True Murderer Comes Forward – A Letter from William Holmes

story1We have a long tradition of letting people tell their own story.

Today, the Innocence Project walked into the courthouse and filed a motion for Post Conviction Release on behalf of George Frese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts, and Kevin Pease. These men have maintained their innocence for almost sixteen years, and today definitive evidence of their innocence has been made public.

This court motion contained a lot of information – testimony by experts that George’s boot did NOT match the wounds on the victim, proof that Arlo Olson lied, proof that it would be scientifically impossible for someone to have seen what he claimed. But, the most important thing it contained, in our view, is a story. A handwritten confession, by a man named William Z. Holmes who confesses in detail the murder of John Hartman.

We have said many times that we believe people can feel the truth, see it, sense it, recognize it. And that is why we believe so strongly in the power of truth told by those who hold it. We believe the best we can do to help any injustice is to make a space where people can tell their truth. There will be plenty of articles, news, updates, and headlines about this case today, we will let them fill their purpose, and fill ours.

With that in mind, below is the handwritten confession of William Z. Homes. We will let that stand alone for today. You can judge for yourselves if it is the truth. We believe it is.

We believe in redemption. That anyone can do all they are able to change themselves during their time upon this Earth and that no matter how dark or low a place life takes us to that we can still seek light. So, we publish this with a great sadness for the heartbreaking manner in which John Hartman died, but also a hope for the individuals who did kill him, and every single one of those who helped to hide the truth and further lies, that they may use this time to come forward and begin what must be a very long journey toward redemption.

This day could have never come without the faith, hope, and hard work of many, and we thank you all. Our journey to justice is far from over, but today we begin a walk down a new road.

This is a sad story. Listen, listen.

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Who Killed John Hartman?

That is a question that I cannot answer. But it is a question that many people in our town can answer, and this post is for them.

The truth is a simple thing. Funny how it is always the simplest things that make life complicated.

I know many truths about the Fairbanks Four. Lots of small ones, and some big ones.

The way that Marvin loves his mother and sister as if there was only ever them on the Earth, how when he speaks about them every aspect of him softens.

I know Eugene’s easy laughter – so genuine and enthusiastic that it can brighten any day.

I have seen the depths of grief Kevin reached when he lost his mother, the piece of her that will always linger with him.

I know, for example, the way that George’s eyes light up for a split second before he cracks a joke, the sadness that flickers there when he hugs his daughter goodbye.

I know that one night, in what has come to feel like a time very long ago and far away, these four spent a snowy night in the company of friends. I know where each of them were the moment that a boy none of them had ever seen lay dying, the last of him ebbing out of this cold world. I know the names of the girls Marvin danced with at a wedding reception with hundreds of guests as that boy died. I know faces of the boys, now men, that walked drinking and laughing against the cold alongside George on the snow-packed sidewalk at that moment. I know the license plate number of the borrowed mini van that Kevin and Eugene rode in; the corners and turns and pot holes that they passed over in those fateful minutes.

I know, I think, more than I ever wanted to about these four men. I wish that they could have aged with the rest of us out of the October night and into adulthood. Into the time in life when children clamber at your feet, and the bills are barely paid, and you share meals with people you love more often than you appreciate. The age when you come home tired every night, and the passage of time begins to show itself white at your temples and in creases around your eyes. When your years number into a trinity of decades and you begin to accept the rhythm of the every day. The rise, the fall. Still young enough that you mostly fail to be grateful for the endless tiny blessings, yet live your life so surrounded by them. An age where restlessness fades and who you were as a teenager on some October night long ago is nearly forgotten. When the names and faces of the girls you danced with then are blurred, like a photo taken in dim light from too far away. Because if they had not been interrupted there, in that early hour of life, the details of their movements on October 10th of 1997 would not matter. They would have been forgotten. Probably, that they ever corresponded to a time when a boy much like them lost his life would be unknown. These details, minutes, names, faces, temperatures, routes, guest lists……they would be absorbed into the anonymity of long ago, where they belong.

But, it didn’t happen that way, so here in my mind, and in these pages, are many small truths which all add up to one large truth. A truth that must be borne by any who possess it: Marvin, Eugene, Kevin, and George are innocent men, wrongfully imprisoned. Unfairly interrupted. I know that much is true. More importantly, I want you to understand that I wish I didn’t know. Partly because I wish it wasn’t true at all, and partly because it is a burden. Because to hold that truth means I will be held responsible for what I did with it, and because doing what I know is right is both exhausting and scary. But I, and so many others, are doing our best with the truths we have, which is what gives us the right to ask the same.

For all the things that I know about the boys who were convicted of killing him, there is little that I know about the 1997 murder of John Hartman. That is not my truth to carry. But it is someone’s.

There are people who know the details of that killing because the moment that boy began to die they were becoming something else, too – murderers. And more likely than not, those truths are ones they wish so badly to cast off of themselves that they will never speak them aloud and accept judgement. We foolishly fear things in the places they are most harmless – to fear judgement here on Earth is like fearing shark attack in a hotel pool. Life is like that. The truth is like that.

