Last Day – Court Proceedings in Fairbanks Four Trial End

The end of proceedings in the evidentiary hearing for post conviction relief is not the end of the road for the Fairbanks Four case. But it is the end of a significant portion of a long legal process, and the right day to look back on the long stretch of road already traveled and remember those who blazed the trail, who cleared the way, who walked the darkest and scariest parts, who joined in when it was the loneliest, and made the journey against all odds.

The judge could exonerate and free these men. The judge could order a new trial. The judge could uphold the convictions. Meeting the standard of clear and convincing evidence is one of the most complex and difficult legal feats in the field, and the judge could determine that it was not met. That is possible. Whatever the judge decides, it could be tomorrow, or it could be in six months. And the first thing we will have to say on that day, and the only thing we want to say today, is thank you.

Thank you to Shirley Demientieff, who stood up for the innocence of four young no-name boys when it was a position that invited scorn and ridicule. Thank you to a woman who would hold a one-person protest. Thank you to Shirley Dementieff who, on her death bed, made a request to another woman she trusted absolutely with the difficult task – please keep fighting this fight for me when I am gone.

shirleyleeThank you to Shirley Lee. The late Shirley Demientieff was right when she looked at you and saw the rare strength and bravery it would take. Thank you for keeping your promises. Thank you for picking up that sign and continuing to fight.

Thank you to the people of Evansville/ Bettles, who do not let one of your own stand alone like a crazy person with a sign. Thank you for standing behind Shirley the very moment she got up. Thank you for always believing in each other. Those of us lucky enough to know we never stand alone are lucky indeed.


Thank you to Father Scott, Saint Matthew’s Episcopal church, and the Episcopal Diocese for remembering the moral of the story, not just the words.

Thank you to the mothers. Thank you Hazel Roberts, Carol Pease, Ida Vent, Veronica Frese, Mona Nollner. Mothers never stop fighting for their children. It is never too long, they are never too tired, and the way that mothers love their children is one of the most beautiful things in the world. And thank you for fighting for Kevin like he was your own son when Carol Pease was called away from this life.

fairbanksfourcrewThank you to the people who were brave enough to stand up and demand to be heard. Who risked their jobs, reputations, took time from their families, money from their pockets, risked their businesses, risked their safety, and stood up for the truth in a climate of deceit without regard to the cost or reward Thank you Misty Nickoli, Edgar Henry, Ricko DeWilde, Annette McCotter, Skye Malemute, Jody Hassel, Bryan Duszynski. There is something to be said for people who will do the right thing when it is hard and unpopular. For people who will stand there until they are seen or speak up until they are heard. Without you nothing changes.

BillFilingThank you Bill Oberly of the Alaska Innocence Project. I am not sure we could find the right words to express the gratitude we feel toward you. When we reach the end of this journey, this specific journey toward justice and the end of our personal journeys, your decision to step forward and advocate for the forgotten innocent will be one of the most memorable moments we have ever encountered. It is one thing to fight for a brother, son, or friend. It is another thing entirely to take up the plight of strangers. It was your voice and yours alone inside the legal community that cried out for justice, and it was your voice that others joined.

To the entire legal team from Dorsey and Whitney – Bob Bundy, Kate Demarest, Jahna Lindemuth, Mike Grisham, and Office of Public Advocacy attorneys Whitney Glover and Rick Allen, thank you. You put on an extraordinarily passionate, articulate, painstakingly organized, well-executed case. Imagine if you can what it feels like to watch people with power take what they want, in this case human lives, people’s children. Imagine how utterly abandoned and betrayed so many people, most of them kids, felt in 1997. Like they were invisible. Like a bad dream when you scream and scream but no one can hear you. And then you saw them, you heard them, and you rose up against a injustice that long seemed insurmountable, and you prevailed. And that is an important word, because you need to know that we already believe you won.

Thank you Bill Holmes. We hope you can find redemption for the many bad things you have done, and we are grateful that you told the truth. We hope it is the first step of many toward a more righteous life.

Thank you Scott Davison. Your bravery is humbling, your honesty against the odds is admirable.

Thank you Matt Ellsworth. We were really rooting for you to speak the truth, and are glad you did.

Thank you Tom Bole. You followed a higher code than any technicality of man.

Thank you Lisa Smith and Angie Black. We know how much work the paralegals do!

Thank you Troopers Gallen and McPherron. You served and protected the people of Alaska in the courtroom with your loyalty to justice and the truth.

Thank you to everyone who spoke up and told the truth.

Thank you Aaron ring, Jeff O’Bryant, Adrienne Bachman, Jason Gazewood, Jim Geier, and Jason Wallace. Your actions against justice have reminded us how truly valuable it is, and have inspired many to fight for it.

The courtroom at 101 Lacey Street in Fairbanks, Alaska is only a building. Stone and wood, metal and mortar, built by people, and only as permanent as its makers, which isn’t very. Sometimes there is no justice in a court of man. We cannot know what the decision of the court will be, we can only know that there is a higher order to the universe, and that the words and decisions that come from that building are ever the words and decisions of mortal men. Justice prevails in the end, and our job is simply to do our best and understand that it will come in its time.

