“Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.” ~Michael Leunig
Location became central to the investigation into the night of October 10, 1997. No location is mentioned more frequently in study of the case than the wedding reception that took place at the Eagle’s Hall that night.
A wedding is a time for celebration. The joining of hearts, of families, of paths. The beginning of children, futures, sorrows and happiness unknown – and a promise by two people to stick together through whatever may come. A wedding is a a time when people gather to witness love, to share in love, to be a part of that hopeful moment when two lives are woven into one.
We have spoken before about the pain and the shame that came with this case and how it touched so many in our community. When the Fairbanks Four were wrongfully accused, investigated, interrogated, and convicted of the murder of John Hartman, what should have been a night remembered as all brides remember their wedding was transformed into a criminal investigation. One wedding guest, while being interrogated for hours and hours, answered simply when he was being pressed about why he wanted to attend the reception, “Because Audrey is my family – because, I love her.” And it should have been love, after all, that was remembered of that night, without the shadow of pain and a complicated web of deception and hardship.
For Audrey McCotter and the late Vernon Jones, whose wedding became central to the Hartman investigation, there would always be something in the background of those happy wedding photos. No one knew, as they danced and laughed, smiled and cut cake, reunited with friends and family gathered there to celebrate – no one knew that this night would change lives. That a series of events was about to be set into motion that would change the Native community of Fairbanks and force the examination of society, of the concept of justice, and ignite a struggle to assert a place in it. That night, it was just a wedding between two people who loved each other dearly. Yet by morning, things had changed. In the police theory the Fairbanks Four were accused of having met up at the wedding reception, left briefly to commit a murder, and return to dance as if nothing had happened. On the day that her wedding announcement should have appeared in the local paper, Audrey’s wedding reception was referenced over and over in articles about a brutal killing.
Audrey speaks out below for the first time publicly about how her life intertwined with this case, about her wedding night, her personal struggle with the events that unfolded, and the heartbreaking loss of her late husband Vernon Jones.
We applaud Audrey for her courage. She is taking a brave step onto a new path. Knowing her personally I can assure all of our readers that Audrey’s hardships have made her a person of incredible strength and compassion. The gifts she has given to those around her after rising from the ashes of her own pain are incredible. We are grateful for her support, and humbled by the strength it took to share this deeply personal part of her life with the world. Here is her story, in her words:
My marriage began and ended in blood. Our wedding was in Fairbanks but we lived in Unalakleet so it was hard to plan long distance but we did it. A lot of special family members were there that are passed on now such as Teddy Luke, Morris and Thelma Thompson, and James Grant, Sr. My whole family and my husband’s whole family from the Koyukuk River area were there. We planned it during dividends so our family could afford to fly into Fairbanks to celebrate our happy day. It was precious to us, but that day has been remembered for something entirely different. It was October 10, 1997 the day John Hartman was murdered and subsequently when the Fairbanks Four were found guilty of murder.
One year and eleven months later my husband committed suicide. Life is not fair. I started a battle the day he died. I battled depression, alcoholism and thoughts of suicide. I’ve been sober eleven years now, I’m remarried, my two children are happy and healthy. I consider my life to be blessed and I’ve not only survived trauma but I’ve excelled.
I want the Fairbanks Four to rise from the ashes of loss and destruction and be blessed and excel as well, but they are still in the battle. I am no legal eagle, so my support of the Free the Fairbanks Four Movement will have to be my weapon.
Public humiliation and shame will now be turned around back on the courts. We did nothing wrong. I got married and my guests were happy young people celebrating with us. An important and less known fact is that Marvin Roberts, one of my guests at the reception, had a reputation as a responsible young man who was sober that night and he wasn’t known to get into trouble the way kids occasionally do. We will continue to celebrate when they all walk again as free men. I’m tired of death and injustice when it’s within our power to stop it. Treat others as you wish to be treated and we have not treated these four men well.
~Audrey (McCotter/Jones) George
We know this much is true: the story of the Fairbanks Four will ultimately be remembered as a story of the power of love and truth. Someday, a story of the enormity and power of love will be the one in the background of those wedding photographs, as it should be. It is love we fight for and with. Thank you Audrey for being part of the fight.
