Day 16 – State of Alaska Calls Margaretta Hoffman, Others

Day 16, October 27 2015

collage2The third day of the State of Alaska’s case against the exoneration of the Fairbanks Four featured the completion of the videotaped Veronica Solomon testimony, Margaretta Hoffman, Jason Wallace’s wife Michone Wallace, Harold Lundeen, and Brent Ledford. The testimony generally brief. The only witnesses thus far who have incriminated the Fairbanks Four – Veronica Solomon and Margaretta Hoffman – did not testify in person and were therefore not available for potentially impeaching cross-examination on the stand.

The remaining half of Veronica Solomon was played, during which Solomon contradicted much of her earlier testimony, acknowledged that she had no information regarding the guilt or innocence of the Fairbanks Four, but insisted, “I saw something, and that something meant something.” Solomon acknowledged a summary of what she saw was a tan four-door car at the corner of 9th or 10th and Barnette on a day she thought could be October 11, 1997. Precisely what Solomon saw was difficult to discern, and discussed in detail in our previous post.

The State of Alaska has sought throughout the proceedings to undermine the credibility of the Holmes and Wallace confessions by arguing that the fact that they did not confess during other specific windows of opportunity somehow casts doubt on the current confessions. Wallace, Lundeen, and Ledford, appear to have been called simply to say that Holmes and Wallace had not confessed to them.

Jason Wallace’s wife testified that Wallace never mentioned killing John Hartman. She further testified that neither Jason Wallace nor William Holmes ever divulged their longstanding plans to commit the murders that ultimately landed them in jail. If the goal of the testimony was to establish probable innocence based on Jason Wallace not confessing to some people closer in his life than the friend, attorney, and public defender’s investigator he did confess to, it certainly fell short. Michone Wallace’s testimony only established the men in fact have a history of committing murders without discussing it with many people.

Harold Lundeen testified that he saw Scott Wallace and Davison enter the car named in the Davison testimony. It was inside that car, Davison previously testified, that Wallace confessed to killing John Hartman. However, it was clear that the State did not call Lundeen for the corroboration, but to demonstrate another person they believe Wallace would have told. Lundeen testified that he also didn’t have any knowledge of the his high school friend, Jason Wallace’s, involvement in the Hartman murder. In what earlier witness Scott Davison claimed was simply a typo, “Holmes” was referred to as “Harold” in the account of a confession Davison heard from Jason Wallace in 1997. Harold Lundeen, who knew Holmes, Wallace, and Davis in high school, simply testified that he did not know anything of significance.

Retired California Shasta County district attorney who prosecuted William Holmes in the murders and conspiracy that sent him to prison, Brent Ledford, provided conjecture and essentially a cost-benefit analysis on whether or not William Holmes should have disclosed the Hartman killing and turned informant on Jason Wallace at the time Holmes was arrested in 2002.  He described how it may or may not have been advantageous for Holmes to confess to the Hartman killing and implicated Wallace. Mr. Ledford ultimately implied it would not have proved advantageous Holmes to confess at that time. In his testimony, Holmes simply said he did not believe that confessing to another murder would be of any benefit to him while being prosecuted for another murder.

devildealWhen Mr. Ledford was asked about negotiating leniency for Jason Wallace in exchange for his testimony against Holmes he stated, “Sometimes we have to make a deal with the devil,” referencing Wallace.

Ledford’s also testified that from 2002-2006, a time period during which he worked on prosecuting William Holmes, no one to include public defender Jeff Wildridge and investigator Tom Bole, brought up allegations of Jason Wallace’s involvement in the beating death of John Hartman.  So far the “devil” has received leniency on murder, arson, and attempted murder charges from his 2002 arrest. He was most recently granted immunity in the beating death of John Hartman in exchange for his testimony for the State of Alaska.  The “devil” knows how to work the judicial system to his benefit – he’s only honest when he can benefit from doing so.

State prosecutor Bachman  built on her consistent assertion that no one tells the truth without benefit to themselves.  Holmes did not receive any leniency or personal gain for telling the truth. Coming forward without incentive has consistently been cited by the state as a reason to doubt Holmes’ credibility.  Holmes testified earlier in the proceedings that the decision to come forward was about his own spiritual journey.

After a string of witnesses who were largely forgettable or did not testify to any substance, the most outrageous testimony of the day was given by Margareta Hoffman aka ‘Crystal’  – an ex-girlfriend of Kenny Mayo. Hoffman’s testimony contradicted all police interviews from the original investigation and previous trial testimony regarding the time or circumstances when Marvin Roberts returned to his home the night of the Hartman murder. The testimony of the occupants of the home and Marvin Roberts himself has consistently been that no one was awake when Roberts returned home. Kenny Mayo is Marvin Robert’s step father’s brother. Hoffman claimed that the night Hartman was killed she was at Marvin Robert’s home with her then-boyfriend and contrary to all previous testimony, that there was a wild party afoot at the home. Hoffman provided a hearsay account of a conversation allegedly had between Roberts and Mayo. Petitioners attorneys countered that Kenny Mayo, whom the state was reluctant to call, must be called and was expected to testify that none of the events described by Hoffman took place.

Hoffman has a long history of drug an alcohol abuse and a significant criminal record. She went by “Crystal,” a nod to her significant crystal meth use, for years. Hoffman testified that she did not come forward until 2013 after seeing coverage of the Fairbanks Four exoneration efforts on television.  She expressed extreme difficulty remembering even general times of significant events in her life stating, “I have a hard time remembering years.”  When asked how long she dated Mr. Mayo she replied, “Six to eight years, give or take a year.”  Mrs. Hoffman isn’t sure if she dated Mr. Mayo five to nine years, which exhibits the kind of extreme memory loss associated with heavy drug use. Yet, testimony that Hoffman could provide details of a specific date in 1997 were submitted by the state as reliable.

Mrs. Hoffman testified that on the night in question she was drinking alcohol and using cocaine at the home of Art and Hazel Mayo, whom she said she had only met a handful of times, while her boyfriend Kenny went out to a dance.  She testified that Kenny Mayo returned some time between 12-2am and that Marvin Roberts returned an hour or two after Kenny Mayo.  Hoffman’s testimony claims that Marvin Roberts returned home between 1-4am.  Hoffman testified that when Roberts came in, he and Kenny Mayo went into a back room to talk.

Mrs. Hoffman asserts that Kenny exited Marvin Roberts’s room with some black leather “professional-looking” shoes and told Hoffman they had to go.

“It was daylight/twilight when we left.”  According to Mrs. Hoffman’s time line the very latest she would have left the Mayo house was at 4:30am. National weather records indicate that sunrise would have been after 9:00am. Hoffman further testified that Kenny Mayo told her they had to get rid of the shoes because Mr. Roberts and some friends had beat up some kid.  She reported seeing dried orange brown blood on the black leather shoes. This piece of testimony elicited immediate public skepticism, as it is impossible for a person to see an orange stain on a black shoe.

In addition to impossible visual descriptions, memory issues, and time frame inaccuracies, the questioning directed to Hoffman by the State often seemed leading.

Bachman asked, “How long was this before Mr. Roberts was arrested?”

Hoffman answered, “It was the morning before.”

Bachman quickly corrected her, “It was a day or two before.”

Without pause for thought Hoffman immediately replied, “Yes.”

Bachman routinely uses behavioral and linguistic manipulations in her questioning. This was particularly apparent in the videotaped deposition of Hoffman.

Hoffman asserted that Kenny Mayo made mention of John Hartman being sodomized with a lightbulb or a flashbulb, testimony that does not comply with the forensic findings of the case.

addupHoffman was asked on cross-examination about her drug use and testified that she started using cocaine in 1994 or 1995 and began using methamphetamines in 2004-2005.  Mrs. Hoffman reported recent sobriety on a timeline discredited by arrest records.“I’ve been sober a couple of years – yeah, two years.”  Petitioner’s attorneys also cross-examined Hoffman about her criminal record, which included three DUI’s, harboring, aiding, and abetting two individuals in escaping Fairbanks Youth Facility, an assault against Kenny Mayo in 2001, and theft. It was ultimately revealed that Hoffman has an extensive history of drug and alcohol abuse, was most recently charged with a probation violation in May of 2014 (which the prosecutors declined to prosecute), and exhibits memory issues. The most significant factual issues with her testimony were:

  • Hoffman testified that the latest they could have left the Mayo’s home was at 4:30am, and that it was daylight out when they left. This is factually impossible, as sunrise was many hours later.
  • Hoffman testified that she was at the Mayo residence, but the statements of all others in and around the home state Hoffman was not at the Roberts/Mayo residence during the time frame she describes.
  • Hoffman had a volatile relationship with Kenny Mayo, which ended for the last time when she was arrested for assaulting him. There was the undeniable “scorned woman” element to her testimony. Her testimony would, it is important to remember, implicate ex boyfriend Kenny Mayo in a serious crime and therefore is a vehicle for both public condemnation and accusation.
  • Hoffman testified that she has been sober for “two years” when in fact she has been arrested for crimes related to alcohol or drug use as recently as May 2014.
  • Hoffman claimed that the night in question she was using cocaine and alcohol, and that she was a regular user of cocaine and crystal meth from 1994 to 2013. Both substances alter brain chemistry, amnesia, psychosis, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, mood disturbances, changes in brain structure, and more, casting doubt on the general cognitive functioning of Hoffman given her prolonged use.
  • Hoffman has a history of crimes of dishonesty and abuses of the justice system for personal gain.
  • Hoffman testified that she saw orange stains, presumed to be blood, on black shoes. As readers can extrapolate themselves, it is not possible to see a colored stain on black leather.

In the end, it was clear that the State of Alaska strategy is to muddy the waters at any cost, including on the backs of those with altered functioning, ulterior motives, and the trick not yet seen but as common and likely, the bargained-for testimony of criminals.

The proceedings should have citizens asking big questions. Why do we “have to make a deal with the devil?” Is using the testimony of the incapacitated a form of institutional abuse? Does our justice system seek justice? And most importantly, what can we do to change it?

Day 15 – The State of Alaska Begins Their Case Against Exoneration

October  26, 2015

Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman

Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman

After a brief continued cross-examination of Marvin Roberts and yet another sealed hearing, the petitioners rested their case and asked the judge for an expedited verdict. This is standard legal practice, and essentially says, our case is so strong the court should just make a ruling right now. Judge Lyle denied the motion. The State of Alaska then asked the same – that the judge make a ruling before even hearing their case – and he denied their motion as well. Apparently the intention behind the state making such a move is essentially the state saying, their case was so weak just go ahead and rule in our favor. That said, the idea of asking for a ruling before even presenting your case, particularly the serial killer whose testimony they deemed so critical that they fought for him to receive immunity from prosecution in this murder, seems really strange. All motions were denied, and the State of Alaska began their case.

For those not in a reading mood, here is a quick summary: The State of Alaska called a former bar owner who is very buddy-buddy with the cops responsible for this wrongful conviction to testify that Eugene’s mom told him that Eugene told her he never got out of a car, then they called Eugene’s mom Ida who said that never happened, and then they played video tape of a crazy woman who wouldn’t testify in person telling a really long and incredibly strange story about seeing some Asian/dark-skinned/ light-skinned/ running/ sitting/ yelling/ tire-changing/ men maybe on October 10 while God spoke to her, she changed lanes, rolled a window down, and all in the dark.