For today we will not dwell on the past or the future, but will celebrate the day and those who brought it about. Today, parties rested their case in the first petition for post-conviction relief based on actual innocence to result in a evidentiary hearing in Alaska’s history. That is progress, and above all else, we are thankful to those who brought it about.

Day 23 – Jim Geier Returns to the Courtroom

Jim Geier was instrumental in the arrest and conviction of the Fairbanks Four. When he returned to the courtroom it was clear he was no longer the rookie cop and lackey of Aaron Ring. He had been promoted. He came into court with the title of lead investigator for the Fairbanks Police Department. And he was there to discuss the case that made his career, and ruined innumerable lives.

Geier testified that he was patient, respectful, and nice to the witnesses he interviewed. Cue tape of 14-year-old Shara David crying.

“I’m sorry I am crying,” she said between sobs, “I want my mom, please.”

“Get a hold of yourself,” Geier barked back at the little girl.

And so it went….

Geier justified keeping a murder confession from the actual perpetrators under wraps because, he said, he “just assumed it was on the internet.” Ugh.

In an attempt to defend the boot print exhibit used in the original trials, a piece of non-science created bu Geier, another cop, and a prosecutor, an exhibit which has been called “shocking,” “reprehensible,” “deliberately misleading,” ” not science,” and a host of other obvious things a scientist would say about not-science presented as science and used to run lives. The exhibit, which was used to convince jurors there was a match between the wounds on Hartman’s face and George Freese’s boot, was compared to one of those 3-D optical illusion posters.

“I hate to give this analogy, but they sell photographs, or posters, that you’re supposed to see a dolphin in, but you don’t notice it till you look at it for a long time and then there’s the dolphin,” Geier said. “Well, that was those tread marks.”

And indeed, the exhibit was an optical illusion. But the outcome was not that the onlooker saw a surprise dolphin. The outcome was that people were sent to jail as kids for a crime they did not commit. The outcome was that people died. Even after eighteen years to think it through, the gravity of that outcome remains entirely lost on Geier.

The day was long, and this post could be equally long, but the reality is that nothing very important was said. Jim Geier, in the face of mountains of facts and actual science, defended the “science” of pretending something is true because you want it to be. The sad truth is that the men most responsible for the harm done here are too afraid to truly look behind them at what was left in the wake of their misguided zealotry.

“I hate to give this analogy, but they sell photographs, or posters, that you’re supposed to see a dolphin in, but you don’t notice it till you look at it for a long time and then there’s the dolphin,” Geier said. “Well, that was those tread marks.”

Day 22 – The Science of Ignoring Science

The majority of the proceedings on the twenty-second day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four centered around the testimony of Trooper Lance Dahlke.

scienceisbadDahlke was introduced as a witness to attack the credibility of the Alaska State Troopers who handled the investigation into the original case and testified that their investigation, conducted under the supervision of Adrienne Bachman, and ultimately testified that their investigation supported the innocence of the Fairbanks Four. Their testimony was a huge blow to the State’s case. The troopers were the state’s own investigators and they not only testified to the defects in the original case, that their investigation supported the innocence of the Fairbanks Four, guilt of the others named, improbability of the original eye witnesses testimony being correct, but also implicated their own supervisor and State prosecutor Adrienne Bachman in misconduct during their investigation. Some time into their investigation, as it became clear to Bachman that they were not going to produce a conclusion in her favor she allegedly terminated the investigation. In apparent anticipation of the trooper’s damning testimony the prosecutors brought in Dahlke to review the work of the troopers.

So, why would Dahlke be the right man for the job? He does not seem like a corrupt man, just one with a morally insurmountable bias. Dahlke was the trooper who investigated and ultimately arranged for considerable leniency in the murders Jason Wallace committed. As such, Dahlke certainly has a vested interest in confirming his original conclusion – that Wallace was a one-time offender whose crime was largely circumstantial and who was a candidate for immunity and leniency. In all reality, it was a terrible call, and that was painfully obvious as the Dahlke testimony continued. Dahlke read portions of Walalce’s interrogation when he flattered the trooper transparently

“I have never trusted anyone in my life, but I trust you. I look into your eyes and see a good man, God is telling me to trust you,” Wallace dripped.

The investigator described driving Wallace to the place where he disposed of the hammer used to kill unarmed friend Teacka Bacote. Wallace, he said, pointed to the snow bank, and the bloody hammer was retrieved. Dahlke testified that he then took Wallace out for McDonald’s, as he knew Wallace would be going to prison and not getting a burger for a long time. Um… You know who will never have another burger ever again? All of the people who Wallace killed. It is truly unthinkable that a serial killer was rewarded with a happy meal for guiding investigators to the bloody hammer he used to kill a woman.

And as for the hammer, Bachman lead Dahlke down a line of questioning that ultimately led to the trooper justifying the hammer as a murder weapon. Petitioner’s attorneys have referenced the murder of Bacote as unnecessarily brutal. But, Dahlke argued, it made sense for Wallace to not use the .40 caliber gun intended for the murder but the hammer, “because it would be quieter in the fully occupied apartment complex.” You know, the one fully occupied with human beings Wallace attempted to burn alive a few hours later. Not only is there not rationale for killing an unarmed woman with a hammer, we will state the obvious: gunshots make noise, but so do the screams of a woman who wakes up to a fatal hammer attack.