Marvin Roberts from 300 feet away, a photograph taken 10/12/13 at McKenzie Point Correc
The Fairbanks Four were convicted primarily on the eyewitness testimony of Arlo Olson, who testified that he was able to identify the four men, two of whom he had never seen before, from 550 feet away in the dark.
We recently posted the details of Olson’s testimony, audio recordings of his multiple recantations, discussed his motivations, inconsistencies, recantations of recantations, and his personal criminal history. (READ THAT HERE) We have also discussed how Olson’s testimony about the assault of Frank Dayton was not even consistent with Frank Dayton’s recollection. (HERE)
This is a photograph taken 16 years to the date and time of the night Frank Dayton was assaulted. Arlo testified that he identified the Fairbanks Four from this vantage point and in this lighting. According to his testimony he identified they would have been essentially next to the furthest visible building on the left, there is a parked car with headlights on at the exact location to mark the spot. We have discussed this multiple times. Those posts and conversations have their place. It is important to understand HOW and WHY a wrongful conviction occurs. But the reality is that discussions of how or why Arlo Olson lied in his testimony don’t really matter anymore. The filing by the Alaska Innocence Project filed for post conviction relief of the basis of innocence for the Fairbanks Four contains expert scientific review of the testimony that makes a very simple and indisputable claim: it is impossible for Olson, or any human being, to identify anyone from 550 feet away.
Well known celebrity as they would be seen from 550ft
The evaluation of Olson’s testimony was completed by an extraordinarily well qualified scientist who uses this photograph of a well-known celebrity to illustrate what the eye can see from 550 feet away in optimal conditions and daylight. Can you recognize the face? Obviously, no, you can’t. No one can. Plainly stated, no human being can identify a face from that distance.
Here is the photograph, with a representation below of the loss of perception and size at varying lengths. This issue is settled. The sky is blue, grass is green, and Arlo Olson lied in court, simple as that. There was a time when many believed to world was flat. Science sometimes answers these questions, and logic has once again prevailed.
The testimony was absurd to begin with. The idea that four men were sent to prison based on it is astounding and unforgivable. Yet, the state of Alaska considered this their most important evidence, the very prosecutor who convicted them said that without the testimony they had “no case,” and to this day imprisons the Fairbanks Four on the strength of that claim. The entire expert statement is contained in the filing we link to below for readers to review on their own.
The Fairbanks Four were not sent to jail on accident. They were not unlucky bystanders in an unfortunate misunderstanding. We believe they were the victims of irresponsible work at best, and more likely corruption. The lies of Arlo Olson were purchased by police and prosecutors with an offer of leniency in his own crimes, and if his account is to be believed, he was threatened with prosecution for perjury if he recanted. The bottom line is that there is abundant evidence that Olson’s testimony was flawed and untruthful, and now there is clear, concise, correct scientific proof.
The State of Alaska’s current response to this case is that they are sure they are right, but will now do an independent investigation of themselves, by themselves, and until that time will remain silent. We have said before, and will say again, that the enemy of the truth is not a lie, it is silence. In their silence they remain the enemy of the truth.
We could tell you ourselves that we believe the Fairbanks Four could not have been convicted without the testimony of Arlo Olson. But that sentiment is more convincing coming straight out of the mouth of district attorney Jeff O’Bryant, who tried and convicted all four men.
“Simply put,” O’Bryant said to jurors during the last trial, “if Arlo didn’t see what he saw, and you throw out some of the state’s evidence, the state doesn’t have a case. No doubt about it.”
In this post we want to explain exactly what Arlo Olson claimed he saw, and what Arlo Olson actually saw.
On the night of October 10, 1997 Arlo Olson was an (uninvited) guest at the wedding reception at the Eagle’s Hall. That October he was also awaiting sentencing on multiple assault charges. He had severely beating his pregnant girlfriend a few months earlier, violating probation, and was looking at the possibility of a year or more of jail time.
Before arriving at the reception Arlo had spent nearly 24 hours drinking Wild Turkey and getting high. He attended the reception, commented to no one about witnessing any kind of crime, and went home without attracting any attention beyond being noted by a few other wedding attendees as extremely intoxicated. When news hit the papers that the Fairbanks Four had been arrested for the beating death of John Hartman and the assault of Frank Dayton, Arlo didn’t contact the police or comment to anyone that he knew anything about the case. Then, a few weeks later, Arlo emerged as the only witness who placed the Fairbanks Four together, and the only witness in the entire case.