But there are others. There are people among us who know the names and the faces of the men who killed John Hartman. There are people who know the truth about those men, and the truth about how they killed that boy. And I bet they wish they didn’t know. I imagine they wish that they had never heard the details, heard the rumor, seen the faces. But we often are born for burdens that we would never wish for, and that truth is in their possession because it has to be. Is meant to be.

The truth that they hold could set these four innocent men free and being the peace to dead boy’s family that they deserve. The silence that they choose is the prison in which these men live.

The opposite of love is too often considered to be hate. But I have heard it said, and believe completely, that the opposite of love is apathy.

Likewise, the greatest enemy of the truth is not a lie. It’s silence.

All great men begin simply as the bearers of a truth that overwhelms them. A truth that feels like a burden. They become heroes when they listen, and understand that to hold the truth is already a form of greatness. A test. In silence, many transform that greatness into a great evil. In courage, with the wisdom to bear witness to the truth they hold, some become heroes.

I wish I could choose for you – for those of you that know the truth about who killed John Hartman. I wish I could implore you, trick you, cut away your story and steal your truth because I believe myself to be more capable of using it wisely. Yet the universe believes otherwise. I know, and you do too, that is not how life is. I hold my truth, and you hold yours, and that is one of those simple things we all know about life.

I say to you, and only because I am certain that I have earned the right, do what you were sent for. Become what you were born for. Be worthy of the burden you carry. It will not be easy. It may not be safe. It may cost you all and earn you nothing.

Do it anyways.

The reward is now over $35,000 for information leading to the exoneration of the Fairbanks Four. You can call in to (907) 279-0454 with any information.

Hope – A Letter from George Frese

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This letter needs little introduction, if any at all. George Frese wrote this from his cell in Spring Creek Correctional Center, a maximum security prison where he is waiting. Waiting, approaching his 15th year of incarceration for a crime he did not commit. A crime to which no physical evidence ever connected him, committed against a boy he never met, on a night he spent with half a dozen alibi witnesses. Most importantly, a crime that people outside the walls confining him have information about. Information that could allow him to receive a new trial. This information is the key that unlocks his cell and sends him home. These people have chosen to remain silent for many years out of fear and a false belief that someone else should come forward, and that their non action hurts no one. This letter is to them.

They say time heals all wounds, but what if it was the complete opposite? Where every moment that passed you by was an accumulation of pain, sadness, loneliness, and missed memories? This is the life that has been dealt to the Fairbanks Four.

Nearly fifteen years have been accumulated. Sixty years when you add all four of our lives together. Perhaps thousands of years when you include our family and friends.

The first fourteen years were tough, but none as tough as the past year. The last year has allowed me to see family that I haven’t seen in nearly twelve years because I spent all of that time in an our of state prison. The ones that I have seen have aged considerably and have caused me to feel a sense of urgency to be home. Old friends come back and new friends have been made.

All this publicity has caused out hopes to soar. Hope that the powers that be will have mercy and give us back to our families. Hope that anyone with information will come forward and free us from our misery. Hope that all this ends. Hope that it happens soon. Hope that we will be free to follow our dreams and not take anything for granted.

Always Hopin,

George Frese

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An Interview with George Frese

Dan Bross of KUAC here in Fairbanks, Alaska did a brief segment on the reward increase to $35,000 and was gracious enough to share the unedited full audio with us. Unfortunately, George’s interview was cut short when the prison went on lockdown because of a violent episode – he had a lot more to say. In the future we will bring you direct conversations with the Fairbanks Four, so if there are any questions you would like to hear them answer, let us know in the comment section.

There is an important reality in hearing George go on lock down – these men live in a horrible place, intended to be a hell on Earth. Do not let their optimism or hope confuse you; let it inspire you and impress you. These young men have managed to hold onto faith, hope, inner peace, and have done the incredible work of holding onto themselves in an environment that is designed to take all of that away. Society would like to believe that the wrongfully convicted are simply sent away, or locked up, that to wrongfully convict a person costs them time, but nothing more. Prison is a violent, brutal, miserable place. The wrongfully convicted are sent to the worst environment that America could engineer, and live among the worst humanity has to offer. None of the Fairbanks Four speak much or dwell much on the darkest sides of their story, but to understand the cost of wrongful conviction, we must understand what it really means to send four innocent adolescent men into this environment and keep them there for 14 years.

Below is the interview with George Frese, who is speaking from Spring Creek Correctional Center, where he could spend the next 83 years unless this injustice is corrected.

 

 

$35,000 Reward in Hartman Murder/ Fairbanks Four Case

We have reached a very gratifying moment in this movement. In late November when the first post was written on this blog, the reward for new information in this case sat at $5,500. Through the generosity, work, and effort of the supporters who have been moved by this story to give, and through the ongoing support of Tanana Chiefs Conference, we officially announced today that the reward in this case has reached $35,000.00, which represents a 700% increase. That translates to $250.00 per day since we began. Thank you!! Your love, courage, faith, and determination to see right things in this world WILL free these men someday, and keep an untold many more from seeing the same terrible fate.

