Many prominent exonerations have come after Innocence Projects re-tested DNA evidence collected from a crime. Unfortunately, that is not an option in this case. The summary of physical evidence connecting George Frese, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease, and Marvin Roberts to the murder for which they were arrested and convicted is contained below:
That’s right – nothing. No physical evidence. Zero, Nada, Nothing. There are many points of this case on which people disagree and can present a compelling argument. The point of physical evidence is not one of them.
Perhaps, if we assume the best of the investigators, they may have believed during the earliest points of the investigation that they had the right men. Kevin Pease, for example, had blood visible on his shirt when he was questioned. He claimed that the blood was his from a nosebleed. Labs would confirm that was the case.
Police collected the shoes and clothes that George, Marvin, Eugene, and Kevin were wearing the night of October 12, 1997 and sent them to a forensic lab, most likely hoping or assuming that some physical evidence would link them to the victim. Nothing did. No blood, no DNA, nothing.
Police dismantled Marvin’s car looking for evidence that would at least place the four young men together in the vehicle. Nothing.
Despite the accusation that these four men had spent the evening together on an unprovoked spree of violence, culminating in the kicking/stomping murder of John Hartman, no physical evidence of any kind has ever linked them to the victim, the crime scene, or each other.
According to the national Innocence Project, eye-witness misidentification, snitch testimony, and false confessions are often the key ingredients to wrongful conviction. All of these elements would be used to build a case against the four. Missing from this case is physical evidence of any kind, the most reliable form of evidence, and in a crime of this nature, the most obvious type of evidence to look for in the search for the responsible parties.
It seems logical to assume that there was indeed physical evidence on the people who committed this crime. Unfortunately, such evidence was never collected. No other suspects were ever pursued in this case. The physical evidence of this crime probably existed in those crucial hours following the murder, on the shoes, vehicle, and clothing of the actual perpetrators. And it was probably washed away a decade and a half ago.
These four will have to proceed toward exoneration without physical evidence, a notoriously difficult and complex fight.