It is not surprising that those who worked closely with Wallace were so persuaded by him, perhaps even fond of him. It is because Wallace moved them around like human objects. That is his game. Wallace is a high functioning and manipulative psychopath who manipulated the investigators he was working with in 2002 into providing him very lenient prosecution, immunity, and all manner of favorable treatment. His co-defendant, who killed two adult male drug dealers, received a double life sentence with no chance of parole. Wallace, who killed an unarmed woman with a hammer, stabbed a friend with a screwdriver before returning to the woman’s corpse to set it ablaze in a fully occupied apartment building, and then boarded a plane bound for a campground where he planned to kill a man, woman, and eight year old little girl, may be eligible for release as early as 2025 due to the investigator’s judgement that he was trustworthy. He provided testimony against his codefendant and was handsomely rewarded. The notion that he killed John Hartman, likely killed Mahogany Davis, and threatened to kill several others, demonstrates that Wallace is the most dangerous kind of offender and calls into question the judgment of the officers who judged him rehabilitatable. Dahlke was one of those men.

So…now it is time to use one of Bachman’s favorite terms correctly. Dahlke was very prone to what is called confirmation bias. That is, Dahlke has a desire to confirm his original judgment, and with that bias is likely to seek information that confirms his theory and ignore information which contradicts it. Which is why Dahlke was an obvious yet very inappropriate choice for the unnecessary double-check of the troopers who made the state mad.

What did Dahlke find? One planted but irrelevant ten-dollar bill and “dirt” that labs confirmed was not only irrelevant, but not actually dirt.

Marvin Roberts car was taken apart and tested six ways to Sunday in 1997 and 1998, and then again in 2001. Cold case troopers looked at it again in 2013 and 2014. And then, Adrienne Bachman and Jim Geier, the prosecutor tasked with upholding the convictions and one of the primary detectives who achieved them, led Lance Dahlke back to the car. There, in plain sight, apparently invisible in all previous photographs and inspections, was a ten-dollar bill, and Dahlke “found” it. This was a transparent and pathetic attempt at evidence planting and we are confident that he ten-dollar bill will some day be an important exhibit….in the investigation into the misconduct of Geier and Bachman. While Dahlke was on the stand Bachman pointed to original testimony that John Hartman’s mother had given the boy a ten-dollar bill on the day he was killed. She failed to mention, or perhaps did not realize, that Hartman took the ten-dollar bill to McDonalds and a corner store. The ten-dollar bill was relevant only in an exhibition of how desperately far the state will go. The discovery of the ten-dollar bill was also meant to discredit the work of the troopers, insinuating that they should have found it. Had it been there, we imagine they would have.

The next portion of Dahlke’s testimony was even stranger. Dahlke also testified that when he examined John Hartman’s pants he saw dirt. No previous investigators, nor the troopers currently assigned, had ever seen the dirt in the photographs. But Dahlke felt certain that there was dirt visible in the photos of the young victim’s pants. Dahlke also saw, under eighteen years of dust, markings on the hood of Marvin Robert’s car that he believed matched the corduroy pattern of John Hartman’s pants. He testified that he saw these things, the other two troopers did not, and that they were not willing to send the car hood and pants to a lab for trace soil matching forensic testing. Ostensibly, this testimony was meant to hint that there may be missed physical evidence, and that the cold case troopers ignored that. But the train of argument fell apart in a rather complete fashion when the petitioners revealed that the hood and the pants had indeed been tested. The “dirt” Dahlke saw on the pants? Not dirt, the lab concluded, just a discoloration in the blue pants because of wear. It did not match the dirt on the car because it was not dirt. There was, of course, no new physical evidence linking the Fairbanks Four to the Hartman crime, just as there has never been physical evidence, because they are innocent.

sciencedenialBachman argued against the admission of the lab results from the test she herself had ordered. The state does not want science in the courtroom when the forensics of police officer’s imaginations are available. Not a new strategy, just a crappy one.

Previous to his testimony, Dahlke had not seen the lab report. It was a strange and sad scene, and left the impression that the state had encouraged and validated Dahlke’s theory to strengthen his testimony but withheld the forensics from him. In all, it was just another wasted day. And Dahlke did not come off like a bad guy. He came off like a guy who is easily manipulated by people like Jason Wallace or Aaron Ring, and had been used by Bachman in a rather pathetic attempt to dodge actual science and replace it will contaminated and biased theory.

And that is the science of pretending there is no science.

And that is the art of pretending that killing a woman with a hammer is okay, if the person talks nice afterward.

Days 20 and 21 – Aaron Ring Returns to Court in Fairbanks Four Case

Days 20 and 21

ring, aaron on standAaron Ring was the star witness in two days of testimony characterized by a long cross-examination heavy on video and audio from the original case.

Ring, the lead detective during the original investigation, has come under severe scrutiny during the hearings in the proceedings the Fairbanks Four hope will lead to their exoneration. A former FBI agent testified that Ring used improper interrogation techniques and failed to investigate the murder properly. Two cold case Alaska State troopers who investigated directly under the prosecutor Adrienne Bachman turned on the state and provided damning testimony. The troopers criticized ring’s work as well, and were especially critical of the aggressive prolonged interrogations of alibi witnesses. The three weeks that preceded Ring’s testimony not only undermined his original work but painted a picture of an investigation so off track that it reinforced the long-held belief by Fairbanks Four supporters that the wrongful conviction was a result of misconduct, fraud, and corruption as opposed to error.