They key to exoneration for the Fairbanks Four through a new trial is for more people to come forward with information about the actual murderers. There are a multitude of reasons that informants remain quiet. Some have said they do not want to be snitches, and nearly all have said that they are afraid. It is not a hard position to relate to – anyone would be hesitant to double-cross a group of killers. But we believe that the reward money will do two things to encourage these people to step forward bravely – one, it will potentially provide them the financial means to move up in life, and out of a crowd of people who would view doing the right thing in this case as snitching. Secondly, we hope it shows that a whole lot of people are counting on them, and have their back when they do come forward.

The reward increase was announced today via press release, and featured on Alaska Public Radio. Coverage included an interview with Marvin, Eugene, George, and Kevin. We wish they had been able to use more of the their words, but time constraints kept the clips of them pretty short. We will post that interview as soon as it is available online.

In the meantime, share this reward information whenever and wherever you can! Through your work and through God’s grace it will reach the right person. Who knows? Perhaps your simple decision to bring this case up to a stranger at a bus stop, to tack a flyer to that cork board at work, to tell this story – any of those moments could be the ONE that this case turns on.

Thank you, every single one of you, for reading, speaking, donating, and acting. When life confronts us with an injustice the easiest and most common choice that human beings make is to do nothing. Yet, as we have quoted many times before, all that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to remain silent. Each of you is extraordinary in your choice to speak up, and each of you is having an impact. I want to tell you that this fight is nearly over. I want to tell you that all the days that lie ahead will be easy. I want to tell you that good has already prevailed. I want to name the day that you can gather together and welcome these men home, the day that racism is over, the day that the justice system is fully just.  But I cannot, and this fight may last forever, which makes it all the more worth fighting. All that is required for GOOD to prevail in this world is for people like you to find their voice.

ANYONE that has information, big or small, whether you are ready to talk on the record or want to remain anonymous is asked to email Alaska Innocence at info@alaskainnocence.org or call them at (907) 279-0454.

Witnesses and Alibis IX – The Mugging of Frank Dayton

Frank Dayton’s mugging was only one of the similar attacks that occurred the night John Hartman was killed. However, the beating and mugging of Frank Dayton is of incredible importance because of the part it played in the police theory of the murder and the part it played in trials.

In addition to being charged and convicted of the murder of John Hartman, the Fairbanks Four were also convicted of mugging Frank Dayton, primarily off the eyewitness testimony one man provided in exchange for leniency in the serious criminal charges he was facing. It was the only testimony that put the four together that night, or indicated that they were engaged in violent behavior of any kind. That testimony was made by Arlo Olson, and has since been recanted. We hope to post Arlo’s story, and are hoping that he will be able to tell it himself for us and keep with our focus on letting people speak for themselves. Either way, we will discuss Arlo Olsen’s role in this case at length very soon. For now, we will focus on Frank Dayton’s version of events. It is impossible to overstate how important Frank Dayton’s mugging became in the murder trial. In this post we will describe the mugging that Frank Dayton reported to the police and testified to in trial.

Frank was at the the wedding reception at the Eagle’s Hall along with hundreds of other guests. Sometime around 1am, Frank decided to walk a few block over to meet a friend. Much like Hartman, he was walking alone in the cold late night. He was soon assaulted in a disturbingly similar way.

Frank was in the 300 block of 1st Avenue when he heard a car rolling up behind him. He assumed that the car was slowed to a crawl so that it could pull into the parking lot he had just passed. When he turned around he saw the car. He described it as a four door light colored car (white, or a very light tan or gray). The assailants ran up to him and he was immediately tripped and knocked to the ground. His elbow, knees, and face smashed into the cold pavement. He made a movement to stand, but one of the attackers slammed their foot down on his right hand. Another stood over him. They kicked him in the side and back. As he lay with his face pressed into the pavement he saw the show standing on his hand – a white high top.

The attackers assaulted him primarily by kicking him while he was on the ground. They reached into his pocket and took the $20 he had. They then ran to their car and sped off, disappearing as quickly as they had appeared.

Frank was not able to describe his attackers, it had all happened fast and in the dark, and he was held face-down to the ground during the beating. He was able to see and remember the car well, which he described as a “good-sized” light four-door sedan. Frank even drew a picture of the car for the police, which is pictured above.

In the police theory, they surmised that the Fairbanks Four – Kevin, Eugene, Marvin, and George – had gone on a violent beating spree that night attacking people at random. Indeed, there is a distressing theme in the violence that occurred that night. Three others reported nearly identical attacks which you can read about HERE. In those attacks the eyewitnesses or victims also described a light four-door sedan as the car, but the others were able to provide a better description of their attackers, and across the board they ALL described four young African American men in that light car, getting victims to the ground, kicking them, and speeding away.

Frank Dayton was wearing a leather jacket than night. One that likely had the palm and fingerprints of his attackers on it – Frank offered it up to be tested, and the investigators declined to take it. There are a lot of opportunities lost in this case – Frank Dayton’s jacket was one of them, but much like Conan’s pager (read about that HERE), yet another opportunity to collect that evidence was passed up. It is a theme in the case that is disturbing to say the least.

After the beating, Frank Dayton returned to the Eagle’s Hall, where his sister in law Susan Paskavan called 911. The call is logged at 1:34am, roughly the same time that the assault on John Hartman ended.

