October 6, 2015 –
During the second day of the Fairbanks Four hearing, two witnesses and one argument over the right of the petitioners to attend proceedings dominated the day.
California Prison employee Officer Torquato and his supervisor’s video taped depositions were played in the courtroom. Torquato is the correctional officer, working as chaplain and educational officer in 2011, who first alerted authorities to Holmes’ involvement in the Hartman murder. Holmes confessed to Torquato, but vowed he would never name names or come forward with the story. Torquoato described in his testimony attempting to persuade Holmes to come forward to no avail, then seeking the guidance of his supervisor. Both correctional officers remember writing out the Holmes account and sending it to Fairbanks Police Department, after first making contact with officer Nolan there. The FPD ultimately did nothing with the confession. Torquato further described how he encouraged Holmes to come clean over a period of months, and how eventually Holmes wrote out his confession and sent it to the Alaska Innocence Project.
The two men, uniformed in khaki, spoke matter-of-factly about the Holmes confession and the events that followed, although at one point Officer Torquoato became more emotional in explaining his motivations for taking action, and that he could not live with the idea that four innocent men were in prison. The officers were a stark contrast to the law enforcement community in Alaska, who have roundly denied even the potential existence of wrongful conviction, and their testimony was believable. Adrienne Bachman objected to admissibility premised on hearsay, but Judge Lyle overruled her objection, reiterating that he would take in testimony and determine later which portions he was able to rely upon in his decision.
The correctional officer’s depositions served to bolster the testimony of Holmes, who took the stand the previous day to testify to his role in the 1997 murder for which the Fairbanks Four have been imprisoned for nearly 18 years.
The Fairbanks Four attorneys also focused on refuting the State’s claims that Holmes came forward to enact revenge on Jason Wallace. Holmes and Wallace committed not only the Hartman murder together, but also four other killings, and ultimately Wallace took the stand against Holmes to receive leniency in his own charges during their respective trials. Judge Lyle appeared to agree with the Fairbanks Four’s counsel that Holmes did not appear to have anything to gain, and had he been interested in revenge would have taken the opportunity during their murder trials.
A procedural issue which has ignited outrage amongst supporters of the four men was also prominent in proceedings. Superior Court Judge Lyle had previously ordered the State of Alaska to transport George Frese, Kevin Pease, and Eugene Vent from their prisons hundreds of miles away to the local jail for the evidentiary hearing. The state did so but refused to absorb the cost of transporting the men the few miles from the jail to the courthouse during proceedings and keep them there under guard. After being pressed for a dollar figure associated with the men attending their own exoneration proceedings, the State supplied the figure of $500 per man per day, for a total of $1500.00 per day. The community of Fairbanks, outraged at the idea that individuals were being prevented from attending the proceedings which would determine their future, raised nearly $10,000.00 in a matter of days to help the men appear in person.
When attorneys for the men revealed that the money for them to attend had been raised, John Skidmore with the Alaska Department of Law initially stammered over the phone from his Anchorage office, then asked for time to determine a response. Shortly thereafter he announced that in light of the defendants “having funding” the total cost had been raised to $4,800.00 per day, that the men would be guarded by two troopers a piece, remain handcuffed, and that the troopers would be flown in from Anchorage each day and flown back, despite there being nine designated Judicial Services troopers in Fairbanks. In addition to the outrageous and more-than-tripled dollar figure, the State went on the say that to meet their own demands would be to taxing and that they did not want to do it all. John Skidmore is a favorite lackey of the state, and is pictured above in a Alaska Daily News photo explaining a 2014 missing-drugs-scandal where he neither confirmed nor denied anything with remarkable adeptness at saying a lot of nothing and taking no accountability, a party trick he repeated for the October 6th proceedings.
In his ruling, Judge Lyle acknowledged the importance of the request and explained that it was outside the power of the court to order the state to bring the men to court. He was apologetic as he denied the motion for the men to attend.
Although supporters of the Fairbanks Four are outraged by the transparent and absurd effort to keep the accused out of court, and it is indeed outrageous, we have resolved to be grateful. The Alaska Innocence Project was not awarded a Department of Justice grant that they have depended on as their major source of operating funds. The State of Alaska’s rather disgusting attempts to dodge facing the innocent in court should be a motivation to us all to be sure they face the innocent in court over and over. The $10,000 raised to send the men to court will now be donated to the Alaska Innocence Project, and we hope to triple that figure by the end of the month. The answer to darkness must always be light. So, thank you Ms. Bachman and Mr. Skidmore, together you have inspired us to make sure you continue to face the innocent. Next time, we will be prepared to assure that involves looking them in the eye.
To donate to the fund to support the Innocence Project CLICK HERE! If everyone who saw this post gave just $1 we would have $30,000 in a matter of a few days.
Below are a few links to coverage of day two:
KTUU Day Two – VIDEO