Ring took the stand to defend his work. He testified that he remained confident in the quality of the investigation, and that he was a calm and patient man who kept a respectful demeanor while questioning suspects or witnesses. He reiterated that he was sure he had the right people, based on the information he gained in interrogation, and specific clues. Eugene Vent, he reminded the court, admitted to having gum. An unopened pack of gum was also found at the crime scene. Ring admitted to using “portions” of the Reid Method, and generally insisted that his demeanor had been nonthreatening and that the children being interviewed had supplied him the information.

ring, aaron 2015The cross-examination of Aaron Ring was methodical and almost painful to watch. Cross-examination followed the case in chronological order and walked through Ring’s participation in the investigation from the beginning moments through the eventual convictions of the men. It was death by a thousand cuts, as Dorsey and Whitney attorney Jahna Lindemuth painstakingly revealed one inconsistency after another – the officer’s statements of his qualifications or training versus reality, his recounting of order versus the record, the hours long interviews he admitted to and witnesses testified to versus the recordings that sometimes spanned only minutes, and aggressive questioning of how Ring came to be so certain.

Ring came under relentless questioning regarding his misrepresentation of the physical evidence in order to achieve an indictment in the case. He attempted to defend his false grand jury testimony, during which he testified that there was physical evidence linking the four to the crime. It was one of many attacks regarding Ring’s false characterization of evidence in the case.

“We saw the match,” he said, insinuating that his belief there was a match between wounds and footwear was itself physical evidence.

“Yeah, but there are forensics to back that,” Lindemuth countered. “And there were no forensics on the sexual assault yet either were there?”

“Uh..there had been a sexual assault exam and I think there was findings,” Ring answered.

“There were no forensics. And you said, ‘forensics.'”

But perhaps most damningly, audio of the actual interrogations which provided a sharp contrast against the calm demeanor and subject-directed interviews Ring had described. In the audio Ring can be heard yelling at witnesses, threatening them with arrest, demanding that they not interrupt him, that they agree with him, and so on. The audiotapes verified the accounts given by the now-adult alibi witnesses that they were threatened and harassed.

Lindemuth played interviews with three teenage girls, questioned alone and without their parents present. Audio revealed what these now grown women testified to earlier in the trial – that they experienced threatening and terrifying accusatory interrogation performed on children. It confirmed the testimony of the FBI agent and Alaska State Troopers. In fact, the only witness who seemed to think Aaron Ring was calm, investigated appropriately, or professional was Aaron Ring.

Many of the young people who were interviewed during the original case, now on the cusp of middle age with teenage children of their own, sat in the gallery of the courtroom during Ring’s testimony. If he recognized them from the witness stand or had any grasp on the impact he had on their lives, his face did not betray it.

timeschanging“I spent more than half of my life now thinking about that man, having the bad dreams, and the hard memories of this man,” one of the alibi witnesses said. “And he was just a man. Not a good man, but just a man.  I have been afraid for, what, eighteen years? Afraid of seeing him again. So I kept wondering why I wasn’t scared after all when he walked in. And I think it’s because I am an adult now. I thought back then I was grown, but I was a little girl then. To hear the tapes I didn’t feel like this happened to me, I felt like it happened to a little kid because it did.  And we cannot allow people in power to do this to our kids. It was good to see him, because I think all I wanted was to see him when he didn’t have power over me. It’s not a little girl and a police officer. It’s a strong woman and a weak man. I have the power now.”

State of Alaska Conspires With Serial Killer. Gross.

Wallace, JasonJason Wallace is the man whom a litany of witnesses have testified in the last weeks is actually responsible for the brutal 1997 stomping death of fifteen-year-old Jonathan Hartman. Many, including fellow killer and crime partner William Holmes, along with Wallace’s own public defender, and the Alaska State Troopers who investigated the case following accusations of wrongful conviction, have fingered Jason Wallace as the aggressor in the unprovoked fatal assault that left one child dead and a community in an uproar. Four other men, known as the Fairbanks Four, have spent the last eighteen years in prison for the crime. The four have maintained their innocence even in the face of plea deals and offers of parole, and with the help of the Alaska Innocence Project were able to begin an extremely robust case a few weeks ago arguing for their innocence and the guilt of another group of men. Jason Wallace testified during the 19th and 20th day of proceedings.

Despite the incredible evidence of their innocence, and in the face of incredible public outcry, the State of Alaska continues to fight to uphold the convictions at all costs. In the most controversial and despicable strategic move yet the State of Alaska granted immunity to Jason Wallace in exchange for his testimony. Unlike William Holmes, who was given a lie detector to prove he was telling the truth about killing Hartman (which he of course passed) or Marvin Roberts who was given a lie detector to prove he as telling the truth about his innocence (which he of course passed), Wallace was not given a lie detector test, not one witness corroborated his testimony, and there has been no indication that the truth was ever something the State of Alaska wanted from Wallace. Instead, Wallace was brought in to lie, and lie he did. Even the immunity deal itself demonstrates that the State of Alaska knows Wallace killed Hartman. An innocent man would not need immunity against prosecution of a murder in order to discuss it. Without the immunity, Wallace previously plead the 5th, and refused to answer questions

We predicted Wallace’s testimony and the circumstances that led up to it the day we learned he would testify. It is getting wearisome to be right about such terrible things. Wallace did exactly what we predicted he would do, but with less skill than we feared, and more show-boating of his deranged mind than we expected.