Prosecution and police relied on a theory that the Fairbanks Four beat and mugged Frank Dayton, then drove the several blocks to 9th and Barnette and fatally beat John Hartman in a similar way. There are many holes in that theory, but here are some of the most important ones:

* Frank Dayton’s attackers drove a light full-sized four-door sedan, Marvin drove a bright blue two-door tiny car.

* None of the four were there. Read their timelines for more details (MARVIN, GEORGE, EUGENE, KEVIN).

* Marvin was at the Eagle’s Hall when Frank Dayton returned and 911 was called. Gary Edwin testified that he KNOWS Marvin was there at the time because as Gary was leaning over the injured Frank Dayton, Marvin approached him and said, “What happened?” Gary responded that he didn’t know and was trying to figure it out himself.

* None of the four were wearing or owned white high-tops. The shoes that the police collected from the men were listed as brown boots, black boots, and black Nike Air tennis shoes. NO white high-tops. Remember that George, Kevin, and Eugene were all arrested in the shoes they had worn. Marvin’s house was searched and all of his shoes were taken.

* Frank Dayton was Eugene Vent’s cousin. It seems unlikely that Eugene, a person with no history of violence, would attack anyone, but especially his own family. It also seems unlikely that Frank Dayton would not recognize his young relative. It also seems unlikely that Frank Dayton would not be able to identify the suspects as Native given his level of familiarity with a Koyukon Athabascan accent.

* Frank Dayton himself believes the Fairbanks Four are innocent, and KNOWS that they are not his attackers. He said this on the stand, and has said it for the last 14 years.

Despite all of this, the Four would eventually be tried for the mugging of Frank Dayton and the murder of John Hartman in one trial. Juror’s would later say that Arlo Olson’s testimony, which convinced them that the Fairbanks Four were guilty of mugging Frank Dayton, was one of the biggest factors in them finding the men guilty.

Method to the Madness – Officer Reid’s Torture Technique

We have, over and over, referred to the specific method of interrogation that was used on the Fairbanks Four AND on many alibi witnesses who were questioned. We have heard from these people that their interrogations or interviews were some of the worst experiences of their lives. Some, even a decade and more later, still suffer nightmares about the experience. These people have done a wonderful job describing how this interrogation technique feels. We want to also help you all understand how it works. And the best place to start is the very beginning, so bear with us for what is going to be a long, but very informative post.

From America’s earliest days as a country well into the 1940’s, suspects of crimes were by policy routinely interrogated with a method known as the “third degree.” Some highlights of this technique included violent beatings, holding heads under water, starvation, threatening to kill a suspect and their families, sleep deprivation, electrocution, and a slew of other nasty tactics that make water-boarding sound like a fun jaunt through a sprinkler on a sunny summer day. These tactics were the rule, not the exception, and officers were trained to use torture because it worked.

These methods produced many confessions, and sent many confessed murderers to their prison cells and graves. There is no question that the third degree was an effective way to get confessions. But by the 1930’s, scholars began to notice that many of these confessions were false. The public became increasingly critical as well and people began asking a lot of questions. When hundreds of people were beaten at rallies the press reports were not favorable. NAACP began an anti-lynching movement. A new era was on the horizon and suddenly the general public was not content with the status-quo. A civil rights movement was a-brewin’.  This whole third degree thing was, after all, pretty outdated. Decades and decades old. It was time for a change, and it was clear that the third degree had to at least begin to die out with the 30’s. With no alternative available the third degree continued to be the standard through most of the 1930s.

By the 1940, the practice of physical torture in order to elicit confessions was rapidly falling out of favor. Several courts had found it to be unconstitutional, forcing the practice underground. Investigators tried beating people with rubber hoses so that there would be less bruising, but it was clear that a more lasting alternative was needed. Society (including most police officers), thankfully arrived at a point where most people were not too keen on confessions being beaten, starved, dunked, and cut out of suspects. No, it was time for something more civilized.

Enter John Reid – an Irish cop from Chicago with no background in psychology whatsoever. If the American law enforcement had not been so desperate for a less violent but effective form of interrogation, his psychology-based method could well have been laughed off. But sometimes timing is everything. Reid had a gift. He could, without beating someone, persuade them to confess. We will never know if Reid himself had a gift for obtaining true confessions, false confessions, or both, but we do know he got more than 5,000 of them during his career. He shared and taught his technique. Eventually, he published a book on interrogation –  it came at the perfect moment in history, and it was rapidly adopted. In lieu of physical torture Reid’s book recommended something equally as effective but much less likely to leave visible marks: psychological torture!

The Reid Technique of Interrogation was simple, easy to learn, and it worked! It produced confessions! As a matter of fact it worked better than old-fashioned torture. So, police officers across the country and world began to use his 9-step process. By the time 1960’s passed the third degree had been all but replaced by the Reid Technique. The process works something like this:

The first order of business is to perform a non-accusatory interview, review the evidence, and be reasonably sure that the suspect is guilty of the crime. The 9 steps are supposed to be used on people who are GUILTY of a crime, so it is important to be reasonably sure that you are dealing with the perpetrator. So, how do investigators know they have the right guy? Basically, one of two ways. In the first scenario, they have mountains of evidence (eye-witnesses, fingerprints, found the guy at the murder scene covered in blood and holding a knife – that kind of thing). In the second scenario the officer determines that the person is guilty using their expertise in psychology. You know, the expertise they got in the book written by a guy with no background in psychology. Sadly, as with many of life’s crappy ideas, the Reid Technique of interrogation often fails before it even begins.