For those of you who want all the details, here they are:

Ida

Ida Hogue

The first witness called to the stand was Eugene Vent’s mother, Ida Hogue. Ms. Hogue took the stand and testified that she had not had any conversation about Eugene with the next scheduled witness, Steve Paskvan, that she did not know him, and that she did not get a ride to the airport from him in 1997. Her testimony was brief.

Ida Hogue was followed by witness Steve Paskvan. Paskvan is a former bar owner in Fairbanks, Alaska. He testified that within days of Eugene Vent’s arrest he drove Ida to the airport, and that on the way she told him that Eugene had told her he “didn’t get out of the car.”

paskavan, steve

Steve Paskavan

On cross it was revealed that Paskvan owned a bar which Detective Aaron Ring frequented and that the two were friends. Paskvan admitted to having a history of criticizing the case with his detective friends. It was further revealed that Paskvan came forward with this testimony quite recently after having Fairbanks officer Peyton Meredith, whom has served as the Fairbanks Police spokesperson on this case in media during recent years, as a guest speaker in his class. While Officer Meredith was there speaking to the high school students, Paskvan told the class about his alleged conversation with Ida Hogue, and Peyton Meredith asked Paskvan to come forward. It was also pointed out in cross that Paskvan did not appear to know who Ida was in relation to Eugene Vent, sometimes calling her his mother and at other times his stepmother.

The next witness was Veronica Solomon who appeared in videotaped deposition, not because she lives out of the area as with some previous witnesses, but because she has been avoiding subpoena and therefore in-person testimony.

In the video Solomon gave a disjointed and wandering account of what she says she saw while driving by the intersection of 9th and Barnette a night she is pretty sure was October 10, 1997 around the time Hartman was killed. Solomon said she rode by the intersection while driving a cab, and saw two men who she believed were Kevin Pease and Marvin Roberts, who looked light-skinned, or dark-skinned, like Asians, “half-breeds,” white, and Native. She says the men were in a brown four door car (Marvin drove a bright blue two door car) and that there were others inside the car. She said the men were getting a tire from the trunk, getting in the car, out of the car, running around the car, ducking, and shouting “freeze.” She says she considered stopping but didn’t because she felt what she calls a “check” – her word for a message from God instructing her not to do something.

“They were both coming around the car, going toward the trunk,” she said. “The one on the right side went back to the right side. The one on the left side went to the left, came back to the back of the car, ran to the left again like he didn’t know where to go, like they were scattering. And then he jumped inside the car and I don’t know if he came out the other side or if he ducked. I don’t know what he did,” Solomon said.

All of this, Solomon testified, happened while she was changing lanes on a one way street, rolling down her window, and driving by an intersection in the dark. It was, to say the least, not very credible because it is impossible for her to have seen what she claims to have seen. Solomon testified, in explaining why she had not come forward, that she did not see any news coverage of the Hartman case until 2005. She testified that she was so sure of what she had seen in 1997 that she wanted to keep the images in her mind pure. However, in 2005 she apparently sought news coverage and was then able to identify that the ducking, running, sitting, standing, tire-changing, light-skinned, dark-skinned, Asian, half-breed, white, Native men she saw in a brown four door car probably in 1997 in the dark were Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease. She returned to the scene at 3:30 and 6:30 in the morning, per her testimony, and did not see any police cars or crime scene tape. Solomon also provided criticism of the supporters of the Fairbanks Four’s innocence, saying “They think those boys are innocent and they’re fighting for that, without knowing whether they are innocent or not.”

The nature of her testimony was such that it left a listener wondering if she was in sound mind. The other half of her videotaped deposition is expected to begin the 16th day of proceedings.

Following the State’s first day of arguments social media and newspaper comments in the small town were ablaze with commentary about the individuals called.

Ida Hogue, commenters said over and over, lived in Fairbanks and had three small children, including her twins who were babies in 1997. She lived in a busy public housing complex and her neighbors remember the days and months following her son Eugene Vent’s arrest. “This doesn’t make any damn sense,” one commenter said, “everyone knows Ida was in Birch Park staying right by my mom, and at that time she didn’t go anywhere. This is something you remember. This was a difficult time.” Other commenters indicated the same.

As to Steve Paskvan, comments focused on his political aspirations, the clear hearsay nature of the testimony, and the improbability that the circumstances it was described to have taken place in could have existed. His close relationship with the detectives who investigated the original case was discussed as well.

Veronica Solomon

It was, however, the testimony of Veronica Solomon that elicited the most public discussion. We received multiple messages within the first hour after her taped deposition was played from people who knew her alerting us to her mental illness and brain injuries. Two relatives also indicated that they were not sure if she was driving a cab then, but did not think so. A friend said quite kindly that Solomon “thinks differently” and that she found it concerning that anyone would take her testimony in such a serious situation.

The impossibility of the testimony is perhaps of more interest. Solomon testified that she was traveling at five miles per hour (one fifth the speed limit) when she drove by the intersection. The average two lane road is 9-15 feet wide, and a car driving 5 miles per hour travels 7.5 feet per second, which means that she would have had about 2 seconds in which to make all of her observations. Given expert testimony in the case regarding the limitations of human sight, especially eye-witness identification, it seems unlikely that she could have identified anyone in the circumstances described. Her testimony sounds impossible because it is clearly made up, which leaves the question of why someone would make it up. The most plausible explanation for motivation would be mental illness.

It is tempting to be angry with Solomon for what seems to be some really wild and  fabricated testimony. The idea that someone would fabricate such absurd testimony ostensibly for attention or the gratification of some small power with other human beings lives at stake is hard to stomach. However, we urge readers to look a bit deeper than the surface. If the accounts of those who know her are true, she may be mentally unwell. When people who are not well engage in behaviors that are attention-seeking or harmful to others it is not okay, but it is often a manifestation of their imbalance. The real travesty is that such testimony would even be entered into consideration by the State of Alaska. Even though it is utterly ridiculous, testimony like that of Solomon’s can absolutely impact the outcome of criminal cases. One has to look no further than Arlo Olson, a man who struggles with mental illness and whose impossible testimony was the cornerstone of the original convictions. Olson has since recanted, but his original testimony was pivotal. Nothing is as powerful as an eyewitness. It is a sad testament to the condition of our justice system that prosecutors will use the same unethical tactics in 2015 to keep innocent men in jail as they used in 1997 to put them there. It is evidence of a disturbing lack of progress. We hope to see these convictions overturned, and through them, forced progress in a sick system.

NPR Story on Day 15

channel 11 Day 15

Newsminer Article day 15

Day 14 – Another Beating Victim, Marvin Roberts, State of Alaska’s Attack on the Press

October 23, 2015

The fourteenth day of proceedings opened with the testimony of Joshua Sorenson who testified on a videotaped deposition about watching Wallace assault his now deceased brother just a few months prior to the Hartman murder.

Sorenson’s brother was assaulted in a fashion disturbingly similar to the assault that took Hartman’s life. Sorenson described how, after a verbal altercation over Wallace accosting someone else at the Tanana Valley State Fair, his brother and Wallace went outside the fairgrounds to settle the argument with a fight. But, according to the testimony, Wallace sucker punched Sorenson, got him on the ground, and was kicking him “as hard as a person can hit another person” until Sorenson lost consciousness.

Sorenson testified, “This isn’t like a normal fist fight, he hurt my brother really bad…broke his nose, smashed a bunch of sinuses in his face, I mean he beat him. You couldn’t even recognize him on one side of his face.”

Sorenson’s brother was hospitalized. The assault was reported to police who took no action. “The (officer) literally told me my brother got what he deserved for going out there.”

Another notable element of the Sorenson testimony was the repetition of unusual slang, which was also heard from witnesses who described the Hartman assault. Sorenson testified that during the altercation Wallace kept saying, ‘I’ll stole on you, nigga, I’ll stole on you,’ whatever that means. That one statement because he said it over and over stands out.”

MArvinMarvin Roberts also took the stand, and is the last of the four men seeking exoneration to take the stand. Despite an aggressive and manipulative line of questioning throughout cross-examination, Roberts stood his ground and testified to the same events he described at 19 years old the day he was first contacted and has repeated over and over in the last 18 years. Roberts described attending a wedding reception. Scores of guests came forward after is arrest to affirm he indeed spent the night at the wedding reception. Roberts described dancing through the night, giving friends a few quick rides to the Mapco gas station a couple blocks down the road to buy pop, and leaving the reception well after the Hartman assault time frame, stopping briefly by a teenage party, then heading home. Roberts testified that he was not drinking, that he did not hang out with the other accused men that night, that they were not in his car, that he did not assault John Hartman or anyone else, and that as he has maintained for an unbroken 18 years, he is innocent of the charges he was convicted of.
marvinletterDuring cross-examination special prosecutor Adrienne Bachman revealed that Marvin Roberts had, on her request, supplied her with every single piece of documentation from letters to prison records that he had saved through the last 18 years of incarceration. The incredible irony here is that according to the Alaska State Troopers who provided testimony damning to the state’s case and the conduct of its prosecutors, when Bachman was asked for emails as part of the investigation in the case she refused to turn them over. Roberts, on the other hand, apparently complied and provided Bachman with all of his written records and communications. With the letters and records in hand, Bachman proceeded to launch one accusation after another at Roberts, all based on far-flung and unsourced conspiracy theories. Bachman used a series of letters that did not contain any mention of Arlo Olson of any kind, that did not mention any gangs or gang activity of any kind, including letters between he and his pastor, in a vague and baffling attempt to accuse Roberts of witness intimidation. Bachman openly admitted to the court that the four men have had no contact with Arlo Olson and have not had any altercations with him. Arlo Olson testified that he has not been intimidated by the men, their supporters, or anyone claiming to represent them. “But,” Adrienne Bachman said, Mr. Olson was nonetheless intimidated, nonetheless assaulted, nonetheless spit on.”

Arlo Olson testified that he has never directly or indirectly been harassed by the four men. One by one, under cross examination questions about how the four men felt about Arlo Olson, each of the Fairbanks Four testified that they forgive him. When Bachman said to George Frese, “You hate Arlo Olson, don’t you?”

Frese replied, “No. He’s a victim, just like us.”

Olson, however, did indicate that he had been subjected to poor treatment in jail, and that the poor treatment escalated when the 2008 “Decade of Doubt” Newsminer series by investigative journalist Brian O’Donoghue was published. The series revealed Olson’s improbable testimony could have been influenced by grants of leniency in his own court cases, that it was likely scientifically impossible for the testimony to be true, outlined his back and forth attempts at recanting and unrecanting his testimony, and widely identified Olson as an informant.

Arlo Olson has some things going against him in prison – things which only he is responsible for. He is a snitch, and on the prison scale of snitches it is hard to imagine that fabricating testimony is even as acceptable as providing factual testimony. He has essentially made a criminal career of committing crimes against women and children. It does not seem outside the scope of reason that in the facilities where he as served time prisoners may have been unkind to him, but it also does not seem reasonable to ascribe responsibility for the quality of his life in prison to any of the petitioners.

If Arlo Olson, like any person, was treated inhumanely, that is sad. None of his life choices excuse violence or intimidation or threats or harm. Yet, the only people whom Arlo Olson is on record saying intimidated him, threatened him, or attempted to coerce his testimony are Detective Aaron Ring and Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant, who did so on behalf of the State of Alaska. In fact, the proceedings have been rife with substantiated claims of witness intimidation in the original case done by the state, and those can be read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Are you not tired of links pertaining to claims by witnesses that they were threatened and intimidated in this case by the state of Alaska? Good! Because we have plenty to go around. You can also read these accounts here, here, here, here, here,here, here, here, and here. Still not enough? Sadly, yes, we have more. How about reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here? Are we out of links? No! But we are tired of typing the word here. So use Google if we have somehow failed to satisfy you.

In the end, it does matter that eighteen years after this injustice began the State of Alaska is still employing lies, threats, intimidation, and behavior so poor that it violates ethics guidelines and rules of conduct, and the law. That matters. It matters that they are slandering citizens, attacking the press, and trying their best to keep four innocent men in prison with a web of deliberately crafted falsehoods. It matters that they are muddying the water not in the interest of justice but in the interest of preventing people from seeing clearly. It all matters because justice matters. Be outraged because this is not okay and what you have to say about it matters a great deal as well. It matters that the state granted immunity to the man that killed Hartman in what appears to be yet another attempt to uphold the convictions with influenced testimony. It matters that the leader of our state has sat idly by, endorsing this conduct with his silence, because injustice of this type is an indictment of the justice system, and we are all beholden to it. Its corruption can touch us all.

antone42But do not be discouraged, because here is the beautiful truth: in this same community, weary and with every entitlement to bitterness after eighteen long years of fighting, where agents of the State of Alaska rallied against justice, fought to keep the innocent imprisoned, fought to set the guilty free, fought to humiliate and degrade those who would speak out, where all week-long the onslaught of injustice exhausted and baffled those who used to believe in the system, the sun set Friday on a week of outrage and hurt. Yet, on Saturday, these same people gathered. They laughed, they prayed, they dug into their pockets and contributed to fund the fight against their own government for justice and freedom. And they were good, and happy, and they chose to create light rather than dwell on the darkness. Young men from other tribes joined them with messages of strength. They sang the songs of their language and the dances far older than the injustice brought upon them these hundreds of years ago. They sang fight songs. Warriors, they said to the people, don’t go backward. They do not go in circles. They do not give up. And there beside the river, laughing and dancing and remembering, the injustice was triumphed again as it has been many times before and will be many times again. The State of Alaska has deep pockets, the have the keys, the have the guns, they have the courthouses, they have the police, they have the attorneys, they have all this worldly power. But the don’t have the kind of power that was alive and well inside the people, and they can’t put that light out no matter how hard they try.

HERE is the one link you should definitely take a look at. Pictures of people responding to this injustice by being amazing and kind and brave and so good it will make you believe in people completely.

Day 9 – George Frese’s Tearful Testimony, and a Massive Demonstration of Solidarity

October 15, 2015
george3Fairbanks Superior Courtroom was packed Thursday as the first of the Fairbanks Four to testify, George Frese, entered the courtroom with his hands cuffed to a chain around his waist. George Frese was dressed in bright yellow, the word “prisoner” in block letters across his back in faded black. His hair, streaked with sparsely with gray, was half braided and fell past his waist. After some opening proceedings he excised under guard to another room to change his clothes, and returned in white to take the stand

George Frese’s own pro bono attorney, Bob Bundy of Dorsey and Whitney, opened questioning. Frese answered questions about his background, upbringing, and life prior to the days in October of 1997 when he was arrested for the killing of John Hartman. Questions eventually led to the night of October 10, 1997, and George recounted a night at home drinking with friends, a clear memory of leaving his apartment around 1:30 am for a wedding reception and party, and ultimately how he drank enough that night that his memories of the early morning hours of October 11, 1997 are hazy. Frese recounted stopping in at a reception, a bar, a party, and getting a ride part of the way home. During that walk, he said, he injured his ankle. When questions turned to the later morning, when a nurse examining his foot fingered him as a potential suspect in the Hartman beating and police began an interrogation that would last many hours and ultimately lead to Frese’s false confession. The attorney asked Frese a handful of questions about how the interrogation felt, and Frese said repeatedly that he was scared.

“Why were you scared?” Attorney Bob Bundy asked.

george2It was at this point that Frese hung his head and began to weep. With his head down and amidst sobs he said, “They said I did all this shit that I didn’t do. You motherfuckers know we are innocent,” Frese said between sobs,” I’m so tired of this, I did not do this shit.” His voice trailed off as he broke down into unbroken sobs. As Frese struggled to stop crying and regain some composure, he sobbed with his back to the gallery and Judge Lyle called a recess. Many in the courtroom were overcome with emotion as well, and cried as Frese continued to collect himself. After a few minutes he stood up and walked out of the courtroom with a guard.

Hundreds of miles away in Anchorage, as George Frese struggled for composure, many hundreds of Alaskans kept theirs in a powerful peaceful demonstration of solidarity with the Fairbanks Four. The crowd was gathered for the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) – the largest annual gathering of indigenous in the state, during which tribes from all regions meet on common issues. Alaska State Governor Bill Walker appeared the same morning on stage at AFN to address the delegation.

four7Walker has not responded directly to the many resolutions and requests from tribal entities like Tanana Chiefs Conferernce or the Alaska Federation of Natives asking him to intervene in the wrongful conviction case and examine disparities inside the justice system. Walker did, however, make a brief and nearly mandatory mention of the case during his speech, saying “On the Fairbanks Four, we’re not where we need to be on that,” Walker said. “I’m so impressed with your passion on that. I sense your frustration toward me; I applaud your passion.”