Jason Wallace sauntered into the courtroom in a gray suit, a purple button-up shirt, and a garish bow tie, in an immediate contrast in demeanor and appearance to the Fairbanks Four, who were not allowed to wear street clothes from the jail but arrived in prison uniforms and changed into modest white shirts immediately before their testimony. It was clear from the moment he entered the court room that Wallace was enjoying the perks of being a state witness.

Wallace took the stand, and special prosecutor Adrienne Bachman, who stated that she had “no idea” what Wallace would testify and denied all accusations of having negotiated his testimony and immunity below board, opened Wallace’s questioning with an affected speech on the importance of telling the truth.

“You have nothing to lose here unless you provide false testimony. Those are the rules. If you provide false testimony you can be prosecuted for the false testimony,” she said.

Wallace smiled, looked back at her, and said “Okay.”

Wallace had plenty reasons to smile. His testimony guaranteed he would never be prosecuted for killing John Hartman, despite nearly a dozen witnesses whose testimony implicated him in the crime, including one fellow participant and four individuals he is reported to have independently confessed to. And the chances of the same entity that granted him immunity for his lies attacking him for those lies is slim at best, and Wallace knew all of that as he took the stand smiling. Wallace was in comfortable territory.

The convicted killer in the fancy suit and bow tie brought with him into the courtroom a long history of manipulating the system for personal gain – to achieve immunity, intimidate those around him, and a criminal history so disturbing but clinically predictable that any armchair psychologist could diagnose him as psychopathic.

psychopath1Psychopaths have defective emotional ranges – they do not experience normal levels of guilt, shame, or fear. They also do not attach to or relate to other human beings in a normal fashion. Psychopaths experience very transitory and self-serving attachments and tend to look at human beings as objects and therefore can engage in extreme violence without emotional upset and in fact may enjoy such acts. Research consistently demonstrates that psychopaths are often participants in instrumental (calculated) violence as opposed to impulsive violence, and are far more likely than a typical offender to re-offend, and contrary to popular belief psychopaths are very likely to participate in group violence – typically as ringleaders. Participation in group violence allows psychopaths to defer blame, and provides another set of ready victims, as psychopaths enjoy exercising control. Psychopaths are sophisticated manipulators. Jason Wallace’s entire biography and criminal history indicates that he is a psychopath, and indeed his contrived testimony, odd demeanor, and apparent enjoyment of the process further indicate that he is indeed a psychopath and that the State of Alaska has very willingly made him a partner in an effort to commit the continued crime of wrongful imprisonment of the Fairbanks Four.

Wallace took the stand and proceeded to deny knowing anyone who testified against him and knowing anything about the Hartman murder. According to Wallace, he did not know any of the people who testified against or about him. He claimed he did not know and had never heard of Scott Davison or Matt Ellsworth, and even denied knowing his own attorney investigator. Wallace did not admit a relationship to anyone identified from his past against him besides his former co-defendant William Holmes. Wallace testified that he had never heard of the Hartman murder despite it being one of the highest profiles crimes in the community he lived in, until he was accused of it some two years ago. Wallace insisted that every witness who implicated him was lying and that he alone was telling the truth.

The good news about the Wallace testimony is that Wallace did not tell clever lies. His testimony was so dishonest that it was more a study in the psychology of a depraved killer and an equally sick justice system than it was information relevant to proceedings.

Under cross-examination by Robert Bundy, probono attorney with international firm Dorsey and Whitney, Wallace was defiant, and consistently threw out ten-dollar words confidently but with absolute disregard to their meaning. He reiterated that he was a witness for the state because he “cannot walk up here upon my volition.” When the petitioner’s attorneys brought up that Wallace had invoked his right against self-incrimination and refused to cooperate without immunity, Wallace responded that was because “you (Bundy) are doing, and all your constituents will, make me look like a terrible person.” Yet he said it all with the animated confidence of a person who cannot feel remorse nor grasp his own short comings. Jason Wallace barely faltered because unlike a normal person psychopaths do not experience the shame and fear associated with lying.

Wallace’s swagger and demeanor were striking. He smiled and giggled, scoffed and performed. As cross-examination threatened his composure a few times he looked toward his attorney Jason Gazewood as an actor asking a director for a line.

When Bundy confronted Wallace with inconsistencies in his stories (and there were many – from denying a car accident and previous arrests to lies about high school attendance), Wallace’s confidence faded some.

Bundy confronted him with the details of one of is brutal crimes – “Teacka was sleeping when you entered her house, wasn’t she? And then you hit her in the head with a hammer, again and again, didn’t you?”

Wallace simply answered an unemotional, “Yes.”