Immediately following the arrest of the Fairbanks Four the police held a press conference to essentially brag about the fast and incredible speed of their investigation and arrests. The crime was solved so quickly that it was truly incredible – in the sense that it completely lacked credibility. In that moment we can only speculate that the officers involved may have actually believed that they had the right people, and that all the needed evidence would simply fall into place. Yet nearly immediately, their fragile case constructed out of speculation and the vague admissions of terrified drunk kids started to crack. First, a major alibi issue cropped up when the time of John Hartman’s assault was determined (READ ABOUT THAT HERE). Once the police knew the time that Hartman was assaulted a quick review of all of their original interrogations and interviews demonstrates that the accused, the people who were with them that night, and scores of other alibi witnesses provided ample evidence that the four were scattered across town, nowhere near the crime scene, and not together at the time of the crime.
Within a few short weeks the case the police had so boldly touted as an example of their expert investigative skills threatened to fall apart completely when the lab results came back. Despite testing hundreds of items – fingerprints from the car, DNA from the crime scene, scrapings from the victim’s fingernails, all of the clothes and footwear collected from the Fairbanks Four, fingerprints from the scene, and so on – there was absolutely NO indication in ANY of the lab results that linked the Fairbanks Four to the victim, the crime scene, the car, or to each other. The police had taken their victory lap in the press, claiming to have solved the brutal and bloody stomping death of a young boy in a matter of hours, and were now faced with a case that consisted of virtually nothing. Scores of alibis, no witnesses, and NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE. Their only chance at convicting the Fairbanks Four was to produce an eye witness. And so, they did.
The police tracked down Arlo Olson. They brought him in for questioning, and suddenly two things happened at once: Arlo Olson claimed to have seen The Fairbanks Four assault Frank Dayton. And, just like that, the jail time he was facing for beating a pregnant woman multiple times disappeared.
Arlo claimed he saw them all together in Marvin’s car, jump out to assault Frank Dayton, and speed off. He testified in trial that he was “110% sure” that he had seen the four. This made Arlo the only witness to claim to have ever seen the four together, link them to Marvin’s car, and the only person in the world who has ever claimed he saw any of the four accused participate in a violent group assault.
Arlo Olson testified that he saw all of this while standing in a group of other people, none of whom saw or heard anything. He also claimed that he saw all of this from over 550 feet away, in the dark.
Again, we could go on and on about why we are sure that Arlo lied. BUT perhaps it is best to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Since the trials of the Fairbanks Four Arlo has recanted over and over. He says he was pressured to say what he did, that he was wasted, that he didn’t see any of them, that the “questioning’ by the police included them showing him Marvin’s car in the police garage and asking him to identify it, telling him exactly what to say, and plainly offering him a get out of jail free card if he complied. He claims that later, when he attempted to recant, Aaron Ring would visit him again and threaten him with jailtime based on perjury.
Arlo also recanted his recantations a few times. When he was convicted, over and over again, for beating women, he sometimes elected to once again ask for leniency since he had testified in the trials against the Fairbanks Four.
Read about his many recantations and download transcripts HERE.
For a long time we wanted Arlo to speak for himself here, and he went back and forth. But the time has come to bring him up. Remember that in 1997 Arlo was young, deeply troubled, and probably subjected to the same pressure that so many caved under. We want to approach him with as much love and compassion as we cab. The 44-plus entries for Arlo Olson in the Alaska Court Database tell the troubling story of the life Arlo lead following 1997. He went to jail over and over, and most of his crimes involved violently victimizing women. The juries who heard Arlo’s testimony were not allowed to know about his criminal history, or have any details of the “deal” he was offered in exchange for it. Ultimately, he may have done it under pressure, but Arlo traded one year of his life for the lifetimes of four other men. And he also cost himself the opportunity for early intervention that he probably desperately needed. Who knows how many crimes of violence and addiction that Arlo has committed through the years could have been prevented if he had entered jail for his crimes and received help with his problems.
On that fateful October night in 1997, Arlo Olson saw exactly what the human eye is capable of seeing from 550 feet away in the dark – nothing. Arlo saw blackness. But a few weeks later the police reached out to Arlo in his darkness and showed him something else – an opportunity to escape accountability for his own crimes.