As Walker spoke a group of attendees in the back quietly unrolled a banner that read, “Justice for the Four.” They held their arms high, and four fingers up. The gesture spread through the silent crowd until the room was filled with citizens holding four fingers up, looking at the governor.

f4111Traditional chief Jerry Issac joined Governor Walker at the microphone. Isaac asked the elders of his village Tanacross, and neighboring villages, to forgive him for using a grief song. He told the Governor, “In our native way when a death suddenly happens we are shocked, and saddened, and we grieve. In this case there is no physical death, but the forceful and sudden taking of our young men…and we are shocked, and saddened, and grieving…because the facts prove them innocent. The longs years of shock and sorrow, and a want for freedom, inequality in justice, the grieving…our only way to express our frustration, our sadness, is to grieve, with a song that expresses sorrow.”

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Jerry Isaac sang. We cannot tell you how the song sounded, because it will never sound again the way it sounded then. It sounded like a song written before you were born. Like a song in a language you knew long ago or in a dream. It sounded like a song that has echoed inside rooms thick with grief for many years, seeped into the log walls of many tribal halls and caught in the soundproof ceilings of hospital rooms. It sounded like the cry of the wounded, and it sounded like a song in which the screams of grief and get lost inside the notes. We cannot tell you of Governor Walker heard it – truly heard it. But the people heard it, and tears streaked their faces with their hands.

In the courtroom, George Frese returned after a brief break. The gallery of observers rose to their feet, arms high in the air, and holding up four fingers. Frese teared up when he saw them, tears running down their faces. All those miles away, they heard that song too, and he heard it.

George remained calm the rest of the day. He reiterated and reiterated his innocence, his whereabouts, and answered question after question. Under cross-examination special prosecutor Adrienne Bachman tried to insinuate that Arlo Olson may have recanted due to pressure or threats from George or the four.

“You hate Arlo Olson, don’t you?” She asked.

“No,”  Frese answered plainly of the man whose testimony led to his conviction and eighteen years of incarceration. “He’s a victim in this, just like us.”

Since the testimony of Frese and the demonstrations, Facebook has flooded with users changing their profile pictures to “fours.” There, in the song, in the hands held high, in the exasperated testimony between sobs, in the tears, and in the day, was a simple reminder – we are all in this together.

Hey Aaron, Hey Jeff, Hey Adrienne – can you hear them now? I think that song goes, I am Spartacus. And thank you. Because it takes injustice sometimes to teach us how important justice really is.

collage

four4four1four6

collage2NPR Coverage of AFN Protest

Anchorage Daily News – Protest

KNBA Protest Coverage

Frese’s Emotional Claim of Innocence – Newsminer

Jason Wallace Confession Leaked by Jason Wallace’s Attorney

Do Not EnterThe Fairbanks Daily Newsminer briefly published an article on August 20, 2015 which revealed the detailed statements of Jason Wallace regarding his participation in the murder of John Hartman. The revelation was significant in the case because the statements have remained under a seemingly impenetrable court seal since they were first referenced in a September 2013 filing by the Alaska Innocence Project for post-conviction relief base on actual innocence.. All that was previously known about the Wallace confession was that his statements corroborated those of William Holmes.

The article revealed that the local newspaper had come into possession of the documents when they were inadvertently sent to a reporter by someone who lawfully possessed them.

The article remained online for only a few hours before it disappeared. A court hearing held August 21 provided significant insight into the series of events that lead to the document leak and its temporary removal from the Newsminer website.

Judge Paul Lyle, the presiding judge over the Fairbanks Four case, called an emergency hearing to discuss the leak of the confidential documents. In that hearing, it was revealed that the documents were leaked by Jason Gazewood’s firm. Gazewood is Jason Wallace’s attorney, who recently took his request to keep the statements of his client confidential to the Alaska Supreme Court. Mr. Gazewood has been tasked with helping Wallace to prevent his statements about the Hartman murder from every becoming public. Ironically, or perhaps karmically, it was Gazewood’s office who inadvertently emailed the sealed document to reporter Sam Friedman.

At the hearing, Gazewood sought a gag order from Judge Lyle, hoping to stall or prevent the newspaper’s republication of the story. The Newsminer, represented by Anchorage attorney John McKay, emphasized their respect for the court but argued that any order blocking their right to publish would be unconstitutional. The Newsminer further expressed that they possessed the information for an entire week before making the decision to publish, and described the process of deciding whether to proceed as “soul searching.” The Newsminer ultimately decided to publish the article on August 20th, then took it down a few hours later in response to communications from Jason Gazewood. Attorneys for the newspaper noted that although the Newsminer had only had the article online for a few hours, it had since been republished on at least one blog and had been read there more than 18,000 times.

Indeed, the article attracted rapid attention, as did its removal from the Newsminer’s website. We republished the article here, and PDF and photographic versions of the text dominated local social media feeds. This case has a long and troubled history of exculpatory information disappearing. The speed at which the article traveled following its removal is a testimony both to the level of interest in the case as well as the role that social media has come to play in its furtherance.

In explaining the leak, Gazewood along with his partner and counsel Weiner addressed the court and essentially blamed a paralegal for the slip. According to Gazewood, reporter Sam Friedman called and asked him to relay a decision on the case, and Gazewood in turn instructed a paralegal to forward the information. She did, unaware that the file contained the decision of Judge Lyle and his summary of the Jason Wallace confession.