Because the investigator believes they can spot guilt just by looking at or interacting with a suspect (and in fact have been instructed that they can) these investigators rely on this  super-power to be sure that they have the right guy. The good news? One person did do a study which concluded that investigators are better than the average joe-shmo at spotting guilt. The bad news? That guy would be John Reid. After he finished pretending to be a psychologist, he moved on to the illustrious position of pretend-scientist. The other bad news? Pretty much every other study done on the topic shows that police officers are no better than spotting a guilty person than the average citizen, and sometimes worse. But the problem is that unlike the average citizen they BELIEVE they have the right guy. And as soon as they are sure they have the guy, Reid interrogation process beings in earnest.

Once the investigator is sure he’s got the right suspect, he starts the nine step process. Here are the nine steps:

  • Step 1 – Direct Confrontation. Lead the suspect to understand that the evidence has led the police to the individual as a suspect. If there was no evidence, lead them to believe this by MAKING UP evidence. (Case Example: Telling Eugene there was blood all over his shoes, telling George that a science lab had matched his shoe to the victim, telling Marvin that eyewitnesses and tire tracks proved his car was at the scene).
  • Step 2 – Shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. (Case example: Suggesting that Kevin was the ringleader, that the others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time). That is, develop themes containing reasons that will justify or excuse the crime. (Suggesting that perhaps the victim had used racial slurs, was gay, had ripped them off, that it was a gang initiation). Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive. (Themes were changed constantly, probably because none of the accused responded with anything but denial to the theories).
  • Step 3 – Don’t let the person say they are innocent. Reid training video: “If you’ve let him talk and say the words ‘I didn’t do it’, and the more often a person says ‘I didn’t do it’, the more difficult it is to get a confession.” (Case example: They tried to interrupt or correct Marvin every time he claimed innocence, and verbally attacked George and Eugene when they claimed innocence or brought up that they felt they were being brainwashed).
  • Step 4 – At this point, the accused will often give a reason why he or she did not or could not commit the crime. (Example: George saying he would never do something like that, Eugene saying he was just not that kind of person, Marvin pointing out that it was impossible) Try to use this to move towards the confession.
  • Step 5 – Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.
  • Step 6 – The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt. (Shara David’s interrogation is a great example – when she was so terrified that she was crying they inferred guilt).
  • Step 7 – Pose the “alternative question”, giving two choices for what happened; one more socially acceptable than the other. The suspect will choose the easier option but whichever alternative the suspect chooses, guilt is admitted. (Case examples: Eugene – I think you ran away when the assault got real bad, or were you the ringleader? Which was it? George – You seem like a nice person, I think you only kicked the kid a few times? If you won’t admit that, we’ll have to assume you were really involved. So, were you a little involved, or very involved? Marvin – Maybe you just drove the car, or did you participate in the assault? With witnesses Edgar , Vernon, and Conan the choices were, did you commit this murder or did you witness your four friends together that night?)
  • Step 8 – Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses and develop corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession. (Case examples: None. This step did not succeed, they immediately recanted their statements and no evidence ever corroborated them)
  • Step 9 – Document the suspect’s admission and have him or her prepare a recorded statement (Case examples: None. Neither Eugene nor George ever prepared a confession).

To give John Reid and his modern associates some credit, they recognize that this method produces confessions, and that it produces confessions from the innocent and guilty alike. So, they stress that investigators must not start in on a suspect until they are reasonably sure they are guilty. And really, that makes sense. Here is an interrogation method that will nearly always produce a confession, so if used on a guilty person, that is a good thing. But when it is used in the innocent, it is a recipe for disaster.

When this method is exposed and examined it seems – well, barbaric. Out of time. Like some brutal junk-science from the 40’s cooked up by an unqualified nut. And it seems that way because IT IS. The Reid Technique is crap. It is illegal in many places, considered controversial at best and criminal at worst by scholars, and the winds of society are already changing. Someday, probably someday soon, this will go the way of the third degree. The Reid technique will disappear into an embarrassing chapter of our history where it belongs, and we will progress.

In a world where it is very well established that false confessions happen, how can a person tell a false confession from a real confession? Once in possession of a confession, a well-trained investigator will take a look at the statements and make sure that they appear to be accurate. There are some tell-tale signs of a true confession:

1.)  Physical Evidence Backs Up the Confession. Did that happen in this case? Read the physical evidence for yourself HERE.

2.) The Suspect Provides Details of the Crime. If you isolated the statements of the Fairbanks Four you would not know who had been assaulted, where they had been assaulted,what day they had been assaulted, why they had been assaulted, who else was there, when it had happened, or ANY other detail of the crime. Read their interrogations: George, Marvin, Eugene, Kevin. For most of George’s confession he thinks that Eugene is the person in ICU. Eugene thought that a fight had taken place in front of Alaska Motor Inn over a dime bag of weed and that he is being questioned about that. Their statements in isolation mean nothing.

3.) The Suspect Does 80% of the Talking. Read any of the interrogations. The investigator does more than 90% of the talking, the suspects less than 10%.