In our next post we will unveil the scientific study into Arlo’s eyewitness testimony and show that not only is there any indication that Arlo was telling the truth, but that it is scientifically impossible for him to have seen it.
There is no doubt that this case has brought tremendous pain to many. Arlo is just one more person who has suffered in this situation. We have forgiven him, and hope that someday he can take the weight of these lies off of his own shoulders and find peace, happiness, hope, and forgive himself.
We 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.
When Calvin Moses and his passengers came upon a young John Hartman badly beaten, barely alive, and draped over a curb around 2:50am on that cold night in October 1997, the sight of his body was so frightening that the four adults did not get out of the car for fear the attackers were still nearby. They rushed to a nearby apartment complex and called 911. In fact, John Hartman was so bloody and badly beaten that they could not tell if he was a boy or girl, face up or face down. Only that if he was alive, he was barely alive.
One EMT who responded to the call was so badly shaken that he called home, woke his wife, and pleaded with her to lock the door. In the first newspaper article about the case (HERE) the lead detective described the crime scene as “horrific.”
Perhaps Detectives Aaron Ring and Jim Grier (who did the bulk of the police work on this case) believed that when the lab results came back from the car, the clothes, boots, shoes, hands, and feet of the four young men they had arrested in the hours immediately following the girssly discovery of the murdered boy, that the lab results would show what any reasonable person would expect to find on the people and car used to commit a violent stomping and beating death – DNA. And lots of it. But the lab results didn’t tie the Fairbanks Four to the victim. So, they tested, and retested. They took Marvin’s car apart to the point that it cannot be reassembled, searching for blood. And they found NONE.
NO DNA EVIDENCE HAS EVER LINKED THE FAIRBANKS FOUR TO THE CRIME THEY ARE CHARGED WITH COMMITTING.
When the police realized that there was no physical evidence linking Marvin Roberts, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, or George Frese to the murder of John Hartman, they did not begin looking for other leads. They did two things – they shopped for jailhouse snitches and “lost” a lot of evidence that would have supported claims of innocence by the four young men and pointed to the guilt of others.
So many things have been lost in the Fairbanks Four case. Life. Time. Freedom. Hope. Memory. Intangible things.
But a lot of other things were lost. Tangible things. Evidence. For example, the first interview police did with Chris Stone. That was “lost.” The transcript of the police interview with EJ Stevens simply directs the reader to the audio recording. Somehow, it was lost. Perhaps no coincidentally “lost” piece of evidence stands out more than the missing crime scene pictures. With no photographs of the crime scene, the public and juries had to rely on the word of the investigators who examined the crime scene (primarily Ring and Grier).
For many in the Native community the moment that the crime scene went from “horrific” to “virtually bloodless” was the moment when it became completely clear that something was extremely wrong with this case. These are, after all, a people who have many times seen a death on the first winter snows when they are blessed with a moose to feed their families. The idea that place where a boy was kicked and beaten to death would be bloodless has long seemed to be a deliberate lie. We can now confirm that anyone who saw the crime scene and later described it as bloodless was lying, and readers can confirm that for themselves by looking at the recently unearthed photograph above.
When KTUU Channel 2 Anchorage did their documentary The 49th Hour: The Fairbanks Four, they were granted access to the historical footage shot by KTVF. During this same KTUU documentary (which you can watch HERE) the CURRENT Fairbanks Police Department police chief applauds the exemplary work of the detectives who investigated the murder of John Hartman, even calling it “model” police work. In that film footage from KTVF that KTUU producers unearthed, buried in the long-forgotten reels of film shot the day that John Hartman died, were a series of images of the crime scene the police and DA described as bloodless. This photograph of the place John Hartman was killed looks exactly as we would have imagined.
Those of us that live with the land and feed our children with what we can gather and hunt know something about blood and snow. We have seen the warm blood of an animal hit snow and race across the surface, frozen. We have seen it seep, and spread slowly from a wound. The place where a life is taken, even when taken respectfully with one swift and cordial wound, is marked on the snow until spring washes it away. We know the way that snow makes blood sticky, how the course hair of moose cling to your hands and boots and resists any attempt to cast it away.
To take a life is to spill blood, and blood remains there where life poured out, and upon those who touched it. It tracks on boots and pants, fingers and hands. Life does not disappear without a trace. John Hartman did not lose his life without leaving a mark behind. Those who killed him did not leave the scene of the crime without the blood of John Hartman on their feet, in their car, on their clothes, their shoes, and hands.
That DNA evidence probably washed over time, as seasons changed. But blood is on the hands of many in the case of the Fairbanks Four: Those who really did kill John Hartman, those who chose to deliberately wrongfully convict the Fairbanks Four believing they had so little value that they would never be remembered and fought for, and those who “lost,” altered, hid, corrupted, and lied. Those people have blood on their hands that cannot be washed away with water or with time. For all those in our community and world who have blood on their hands through murder, corruption, conspiracy, or through the crime of silence, we have a prayer always on our lips and in our hearts for you – that someday you will be free from the prison you built for yourself. That you will choose to redeem yourself as best you can during your time on this earth. That you remember that every day that innocent men spend in prison for a crime they did not commit, you commit another crime, and your guilt grows.
You can try to bury the truth. You can try to outrun it, you can try to lose it by forcing it deep into the darkest theatres of the mind. But you cannot destroy it. You can take a lot from another human being – their life, their time, even their hope. But you cannot take their story, and you cannot take the truth. Truth has a power of its own, and someday, the truth will FREE THE FAIRBANKS FOUR.
Gary Edwin is originally from Tanana, Alaska. He is the proud father of five, and works for Doyon Drilling. Gary is arguably Marvin’s most important alibi. In 1997 he was 24 years old, working as a substance abuse counselor, and spent the evening with his wife, Marvin, and Angelo at the wedding reception at the Eagle’s Hall. His younger cousin Angelo Edwin, spent the entire evening with Marvin. Both Angelo and Gary appear over and over in Marvin’s timeline which you can read HERE.
Through the years there have been many accusations from the community that the Native witnesses that came forward as alibis in this case had alcohol-affected memories and were conspiring to create a cover-up for the Fairbanks Four. It is important, then, to note that Gary was not drinking the night of the murder. It is also important to note that Gary and his brother Angelo went voluntarily and immediately to the police when they heard Marvin had been arrested for a crime committed that night, and that they had not had time to falsify a story, and in fact made statements before anyone knew the time that the assault had been committed against John Hartman (read more about the time of the crime HERE). In a nutshell, the prosecution’s contention that the alibis were either drunk or making up stories simply hold no weight whatsoever in regards to Gary Edwin.
Gary lives with a burden that is tragically not unique in this case – he does not need to read case files, newspapers, opinions, or rulings to know that his young friend was wrongfully convicted. For him there is no speculation of police misconduct, no question about whether or not the evidence in this case was manufactured – he watched it happen. He has never read the content on this blog, yet his story is painfully familiar. It is the kind of thing that a person never forgets. Below, he tells his story in his own words:
On That Night
“I spent the entire, well hours you know, of that night with Marvin. I would say from around midnight until at least 2 am, even later, when the reception ended. He sat with us at our table, and I saw him basically the whole night. Dancing, visiting, having fun.”
Note – Gary had a conversation with Marvin during the night at what ended up being a very critical moment, when 911 was called to bring aid to a beaten and shaken Frank Dayton (whose assault you can read about HERE). Although no one, including the police, had yet established a timeline on the assault for John Hartman at the time Gary first gave the police this information, Gary was having a conversation with Marvin concerning Frank Dayton at the exact same time that Hartman was being beaten to death blocks away.
The Next Day
“The next day I went over to Marvin’s he was, he sold me a pair of Oakley’s that he had gotten but didn’t like, and I had seen them the night before and said ‘well, I’ll bring money over for them tomorrow.’ So, I brought him the money had he gave me the glasses. He asked if I wanted to go up and play ball, and I told him I would go pick up Angelo on my way home and grab my ball gear, and meet him up at the SRC.”
Marvin was not at the SRC for the planned basketball game. By then he was sitting with the police, insisting that he was innocent and pleading with the interrogators to listen. Gary Edwin called Marvin’s mother.
“And then his mom asked if we had seen what was on the news. And she said they had picked up Marvin, George, Kevin and Eugene. And I was like, damn.
She said, ‘I thought you guys were with Marv last night.’
And we were like ‘Yeah, all night.’
I asked, what’d you guys do after the reception? And he told me that after they stopped by the bar or party they kinda drove around a little bit, that they went through the drive-thru, and then he dropped him off at home.