Judge Lyle did not mince words in responding to the request by Gazewood to suppress the story. “You want a stay? You want an order telling the Newsminer what they can publish? Take it to the Supreme Court,” Lyle said. “Because of your firm’s negligence more than 18,000 people have read this sealed document and for all I know every one of them dowloaded it. You want an order? Take it to the Supreme Court. Motion denied.”

truthIn the end, the hearing revealed the exact nature of the leak, the court’s extreme disappointment at reading a court-sealed document in the newspaper, the struggle of a local newspaper who ultimately made a great decision to publish and then republish information which is certainly of public interest, and underscored something we have said for a long time – the truth will find a way.

The article in questions is viewable again at http://www.newsminer.com/news/local_news/document-corroborates-challenges-new-claim-in-fairbanks-four-case/article_454ef902-4792-11e5-abef-1b7725d19e89.html

A Life Split in Half – Happy Birthday Eugene Vent

TEugeneoday, Eugene Vent has officially spent more years as an innocent man in prison than he spent in the outside world.

Seventeen Novembers have passed since Eugene Vent turned 18 inside a holding cell in Fairbanks Correctional Center. He was kept in isolation because of the very real and persistent threats of violence from other inmates. Jail records recall how inmates would lean up to the small slat in his door and whisper graphic threats to Vent, alone for 23 hours per day in the cell. Imagine how it must have felt, alone and away from family for the first time in his young life, on a birthday considered the passage into adulthood, in a concrete room with faceless voices that whispered a hundred ways to die.

“You know,” Vent said, “It took me a long time to forgive myself for not being stronger. Like, years and years walking around knowing that if I hadn’t broken under the officer’s pressure, if I hadn’t falsely confessed, how many lives would be different. Better. I was mad at myself for not being more of, like, a man. But over time I realized I was just a kid then. When I think back on that kid so scared, so stupid, so young, man, just so young, in that interrogation room, now I think, I forgive you. I forgive that kid. I forgive myself. It seems so long ago it’s hard to even remember who I was at 17. A lifetime ago. I’ve missed a lot of life. But, you know, if all this time we have done and our story out there, if it stops this from happening to even just one kid like I was, it’s worth it. I will know my life had meaning.”

Life. Fresh cut grass, dinner on the table, babies crying, sisters laughing, grandma’s hand on your face, Christmas morning, scraped knees, pretty girls, mom’s voice, falling asleep on the couch, sick days, boot prints on fresh snow, high-bush cranberries, dead leaves in the fall, melting snow, mud, puddles, bicycle wheels over gravel, running on dusty roads, first kisses, first loves, last chances, thunderstorms, birthday cakes, moose soup on the stove, woodsmoke, fish, summer, fall, spring, winter, life, life, life. Seventeen years of living in color, until one night in the seventeenth year, so scared, so young, it changed. Everything changed.

It makes sense that the first life, the other life, is one so far away that he can hardly remember himself back then. Like a photograph out of focus. A dream slipping away in the space between awake and asleep. For seventeen years there was one life. And for seventeen more there has been the other. The smells, the voices, the people, the faces, the seasons – all gone. Concrete and barbed wire, every day the same as the last, the threat of violence pulsing down constantly like the florescent flickering light in any institution. Yet, somehow, there Eugene has found forgiveness. He has found faith. He has, absent all the tiny pieces that contentment is made of, has found assurance that his life has meaning.

Birthdays are not eulogies for the life that came before them. They are not a time to mourn the past.They are not celebrations of the present alone. Birthdays are markings of the passage of time – acknowledgment that time is moving forward, that we are moving with it, and that time has circled one more year, leading us where it will.

Happy Birthday Eugene, and many happy returns. May the next seventeen years of your life be a joining of the last 35. May you someday know the simple joys of life coupled with the wisdom that suffering gifted you. For all the things that are hard to recall from those first seventeen years we know one remains clear – love. The love was real, the love remains, and we know you feel it there too. We are still holding a candle for you, brother, we always will.

 

Secret Court Hearing in Fairbanks Four Case Held

IMG_1857 A nearly silent crowd of Alaskans flanked by reporters filled the hallways of the Fairbanks Superior Court this morning. They passed methodically through security and made their way to courtroom 401. The crowd lingered around a closed door, and on that door hung a sign that said “Confidential Hearing – Do Not Enter.”

Behind the doors the crowd was barred from entering, Judge Paul Lyle heard arguments from attorneys for the Fairbanks Four and the opposing counsel on the sealed brief, or “secret confession,” of Jason Wallace. The statements of Jason Wallace, filed under seal so that the court could determine if the statements could remain sealed under attorney-client privelage, have become a focal point for supporters of the men known as the Fairbanks Four. Those supporters gathered beside the doors sealed against them and prayed.

secrethearing1“Our Creator,” Reverand Fisher said solemnly, “can pass through any door.”

No one there expected to be admitted to the courtroom. Instead, they came simply so the world could watch them linger. Watch them locked out of the court from which they have sought justice for seventeen long years. Stand there simply so that the human beings who together make up the justice system would have to walk through a gauntlet of humanity – so that all who were admitted into the room would see the faces of so many who are shut out. Those who feel abandoned and betrayed by what they have seen inside a system whose promise is blind justice, and equality for all. Those who live in limbo, those who are used to doors they cannot enter.