4.) Circumstantial Evidence Lines Up. For example, in most true-confession scenarios, an investigator will find that the accused has no alibi, or was seen acting suspiciously, or seen with their co-conspirators. They do not usually find that the suspects were miles and miles across town, attending a wedding reception, at a party, or spending the post-murder hours dancing away. See timelines for Kevin, Eugene, Marvin, and George to judge the circumstantial evidence for yourself.

5.) The Confession Reveals Motive. No one at any time has ever been able to connect the Fairbanks Four to the victim, to the victim’s whereabouts that night, or establish motive of any kind (beyond that the suspects were wild Natives).

SO……in the case of the Fairbanks Four, the use of the already shady Reid Technique went wrong before step one. Long before the investigators and the Fairbanks Four came into contact, a fundamental problem already existed in that the training the investigators received was flawed, and the the background of the four was poorly matched to the tactic.

But even with the stage set for disaster, if the investigators had adhered to the first step of the technique, things would have likely ended before they began. There was no evidence to indicate that the teenager in custody was tied to the crime in any way, let alone any evidence to make the investigator “reasonably sure” he was guilty. If the Reid technique of interrogation had been applied properly, these suspects would have been dismissed after the non-accusatory interview. Should they have been erroneously interrogated after the interview, their interrogations should have been ceased when investigators realized the boys in custody were underage, intoxicated, or had questionable memory due to intoxication. If that fail-safe failed, the interrogations should have been dismissed when they failed to meet even ONE of the litmus tests of an accurate confession. Yet…..they were not. This case serves as a scathing expose of the weaknesses of the antiquated and ill-founded interrogation method. The Reid Technique is the corrupt foundation on which many injustices are built.

We wish we could say that this interrogation tactic failed with horrific consequences only for the Fairbanks Four. Sadly, it has led to so many wrongful convictions that it would be impossible to enumerate them here. Perhaps one of the best examples is the case of the Norfolk Four which became the subject of a very well done PBS Frontline program called “The Confessions” which you can and should read about HERE.

Want to read more? Check out these articles and references. Criticism and evidence that debunks the validity of the Reid Interrogation Technique is so prolific that this is a miniscule sampling:

Click to access Arguments%20Against%20Use%20of%20the%20%20Reid%20Technique%20CLRv10i2.pdf

http://nymag.com/news/crimelaw/68715/

http://blog.law.northwestern.edu/bluhm/2006/10/reid_interrogat.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2003/01/27/interrogation030127.html

http://www.llrx.com/features/falseconfessions.htm

Click to access icprogramfinal.pdf

In the Air – Alibis and Witnesses VIII

Edgar Henry is originally from Tanana, and spent his earliest years being raised along the Yukon, with strong traditional Athabascan values, learning to hunt and live with the land. Today he is the proud father of a seven year old girl, who has him pretty wrapped around her finger. He says she is “the boss.”

He spent the night of the murder with George (see him on George’s timeline HERE) along with his brother, the late Patrick Henry. Edgar drank heavily, alongside George. However Patrick did not drink at all, and was very conscious of time that night. He was absolutely certain on the timeline of the group’s movements, and knew George’s whereabouts from well before the time of the murder until after 3am. Edgar’s memory was not as clear.

When police interviewed him, as with others who you can read about here, here, and here, they actually interrogated him. Like with others, they interrogated him with the Reid Method of interrogation, a methodology so likely to produce trauma and false confessions that it is illegal in many countries (read about this interrogation method HERE). It is not ever recommended for use on young people, impaired people, people whose memory is somehow corrupted, and is designed for use on suspects who the police already know are guilty of the crime.

Edgar’s interrogation was a nightmare. After hours of unrelenting questioning, threats, and lies, he agreed that he might have seen George, Marvin, Eugene, and Kevin together that night. He recanted immediately.

Below, Edgar discusses that night, the interrogation, the past, and the future in his own words.

What do you remember about that night?

Yeah, well, we were at George’s house for most the night. We drank, like, cases of beer within just a few hours, playing a drinking game. We got totally wasted. Really, I don’t remember much of the details. Like I came to for a second, and there was a whole group of us walking to the reception, a big group. And I remember walking down the stairs of the Eagle’s Hall, like a flash of it. I remember, well I guess kinda remember, being by the Eagles’ Hall. (Read about the science behind blackouts HERE).

Patrick never drank that night. My late brother was a good guy, and the kind of person that paid attention to time, too. He was with us, just watching over us. I was so wasted that night I guess I gave him like close to like 600 bucks that night, I didn’t even remember. It was the money I had to get an apartment, when I woke up I thought i got rolled or something, all my cash was gone, and then my brother gave it back to me.

That night we stayed at George’s apartment, in the morning he was all, “Man, my ankle is killing me.” He was real hurt, and he left. It was sometime that day, or maybe even later, that next day that I heard he was arrested.

What was your reaction when George was arrested?

At first when I heard he was arrested, I was just confused. I knew he was with us that night, ya know, so when I heard he was in trouble at all I just thought it didn’t make sense. When I heard that he was arrested for charges like these, man I don’t know, I was like, how could that be? How could that even be? I remember talking to my brother Patrick about it, and we just couldn’t understand how, after learning what he was in jail for and them saying it was that night, we knew it was impossible. We knew he was with us the whole night.

When did you talk to the police?

It was a long time, they (the police) kept on trying to get a hold of me. I was avoiding them, because – well, I was scared. I grew up afraid of them, and then they had just gone and done this to my bro.They told me I was, that I had no choice and was like subpeonaed and had to go. So I was scared that they would come arrest me or show up at the house or something like that.

What was it like when you did talk to the cops?

Well I went downtown, and they took me to this room. I remember one of the guys, they kept on going in and out of the room, and the interrogation room is really, really small. I sat down at this small little space, there was just one chair in the that corner I sat in. I was literally cornered. These two officers sitting basically knee to knee with me, like they were, just had me completely cornered. They kept me two, three hours or more. I had never been through anything like that before, and I never, ever want to be in that position again. I believed they were going to arrest me, they had just done it to George.

It was like they were, ya know, telling me pretty much –  they were scaring me is what they were doing, saying like maybe you were there, maybe you murdered him, things like that. They way they were questioning me, too, they were asking the same questions over and over and over again, but the question was just asked in different ways and the way they were asking it was pretty much only one way to answer it, which is what they wanted to hear. For hours I kept telling them the plain truth, and they were telling me, “you can’t  black out, alcohol doesn’t black you out,” and they were trying to make it sound like I was lying. Then the one was coming in and out, in and out, and lying and telling me that my story was different than my brother’s, that I was going to get Patrick in trouble if I didn’t answer the way they were telling me to. I, I was just really, very scared.

Eventually, I don’t know, I think it was, when I first started agreeing with their answers I was only saying “I guess,” or  “I don’t know,”  and then they just started making “I guess so” into a “yes.”

That question they kept asking, it was whether you saw these four guys together or getting into a car that night. Did you see those four guys together that night?

No, I only said “I guess so” and all that because, I don’t know, it was like some kind of trick. They would ask, ask, ask, in a different sentence, it was hours of the same question, and I knew that. I knew that the only thing was to just kind of agree, to get out. No, I didn’t see them together that night. I saw George, and that was all.

What about Patrick’s interrogation?

My brother was being questioned at the same time, for a long time too. He, though, he didn’t drink at all, he watched times, he was real sure of himself. He didn’t ever agree to their answers. I guess eventually he told them he wanted he lawyer, so they let him go.

After, after they questioned him and after the trials and all, he was really pissed off at Aaron Ring, and Kendrick, O’Bryant, and all those guys, he was like, man, these guys are racist. That they were just racist. It was so obvious, everyone knew they were not together that night. We knew. They knew. Everyone knew they didn’t do it, Patrick just, he couldn’t believe it.

What was George like back in 1997?

We would always be hanging out, I spent a lot of time with George back then. Lifting weights, sometimes I would babysit for them, just hanging out. George, he was a real good dad, his baby girl was everything to him. Real good dad. I’ve known George, cripes, since I was like 11. Since we were real kids. He’s just a good guy, always liked to joke around, and real cool. He would never do something like this, I mean I know he didn’t, but I know also that he wouldn’t.
You were scared to begin with of the police. Why?

Things back then with the police in general were just bad. I mean everyone was scared. Yeah, even one time when Patrick, when he was like 15 years old, he told me about a time he was driving his bike home and an officer pulled him over, for nothing, then the officer told him to lean against the car with his hands behind his head, and Patrick didn’t hear him, but the officer slammed his head into the car, and said, “Next time you do what I say.” And stories like that, they just happened all the time back then. So of course, of  course we were scared.

You were questioned with the same method they used on George. If they had been interrogating you over the murder, do you think you would have agreed, you know, confessed?

Yeah, I do. Probably, yeah, probably. Because, it’s hard to explain, but the persistence, and the pressure, and they way they talk to you. And the way they make you feel, all in your face, making you feel like you are cornered, really you are cornered. And agreeing is the only way out. It’s all about, it is fear.  Fear.

Do you think they will be free someday?

I believe they will. Yes, they will. The word is out, people are getting more educated on this, they have been in there long enough, too long, in there for nothing. And I just, I feel it. I have had dreams about it. It’s like it’s in the air. I have no doubt, I believe they will get out.

Blank Tape: The Science Behind Alcohol Induced Blackouts

When I was a young kid VCR’s were the newest, coolest standard in technology. I remember thinking that you could tell a kid was rich if they had a Big Wheels car, and that they were really, really rich if they had one of those cars and a VCR.

Eventually my parents came upon some kind of windfall and we got one of our own. Then our neighbors brought their VCR over for us to borrow, along with a bunch of movies. It was quite the sight to see. There were cords everywhere – one VCR stacked on top of the next, packages of blank tapes, this bizarre recording machine built by my father, which he controlled with the carefully timed pressing of buttons. The setup was supposed to work like this: one VCR played the movie, the other one recorded it. All the blank tapes would soon be full of free movies.