So, I was like, wow, you know, we need to go down to the police station and tell them, make a statement. We thought, of course, that was the thing to do.”
On the Interviews with Police
When we got down there, the detectives were acting pretty weird about our statements, we were like, “hey, we were with Marvin all night, you know from this time to this time.”
When I went in with the detectives that were taking my statement they kept trying to twist what I was saying. Finally it just came down to me just wanting to give a statement and get out of there. So was like, just give me a piece of paper and I’ll write it down for you. And I was so uncomfortable, I was writing it, but I was more worried about getting out of there.
When I got out to the lobby, Angelo came out of his room after me, and he was really shook up. And one of the detectives grabbed Angelo by the arm and was like, “You better make DAMN sure you know what you’re saying to be the truth, because we have a 15-year-old kid that’s been murdered and this is, this needs to be taken serious, or something to that effect.
When we left, Angelo said he experienced the same thing while being interrogated, or while he was trying to give a statement.”
On Why These Memories Remain So Clear Today
“You know, I went in believing I was doing the right thing. To show up and have people that are supposed to help and protect you, making you feel like you actually did something wrong, or you are involved in something that’s wrong, it’s….it is a real eerie feeling.
I was twenty-four in 1997, four years older than those others at least. I mean, more or less, we went in there thinking we were doing something to help the police, and by the time we left it was like, we wanted to run, just get the hell out of the police station. I was educated, and I wasn’t as afraid because I know my rights. But the young people that didn’t know their rights, maybe the only interaction they had with police officers was this, was bad, I totally understand how bad it must have scared them.
On What It Is Like to Watch The Case Unfold
It made me really fear Fairbanks Police, for one. I actually moved out of Fairbanks after all of this. Even when we were in Anchorage, when we were there to testify, that Detective and Jeff O’Bryant, they followed us around Anchorage. It was clear, always, trying to intimidate us. My cousin Patrick, they were hard on him. He couldn’t deal with all the harassment from them. It was…..it was unbelievable, but it was happening. Yeah, it changed, wow, it changed a lot of things….. those memories will always be there.”
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.
* 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.
Kevin has spent many years in silence. In the early media reports in and in the press coverage throughout the trials Kevin was relentlessly attacked, more so than the others. The police pushed this media agenda, because in their theory they considered him the ringleader. It was amazing in a way to watch it unfold – to watch him remain quiet and outwardly calm while his world crumbled around him. Steady.
After his conviction, many people stood behind his claim of innocence, but none as strongly or courageously as his mom, the late Carol Pease. He is pictured with her here. It is hard to imagine the grief that Kevin has had to live with. He lost his father a short time before being wrongfully accused, and his mother shortly after his wrongful conviction, all as a very young person. Yet, amazingly, through all of this his faith remains strong.
In this post, Kevin tells his own story. Like with the other letters, the truth in his words is palpable. Painfully clear. Facts, documents, transcripts, legal opinions, and the like abound in this case, and they all back up the claim that these men are innocent. Still, nothing makes that statement as poignantly than the truth in their own words. Here they are:
PLEASE, if you or ANYONE you know has information about the case call, write, email or do anything you like, just do the right thing. The best person to bring new information and tips to is Bill Oberly at the Innocence Project in Anchorage – 907-279-0454. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and tips can be made anonymously.
If you were involved in any way in this case, please consider coming forward today and submitting your OWN story. These pieces build a picture together, and each piece is important. Contact US on the Facebook page.
HATE, indeed, put these men in prison, and LOVE will set them free someday. YOUR LOVE, courage, and support, to be specific. So keep it coming!!! Sign the petition, join us on Facebook, and spread, spread, spread the word. We send these pages back to the boys, so feel free to add a comment for Kevin below.
Who killed John Hartman? We don’t know. And if this case has taught us anything it is that accusations of this seriousness should not be levied lightly. But from the beginning, evidence has pointed firmly away from the Fairbanks Four and toward attackers that have not yet been identified. Over the years at least two serious theories have emerged among readers – this post outlines one.
One of the most stunning elements of the investigation and arrest of the Fairbanks Four for the murder of John Hartman is that there was no shortage of evidence pointing away from them. In fact, on the night of October 10 into the early morning hours of the 11th, there was a litany of violent beatings and robberies. The victims of these attacks described their attackers as four African-American men in a light-colored four door sedan. These crimes were sickeningly similar – multiple assailants violently kicking and robbing victims who were vulnerable and on foot. They shed terrible light on what John’s terrible last moments may have been like.