Cross-examination underscored the obvious – Jason Wallace’s testimony was false, and just like in his previous calculated immunity deals, his testimony was created simply for his own personal gain without regard to anyone or anything else. Cross established that Wallace struck his first immunity deals under false pretenses, pretending to be worried about his then-wife, and that those immunity deals protected him from prosecution in arson, conspiracy to commit murder, including the murder of an eight year old little girl, attempted murder, and more, in exchange for providing testimony favorable to the state. The state would not allow Wallace to answer whether or not he had been promised their support in his parole efforts, although it is widely known that this level of cooperation with state officials could win him the earliest possible parole date of 2025. It was clear that Wallace brokered immunity deals after he brutally killed a woman with a hammer, stabbed a man with a screwdriver, started a full apartment complex on fire, and was arrested on his way to kill an entire family. Those immunity deals all led to the outcome Wallace wanted – the potential for early parole. Despite having committed murders in his twenties that should surely see a person sentenced to life, Wallace could see parole at 45 years old. A conviction in the Hartman murder would destroy any hope of Wallace ever being released, and even strong implications of guilt could interfere with his parole. As Bundy continued to ask questions a picture emerged of Wallace negotiating yet another immunity deal to not only avoid consequences but achieve early parole.

We cannot overstate how incredibly disgusting this all is. John Hartman and his family deserve vastly more respect than for the possibility of Wallace’s conviction to be tossed aside as if it were not more significant than a used tissue. Those who bravely came forward to testify against Wallace ought to be able to live out their lives knowing he will never get out of prison,The State of Alaska has thrown away any regard for the human beings involved in this case with as much regard as Wallace showed when he killed a child, a woman, a friend, and plotted to kill a family. It is hard to imagine a more disturbed system or person than the Alaska justice system and Jason Wallace as they were shown in court. And at the end of the day, Jason Wallace is what he is. If someone sets a rabid dog loose in a playground the dog is not to blame for what comes next. The one holding the leash, the one who knows better, the one who wanted this pet – that is the State of Alaska, and they are more responsible for what comes next out of Wallace than even he is, because they have seen his nature and chose to make the deal.

An action as depraved as the one seen in Alaska courts through the immunity deal with Wallace deserves to be responded to. We will end this post with a series of promises, and assure you we will keep them all.

  • We will see than any elected official who has accountability in this decision does not see re-election, with special attention to Governor Bill Walker who appears to have forgotten entirely that he would not be Governor without the Native vote.
  • We will fight until we prevail to see that Jason Wallace does not get any form of early release. We will do everything we can to see the illegal, disgusting immunity deal revoked and justice for John Hartman. We will see Wallace prosecuted for perjury.
  • We will stand up for the witnesses who fear for their lives, and to whom the state through this immunity action very resoundingly refused to safeguard. Testifying against a man who killed a child is THE RIGHT THING TO DO. We will see that you do not come to harm for doing the right thing.
  • We will ensure the department of law takes action to investigate the conduct of the attorneys, prosecutors, elected officials, attorney general, Alaska Department of law, and every individual from the original case and the present case who behaved in violation of the law or their respective codes of conduct. We will see that those people are held accountable to the fullest extent possible. To be clear, we are talking about Aaron Ring, Jim Geier, Jeff O’Bryant, Scott Mattern, Adrienne Bachman, Jason Gazewood, and anyone who assisted them. We will hold you accountable.Someday, when other professionals consider engaging in similar conduct, you will be the cautionary tale.
  • If it takes us 18 more years, and our children 18 more, and 18 more, and their children more years than we can fathom, we will correct this injustice and do what we can to stop the corruption that destroys lives, steals children, and goes unanswered. We will answer it. And we will not lose, because we raise our children to fight, and you raise yours to lie and hide.
  • We will love life. We will not be bitter, and we will not be angry. We will never let this kind of thing cast a shadow over us and in fact, we will love the light all the more for having glimpsed your darkness. And there, we will find gratitude for what injustice has shown us – the beauty of humanity and the importance of justice.

Day 19 – State Witness Stuns Courtroom, Backfires in Fairbanks Four Case

Day 19, October 30, 2015

Ellsworth, MattThe nineteenth day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four bid for exoneration opened with the jaw-dropping testimony of witness Matt Ellsworth.

In 2011, Scott Davison came forward to the Innocence Project with information that altered the outlook for the Fairbanks Four. He reluctantly told a story of how in 1997, as a high school student, he and friend Matt Ellsworth were heading out of the Lathrop High School parking lot to ditch school and smoke pot in the bowling alley parking lot nearby. Jason Wallace, and acquaintance to both boys, jumped in the car. Once parked at the bowling alley, Davison said, Wallace held up a newspaper detailing the Hartman murder and told Davison and Ellsworth that he had killed Hartman.

Records indicate that as Davison entered adulthood he led a life troubled by addiction and frequent arrests for petty crimes. When the Alaska Innocence Project filed their post conviction relief filing with his testimony in it, he became the target of attacks by the State of Alaska, aimed at discrediting him through character assassination. To make matters worse, when Ellsworth was contacted by investigators he denied knowing Wallace or Davison, and claimed the events described by Davison simply never happened. This strengthened the attack on Davison The State of Alaska called Ellsworth to the stand to discredit the testimony of Scott Davison and Matt Ellsworth’s denial of the Davison narrative was expected to be a serious blow to Davison’s credibility. But there under oath, facing Marvin Roberts, a man who spent the last eighteen years in prison because of a lie, Matt Ellsworth decided to tell the truth.

When questioning came to the critical point – whether or not anything of note had ever happened while ditching school and smoking pot by the bowling alley – Ellsworth took a long pause, then finally spoke,

hardtruth“There is one time that stands out. “There was a story that led up to an event. A past, recent crime. A recent murder. A young caucasian boy who was beaten to death by….by…” Ellsworth took a long pause before finishing, “By Jason Wallace. He made statements referring to this crime, that he was involved. And he stated, I remember, if I find out that anybody – and I am paraphrasing – tells anyone else, then I’ll end their life…I’ll kill you…I would make sure the person doesn’t live.”

The flabbergasted state prosecutors tried to land on their feet, but it was evident that the Ellsworth testimony came as a complete shock. The demanded to know, over and over, why Ellsworth was changing his story, as he had previously told investigators who called on the phone that he knew nothing about it. Ellsworth admitted that he lied to the investigator who called, out of a desire to stay away from the issue, but mostly because he was scared for his life.

“I felt the need to say something. I am under oath in a court,” Ellsworth said.

When it came time for the petitioner’s attorneys to cross-examine Ellsworth one simply rose and said, “no further questions, your honor.”

Real-life courtroom moments like the Ellsworth testimony are uncommon and his under oath turnaround certainly stunned the attorneys as well as observers. It took tremendous courage to speak out about what he heard back in 1997. Witness after witness has expressed fear for their life and safety for testifying against Jason Wallace. The witnesses who knew Wallace are unified in their belief that he will retaliate against them, and that the State of Alaska will not protect them. Sadly, they are right about the latter point. Instead of dismissing charges against the Fairbanks Four and pursuing the prosecution of serial killer Jason Wallace with vigor, the State of Alaska granted him immunity, bought him a few new suits, dressed him up, and paraded around their star witness with no regard whatsoever to the people who will be in danger when their truly dangerous pet is set free.

In a move which we predicted, but still find entirely disgusting, the State of Alaska brought child-killer Jason Wallace to court not to be prosecuted, but as their new lap dog. For the sake of brevity, we will condense all of Wallace’s testimony to its own post you can read HERE.  But in a nutshell, Wallace denied knowing anyone, knowing anything, ever hearing of the Hartman murder, and insisted that despite a long line of credible and diverse witnesses whose testimony implicated him, they were all lying, and he alone was telling the truth.

Matt Ellsworth’s courage shone brightly. His honesty was the perfect contrast to Wallace’s incredible dishonesty, and the state’s witness ultimately strengthened the case for innocence greatly. Wherever you are Matt Ellsworth, thank you. Please do not feel afraid. There is a power greater, wiser, bigger than men like Jason Wallace, and you are in the hearts of many who have prayed these eighteen years for men like you to find their voice, and they will continue to ask for your protection and reward. You did a hard thing. A beautiful and decent hard thing, and we are glad we were there to see it.

Newsminer Day 19 Coverage

Day 18 – State Calls the Mother of Marvin Roberts, Brother of John Hartman

Day 18 – October 29, 2015

The State of Alaska called Hazel Roberts, the mother of accused Marvin Roberts, as the first witness of the day. In disjointed and wandering videotaped testimony aired earlier in the week, former Roberts acquaintance Margaretta Hoffman claimed that on the night John Hartman was killed she was at the Roberts home doing cocaine, getting drunk, and was ultimately part of a conspiracy to throw away shoes. Hoffman, a self-confessed user of methamphetamine and cocaine since 1993, provided testimony which did not comply with any testimony given by any others in the case. Hazel Roberts was called to the witness stand in response to the Hoffman claims and reiterated her original testimony, which matches those of the other household members and has been consistent from her first contact with police in 1997 through today. She knew Hoffman, Roberts said, and did hang out with her a few times, but not the night in question. None of the things Hoffman testified to happened. When a 19-year-old Marvin Roberts came home the night in question everyone was in bed, there was no remarkable entrance, no shoes thrown out, nothing but a quiet return. Marvin Roberts turned off the light above the stove and went to bed.

The testimony of Hazel Roberts was followed by Chris “Sean” Kelly, John Hartman’s brother. Although in earlier filings special prosecutor described Sean Kelly’s testimony as “words he could never forget,” and indicated some absolute proof would come from Kelly as to the guilt of the Fairbanks Four, his testimony was focused mostly on forgotten words, gaps, heartbreak, confusion.

KellyKelly took the stand dressed in gray, his clean-cut and angular face unmistakably similar to the pictures of victim John Hartman. Unlike Hartman, who has remained frozen at the entrance to adolescence in his death, the years were evident on Sean Kelly, who is no longer the lanky teen brother from the original case footage, but a middle-aged man.

Kelly testified that shortly after his brother’s death he was incarcerated at Fairbanks Correctional Center with the Fairbanks Four. According to Kelly, he approached Eugene Vent one night and confronted him. Kelly recalls Vent saying, “We didn’t know that was your little brother.” Kelly was unclear on any other words exchanged. To the clear frustration of Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman, he could not recall portions of earlier statements about the incident. Bachman alleged that Eugene Vent had made more incriminating confessional statements to Kelly.

“It didn’t go down like that, I wouldn’t…No, that’s….it’s not what I remember,” Kelly said.

“It would help that the truth comes out, no matter what. I would like some closure,” Kelly said in an interview after testimony.

After his testimony was complete Kelly discussed the process with reporter Stephanie Woodard. He said that testifying brings back the pain of his brother’s murder. He talked about his mother crying, this very specific and unforgettable cry, a bedside vigil for a beloved little brother who was so brutally attacked that footprints remained on his skin.

Chris “Sean” Kelly seems to still believe that the right men are in prison for his brother’s death. Petitioner’s attorney Whitney Glover attempted to open with condolences from her clients to Kelly, which he bristled at. After a long list evidence pointing toward the alternative suspects, Kelly countered, “well they’re not the ones sitting in jail for it.”

And if Kelly believes the right men are in prison, that is okay. None of us can possibly imagine what it would be like to live through what he has. He lost a baby brother at the hands of really horrible people who committed a disgusting awful unthinkable crime. The pain of losing a loved one to that kind of violence is beyond understanding. In his grief and pain he was assured by the people in power that his brother would get justice, that they had the right guys, and those guys would pay. It is only natural that he is attached to the story, it is how they made sense from something that does not make sense. There is a life path for him, he is on it, and if God sees fit to change Kelly’s mind he will. Until then, we hope advocates for the Fairbanks Four can see Kelly simply as a grieving man who suffered a serious loss, who is willing to face it down, remember his brother with honor, and a man who deserves our kindness.

For eighteen long years this case has never, despite the sincerest desires of the State of Alaska, “gone away.” For John Hartman’s family the violence that took their loved one remains splashed across headlines, a hot topic on social media, the subject of films. It must be extremely painful.

Injustice reaches across many lives and leaves much pain in its wake. It is time for the story of this injustice to end.

Day 17 – Former District Attorney Comes Under Fire

addupIn the seventeenth day of the proceedings we saw a few more state witnesses backfire and support claims of innocence, and another tape of an unavailable and clearly mentally ill person. The state’s case is a litany of witnesses who are mentally ill, testifying to unrelated issues, or there to defend their own reputation.

The State of Alaska began day seventeen with the completion of the Margaretta Hoffman testimony (read HERE) and then moved on to a series of former DA’s and a police officer. All were called in relation to how the handled the 2011 Holmes confession in the case.

Former district Attorney Scott Mattern was methodically and relentlessly questioned during cross-examination by Kate Demarest, one of the attorneys comprising the pro bono team from the international Dorsey and Whitney firm. In his initial testimony Mattern stated that he did not investigate or pursue the 2011 confession to John Hartman’s killing by William Holmes because he did not find it credible.

“That’s because, if I’m understanding you correctly, you found it not credible that the two guys, Holmes and Wallace, who had murdered three people together in 2002 could have also murdered someone else in 1997?” Demarest asked.

Mattern’s testimony was characterized by repeated angry outbursts. He stammered under continued questioning and presentation of exhibit after exhibit, including an email from a police officer directly asking Mattern if the evidence should be disclosed, that contradicted his testimony. Mattern was followed by fellow former DA and his supervisor at the time, Michael Gray, who testified that Mattern was exclusively responsible for handling the question. Under cross-examination Gray stated that Mattern should have “done something about” the confession.

Through cross-examination, while Mattern attempted to redirect and redirect into conversation about why he did not launch an in-depth investigation into the Holmes confession when he received it, it was revealed repeatedly that whether Mattern felt like investigating the information was beside the point. He had no responsibility to investigate it, but had a legal and ethical obligation to hand it over to the Fairbanks Four’s attorneys. His thoughts on the exculpatory evidence were not important in the least, the fact that it was clearly exculpatory evidence mattered, and after enough questioning the flustered DA simply could not rationalize the failure to act.

Mattern and Gray, whose testimony underscored the systematic failure and incredible denial in the case, were followed by Detective Nolan of the Fairbanks Police Department. Nolan, unlike the prosecutors, testified that he should have investigated the confession and simply did not. He acknowledged that it was a failure, and essentially admitted to having made a mistake. Nolan’s honesty and candid testimony were refreshing because although he did not take action he did not bother with the DA’s approach of pretending that was okay.

The attorneys and detective were followed by Paul Solomon, a man who claimed the petitioners assaulted him early in the day that Hartman was eventually killed. He knew none of the men and came forward while drunk during an arrest in 2013. Solomon’s testimony was videotaped as he was not willing or available to testify in court, as has been the case with the other witnesses for the state who offer similar statements. Solomon contradicted himself repeatedly even in the brief videotape.In a nutshell, however, he testified that early in the day of October 10, 1997 (he later said he could not remember the day) he came out of the Cabaret bar with a blonde woman whom he cannot identify. He said that when he came out the Fairbanks Four were standing there and asked him for a cigarette. He replied that he did not smoke. According to Solomon, the four then attacked him, but he was able to land punches on at least three. He says he filed a police report (no record) and that the other bar patrons saw it (no one has ever come forward).

Once again, when the Solomon testimony was finished, we were flooded with messages from people who know him, including is own family members, who reported that he is mentally ill and a chronic alcoholic. He is also a relative of Veronica Solomon, who provided equally strange testimony in the case. Both of the Solomon witnesses provided testimony which essentially nullified itself through many inconsistencies and credibility issues with the speaker.

In all, the day did little to move the state’s case against exoneration forward.

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 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