My dad stayed up all night copying films, including E.T. I hated that movie, it scared the crap out of me, and I was absolutely horrified to think about my sister being able to watch it whenever she liked. So, when my dad took a quick break to the bathroom I walked to the VCR tower and pulled a few plugs, effectively disconnecting the communication between the two VCRs. When my dad came back he sat on the couch and watched the rest of E.T. convinced it was being recorded. From the outside, it was impossible to tell that the movie wasn’t being transferred. When my sister eventually sat down to watch it, the first bit of the movie was there, and then without notice, nothing. Complete black nothing.

Alcohol blackouts work exactly like that. The film cannot be played back because it was never recorded.

Blackouts are a simple phenomenon in many ways: if you get drunk enough, alcohol interferes with the creation of long-term memory. Short-term memory is like this first VCR, playing the movie. You may be able to engage in physically or emotionally complex actions, and your brain will use the information around you to continue functioning, but it simply will not convert the information into long-term memory. Long term memory is like the second VCR. The movie is playing on the screen, the record button is blinking, everything appears to be working just fine, but that last drink essentially disconnected the two VCRs.

One thing scientists do not understand is why some people experience blackouts and other people do not. There have been studies of all kinds, but they do not provide a simple answer. It is controversial to make the statement that Alaska Natives or Native Americans experience blackouts more than other people, but there is some evidence that that is the case. The only thing I can say is that I myself blackout completely when I get really drunk. Not every time, and I cannot say what causes it to happen and what prevents it. That is, of course, not a scientific study, just the unflattering truth. I don’t know if my ancestry or some other factor is to blame, but I must have played the locally popular drinking game upriver-downriver hundreds of times in the 90’s, and I can’t remember the end of one of those games to save my life. Which is why it was easy for me to understand that George and Eugene, both having drank in that fashion, had blacked out at points in the night.

I never questioned whether or not blackouts were scientifically proven because I didn’t need to – I know they are real. I grew up around people who experienced them. Family, friends, and myself. I was raised with that truth. But if it is the case that most people do not experience blackouts, it would explain why so many people do not believe that they happen, and I want to address that. I would also like to ask a favor of readers – if YOU have blacked out, comment about it, anonymously if you like. I think it is important for skeptics to understand what many of us know, which is that alcohol related blackouts happen. The scientific verdict came in a LONG time ago regarding alcohol induced blackouts – they are absolutely, completely, totally real.

So, why a post about blackouts on this blog? Because alcohol induced blackout is an important issue in the case of the Fairbanks Four.

Let me start be reiterating that, although George and Eugene both drank heavily the night of the murder, both WERE certain of their whereabouts at the time of 1:30am (read their timelines HERE and HERE).

NO ONE in this case was blacked out at the time of the murder. NO ONE in this case was unsure about where they were at the tie of the murder, and even though they were young, drunk, and terrified, correctly stated their whereabouts, which were verified with alibis, for that time frame. But when they were interrogated, the police did not have any idea what time the crime had taken place but appeared to be working on a theory that it had happened much later. So, even when Eugene and George eventually agree to the interrogator’s story, based on times alone these incriminating statements still would not be accurate. However, it is important to understand how alcohol related blackout effected the investigation.

Both George and Eugene had been drunk enough that they felt they could not be 100% sure of their every move that night. Both had experienced blackouts in the past, and were open to the possibility that they may have been somewhere that they didn’t remember. But they were interrogated by police officers who insisted that blackouts were fiction -“scientifically impossible” and that continuing to state that they were unsure where they had been, that there were blank spots, would result in the police “filling in the blanks with the worst thing.” (Read about their interrogations HERE and HERE).

While investigating and interrogating the Fairbanks Four Detective Aaron Ring took a stab at being a scientist and lectured in great detail about the science behind blackouts. According to Detective Ring, only “people with Alzheimer’s and old alcoholics” could have blackouts. While interrogating George, he said simply, “You can’t have a complete blackout.”

The officers then moved on to stating a long litany of made-up evidence. For hours and hours they told these intoxicated and terrified young men incredible lies. Among those lies were statements that there was scientific proof that they had been at the crime scene. That their friends said they were there. That people very close to them said they had committed this crime. So, ultimately, these two were left in a terrible predicament: the honest answer, that they could not be 100% sure of their movements, was recast by the interrogators to be an admission of the worst kind of guilt, and would not be accepted.

At the end of the day, their consumption of alcohol left them especially vulnerable to interrogation techniques that can produce false confessions from sober people with no questionable memory. The officers involved should have never used the interrogation techniques on people so young, intoxicated persons, or any person who admitted that their memory of a night was compromised. The specific interrogation technique, the Reid Model, is highly controversial, banned in many countries, and KNOWN to lead to false confessions, especially in young people. Given the severity of the interrogation and the circumstances, it is a wonder that only two of the four relented under it.

Below are some resources on the science behind alcohol induced blackouts for those who are interested in my sources or want to read about this subject on their own.

http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/186-196.htm

http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/747.aspx

http://addictionrecoverybasics.com/alcohol-blackout-types-of-alcoholic-blackouts-how-they-work-and-consequences/

Sites/ Studies Looking Specifically at Alcohol Related Amnesia in Native Americans/ Alaskans

http://www.wellbriety-nci.org/Publications/myth.htm

Click to access 4%283%29_Wolf_Commentary_on_Alcohol_Policy_new.pdf

Click to access 2%283%29_Wolf_The_Barrow_Studies_new.pdf