Do Not EnterBehind those closed doors, secrets stayed secret. Attorneys argued, witnesses were called, and under the cloak of anonymity and the protection of a seal, one side fought to keep a murder confession hidden for more than a decade a secret, and the other side argued for an end to the era of secrets in the Fairbanks Four case.

nodogsorindiansNo one likes the “race card,” which is a way of saying no one likes to talk about race. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear. Rarely is it harder to hear than it is to say. Always, it is important to do both. But for the first peoples of Alaska and those who live among them, doors have been built, locked, closed, and labeled in ways that change lives for generations. It is important to understand that in order to understand the depth of common pain that resides in those hallways, and the determination to not remain unseen. It was not long ago at all that children were stolen away and locked behind the doors of mission schools where they were tortured and altered. Many never walked out. It wasn’t long ago that the stores that line the downtown avenues just beside the courthouse had signs hung in the windows that said “No Dogs or Natives Allowed.” It was not many years ago that a sign in Tanana prohibited Natives from crossing the “mission line” that cut their ancestral home in two.

secrethearinghazelAnd it was seventeen years and one month ago exactly today that four young men were taken away for a crime that they didn’t commit and locked behind doors. Doors that they cannot walk out of. Doors their family cannot cross over. Doors that, deep down, everyone gathered in the hallway knows they may never walk out of. Behind locked doors are secrets, opportunities, histories, loved ones, strangers, stories, and in this case, the truth.

“It reminded me,” said supporter Misty Nickoli of the somber scene in the hallway, “of the gatherings at a person’s house, after they die. They way people hold onto dignity and do what they have to do even when it is a time of grief. It’s hard. Those times when you just know that the future isn’t always fair. But we have to keep going.:”

Do Not EnterIn this case, in the case of the Fairbanks Four and the case of equality in Alaska, it is time for doors to open. It is important to fill those hallways and linger outside the doors so that someday, some bright day, our children will not have to. Until then, the hallways will remain full if people who know there are forces that pass through man made doors and lines, and that they are part of that power.

Photo credit goes to the lovely and talented Carey, sister of George Frese.

You can and SHOULD read news on this hearing. Many times, the press does their job spreading information, and we do our job telling a story. Here are some articles and newscasts.

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/10/23/evidentiary-hearing-scheduled-november-10-fairbanks-four-case-157431

http://www.newsminer.com/fairbanks_four/hearing-opens-on-secret-file-in-john-hartman-murder-case/article_00538486-692f-11e4-b775-db35eafa7519.html

http://www.webcenter11.com/story/hearing-set-review-new-fairbanks-four-evidence

http://www.ktuu.com/news/news/group-claims-officials-knew-of-murder-confession-years-before-fairbanks-four-filing/25862168

Seventeen Octobers – The Anniversary of John Hartman’s Murder

spruceAs the dwindling blue-gray light casts shadows off spruce trees onto the new snow this October night in Fairbanks, Alaska, those who live here know that soon the light will heed to darkness. Night will fall, and each day that we move toward winter solstice the night will fall a bit earlier. This place – the vast expanses of sky and land that make up the last frontier – will be nearly swallowed by darkness for months. It is this time of the year that it is hard to truly remember that the light will return. The days move forward and we arc, always, back toward spring. Toward light. Yet in October, we can feel the darkness on our heels.

It was on an October night exactly seventeen years ago that a darkness came upon many lives. It changed us. It changed too many to enumerate. It altered something, and for so long it seemed a darkness that would never lift. Even now, as we greet the anniversary of a night that changed so many lives, there are moments it is hard to truly remember that darkness will eventually give way to light.

Yet, it is a gift to fight. It is a gift to be here, in darkness and light, in moments of faith and doubt. No matter the hardships, no matter the darkness, to live is a wonderful thing. Life is so ephemeral. A bright light like a flash, a fleeting glance at all that is brilliant and real. And although a book could be written – countless articles have been written, a blog is being written at this moment – about all the people who lost something to the darkness on an October night exactly seventeen years ago, only one person lost all.

JohnHArtmanJohn Hartman was killed on the corner of 9th Avenue and Barnette seventeen years ago tonight. He was a boy. He was nothing but boundless potential and he was full of life. That light ebbed and went out seventeen years ago. John Hartman has been gone now more years than he was alive. And nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever eclipse the importance of his existence, the tragedy of his death.

Tonight we pause to remember. We remember to never forget John Hartman. And into the darkening night we deliver this prayer – may all that were altered or harmed on the night of October 10, 1997 feel peace. May this prayer find its way to the sky and into the awareness of those who have moved on from this earth. May the legacy of John Hartman be peace, justice, and above all, a reverence for life. Live. Live honestly, and live well, every day hold to the gift it is to simply be alive.

As darkness falls tonight and any night, never let it rob you of the knowledge and faith that morning always returns. The light is coming.

 

Fairbanks Police and District Attorney HID A MURDER CONFESSION in Fairbanks Four Case

truth“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel

The time for protest is now.

The time for justice is now.

The time for the people to take back the justice system of Alaska is now.

The sitting Fairbanks Police Chief has called the Fairbanks Four case “model police work.”

The state of Alaska has said that they have never had any indication that justice was not served.

If we live in a state where this is model police work, and murder confessions by other parties do not constitute an “indication” that the wrong people are in prison, we are in incredible trouble as a society.

We have called it one of the most deliberate and disgusting miscarriages of injustice in the history of Alaska. Today, the debate ends. The Alaska Innocence filed a motion to supplement their motion for Post Conviction Relief that definitively proves that the Fairbanks Police Department received a confession of murder by William Holmes, given to a prison guard in the California prison where Holmes was serving a sentence for unrelated murders, and DID NOTHING WITH IT. They hid it. They swept it under the rug. They kept it in the dark, not realizing that the LIGHT IS COMING.

The State of Alaska commits a crime against George Frese, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, and Marvin Roberts every moment of every day. They put innocent men in prison in 1997 and have fought to keep innocent men in prison ever since.

Articles about this filing will dominate the news in the days to come. Read one HERE and below, and stay tuned. We will post in more detail. 

 

http://www.ktuu.com/news/news/group-claims-officials-knew-of-murder-confession-years-before-fairbanks-four-filing/25862168

Rise From The Ashes – Audrey George – Albis and Witnesses XI

Audrey“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.