Robert John was walking down the road late in the night of October 10th when a light-colored car pulled up behind him. When he turned around, three African-American teenagers jumped out of the car and began a sudden unprovoked attack on Robert John. They attempted to knock him down and began kicking him. They were not successful in knocking him down, and he escaped. He walked into Pastime Card Room, badly shaken, and told Rubin Sam the details of the attack.
12:15 am (approximately) While walking out of Spade Room, Raymond Stickman saw a sight that he will never forget. An older Native man was on the ground, clearly just assaulted, with three young African-American men wearing dark-colored clothing surrounding him. The assailants took off running, jumped into a car with a waiting driver, and sped away. The Native man got up and went into an adjacent building – Raymond Stickman followed him in to be sure he was okay, and the man told him that he had been knocked to the ground and kicked by the group. It is unclear whether he was robbed.
1:00 am (approximately) Frank Dayton left the reception at the Eagle’s Hall and walked along the south side of First Avenue. He was violently assaulted and robbed about ten minutes later. According to Frank, he heard a car rolling up behind him at a slow speed and assumed it was pulling into a parking lot. The next thing he heard was the rapid approach of feet. He was knocked down to the ground, and struck his right knee, elbow, and head on the pavement. One of the attackers stepped on Frank’s right hand, and Frank was able to see a white high-top shoe. While he was pinned to the ground they kicked him in the side and back. One of the attackers reached into Frank’s pocket and stole the $20 he was carrying. His attackers rushed back to their car and pealed off. Frank Dayton described the car as a large white or light tan four-door sedan. He did not see his attackers. The only details that he was able to provide were the exact location, the description of the car, and that one assailant was wearing white high-top sneakers.
1:30am Frank Dayton arrives shaken and injured back at the Eagle’s Hall. His sister-in-law calls 911 and the call is logged at 1:34am. Multiple witnesses place Marvin Roberts at the Eagle’s Hall during this 911 call (you can see his timeline HERE).
1:30 am A few blocks away from the site of Frank Dayton’s attack, John Hartman is beaten to death. The wallet he had with him was never recovered, making it seem as if he also was robbed. The attack on Hartman lasted only five minutes (read about the attack HERE and read his timeline HERE).
Don Moses is a non-drinker and his memories of his attack are still clear these many years later. Don was attacked in the early morning hours of October 11th as well. His attackers pulled up in a car, and four men got out and rushed toward him. He said while recounting the incident, “I have never done anything like this in my life before, but I rushed back at them as if I was ready and willing to fight.” His instincts told him that his life was in danger. At the same moment, sirens rang out nearby. The attackers reacted to either Don’s bold posturing, the sirens, or both, and ran back to their car and drove off. Don does not know the exact time of his attack, but the chilling possibility exists that the sirens in the distance were the ones called to an ailing Frank Dayton, while just a few streets over John Hartman lay unconscious.
Ultimately, the night that John Hartman was murdered was a cold and bloody night on the streets of Fairbanks. Hartman will never be able to describe his attack in his own words. But several others were attacked at random that night and were able to relate the experience, and through them a troubling and uninvestigated thread emerges.
These attacks point to another early investigative failure. ALL of the listed attacks were known to investigators and the DA, and more may have occurred and gone unreported. When at least four similar attacks take place in the span of a few hours with three victims living and one fatally wounded, it is incomprehensible that investigators did not pursue the young men or the getaway car described. But, they did not. With an abundance of evidence indicating that they should be looking for four African-American teenagers in a light-colored four-door sedan, they arrested The Fairbanks Four one at a time through happenstance encounters, with no evidentiary indication that any one of the four had committed the crime. They would eventually enter into evidence Marvin’s bright blue two-door car and four pairs of shoes, none of which were white high-tops.
At least one person reading this blog KNOWS who killed John Hartman. Someone went to high school with these teenagers cruising in that light sedan. Someone remembers. Someone suspects. No information is too small. No gut instinct should be ignored. At least one person, and probably many more, can step forward anonymously and write an ending to this story. Change it from a tragedy to a triumph. Please, please, do.
COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS tips can be emailed to email@example.com or called in to the Innocence Project at 907-279-0454
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: