviews and simultaneously publishing three books that were all three strategically released in October of 2006,” according to the lawsuit.
Peterson prosecuted Williamson and Fritz in the Carter murder, while Rogers investigated the death.
“I think John Grisham forgot that he was writing a nonfiction book,” said attorney Gary Richardson, whose firm filed the suit. “He himself stated in a speech in Virginia about the time the book was released — he said he fully expected to be sued.”
Doubleday, Grisham’s publisher, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. Grisham is known for such million-selling courtroom thrillers as “The Firm” and “The Client.”
Mayer was not immediately available for comment.
Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Innocence Project, co-founded by Scheck, said, “the facts of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz’s tragic, wrongful convictions speak for themselves.”
Grisham is a board member of the Innocence Project, an organization devoted to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing.