October 14, 2015
On the eighth day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four case, alibis returned, or appeared in court for the first time.
Conan Goebel came from his home in Washington to testify for the first time in this case. Despite having seen three of the four accused that night, and his very solid police interviews, Goebel was never called to a previous trial. Goebel reconfirmed the information in his police interviews – that Eugene and Kevin had been paging him from Kevin Bradley’s house party until they left Bradley’s near 1:30am. Goebel recounted having seen Frese, drunk but uninjured, late in the night, as well as Vent. Kevin Pease slept at Goebel’s house that night. Goebel discussed the police interviews at length, describing how he was threatened and bullied. “I realized that what I said really didn’t matter, that there was something he specifically wanted me to say, and if I didn’t I felt like he was threatening me,” Goebel said.
Goebel remains one of our favorite witnesses because he is a bit of an anomaly. The Reid Method of interrogation, by and large, works on almost everyone. Very occasionally it simply does not work, and creates this emperor’s new clothes situation. Conan Goebel’s police interviews demonstrate that the method is failing to work on him, and he remains very clear. His testimony was simple and clear as well – he knew that Eugene Vent and Kevin Pease were at the Bradley residence until between 1:30-2am. He saw George Frese after 3am and he was not injured. Kevin Pease slept at his house and likewise there was no indication he had been involved in a fight. When Detective Aaron Ring interviewed a teenage Goebel he threatened him, threatened his family, turned the tape recorder on and off, and said, “if you don’t tell me what I need to hear, I’ll see to it that you are arrested,” as well as insinuated that Goebel’s baby sister and mother could come to harm.
(Read portions of Goebel’s police interview HERE)
Kevin Bradley, now a civil engineer based in Montana, corroborated the other alibi testimony and confirmed that Pease and Vent had spent the critical hours of the night at his home. Bradley’s parent’s were away for the night, and the teen hosted a small party. He confirmed that Joey Shank, who testified the day before that he had driven Vent and Pease home from the party near 2:00am, was sober and driving Bradley’s mother’s vehicle. He also described being terrified at questioning and threatened by police officer Aaron Ring, and that the police were turning the recorder on and off.
Shawna Goebel, sister to Conan Goebel and attendee of the party, was fourteen in 1997 and testified to the details of the night as well and confirmed that Vent and Pease were at the Bradley party during the time the Hartman murder was committed. She described the threats and terror she encountered being questioned alone in her bedroom with no parent present.
Christy Moses testified to the same effect – the threats of investigators, the traumatic experience of being threatened and attacked by officers alone at the age of sixteen, without a parent, and confirmed the details of the night.
The witness testimony regarding police misconduct was corroborated by troopers McPherron and Gallen, who conducted the 2013-2015 investigation into the original case and convictions, who in earlier testimony confirmed that it appeared the confirmed that the officers turned tape recorders on and off, interrogated and threatened alibis instead of using standard questioning practices.
Arlo Olson also testified in person at the state’s request, but maintained that his original testimony had been both entirely fabricated and the result of pressure and threats from Officers Aaron Ring, Jim Geier, and Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant. Despite the prosecutor’s many attempts to get Olson to say he had been threatened by the Fairbanks Four or their supporters, he maintained that he had not.
Cross examination accomplished little except to reveal that the witnesses did not have precise times, but estimations – ie., “between 1:30 and 2:00 am” instead of “1:42am.” The witnesses maintained that their timeframes, given in 1997 and reiterated under oath in court, were honest and accurate.
All witnesses testified that they were with the men accused at the time of the murder and that the police threatened and bullied them when they came forward.
We hope that seeing these witnesses can underscore their humanity to the community of Fairbanks. These are not “Natives lying for other Natives” like Spartacus, as original prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant argued in the original trials. These are regular people – engineers, waitresses, counselors, homemakers, teachers. These are citizens of the United States of America who, as children in 1997, had their most basic rights denied and were threatened when they stood up against injustice by accident. Today they are adults who understand more about what this means, but they are no more believable. They should have been seen and heard in 1997, and they should have been protected from men who sought to use or harm them. Eighteen years of being dismissed, not seen individually but as a stereotype or group, and eighteen years of attack have left each of them somehow just as kind, calm, and willing to speak up as they were as children. Our community owes them an apology, and we owe the next generation of children better.
Day 8 News Coverage: