Big Bad Wolf VI – Marquez Pennington and John Hartman’s Murder


Marquez Pennington

When William Holmes confessed to his role in the brutal murder of John Hartman, he named four accomplices: Jason Wallace, Rashan Brown, Shelmar Johnson, and Marquez Pennington. The press, as a rule, has excluded mention of the two named by Holmes who are not in prison. Holmes, Wallace, and Brown are all serving time for murders they committed as individuals. Pennington and Johnson are free and residing at least part-time in Alaska. We do not see any reason to shelter them and have never excluded them from reference.

Mr. Pennington appears to have used the eighteen years that have elapsed since his alleged participation in the beating death of John Hartman to pursue other criminal activity. His criminal record is extensive. Marquez Pennington has been arrested more than 30 times between 1998 and 2012, or 2.14 times per year. His record can be viewed HERE. These arrests have often contained multiple charges, and his record exposes a long history of drug sales, use, and violence. Despite many significant charges being brought against him, including multiple drug related felonies, Mr. Pennington has apparently avoided harsh prosecution. He did serve some time in prison alongside the men currently incarcerated for the murder of John Hartman, and was apparently unmoved by the process of looking innocent men serving time for his sins in they eye.


Marquez “QB” Pennington

In addition to his relatively brazen work as a drug dealer apparently conducted without significant law enforcement interference, Mr. Pennington has enjoyed a long if unremarkable career as an amateur hip-hop artist. When rapping, Marquez Pennington goes by the stage name “Q.B.” and “Q.B. of Choldhustle.” His work appears on Myspace, and a compilation album titled “Interior’s Most Wanted,” produced by Redd Dott studios, or Alaska Redd, the studio of Josh “Red” Silva, a Fairbanks rapper who has collaborated with Marquez Pennington as well as Bill Holmes and Shelmar Johnson. On this particular album, distressingly dedicated to both William Holmes and his slain ex-girlfriend Mahogany Davis, Marquez Pennington is featured as Coldhustle. Other self-imposed monikers associated with the middle-aged Pennington include Cube, Q, Quadruple, and so on.

Holmes is not the only source who links Pennington to the murder of John Hartman.

A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity relayed the following story about  Mr. Pennington:

“In 1998, early 1998 I think, I was in FYF (Fairbanks Youth facility – the local juvenile detention center) with Marquez. Everyone knew he killed Hartman. He told people, he bragged about it, that they curb stomped this kid. And here, we were doing time for little stuff. Curfew, weed, drinking. Nothing big. And he was getting out ahead of us, before all of us. We were there and he was leaving, and that’s when I remember hearing about it. Because that was what caused people to really talk, their frustration that a murderer is just walking out the door. Guys being like, man that’s messed up, killers getting out of here and we are stuck here. No one thought it was okay what he did, but we were just young and scared. Still scared. When a person will do that to a little for nothing what would they do to you?”

A recent filing on behalf of the Fairbanks Four revealed another source linking Marquez Pennington to Hartman’s murder. According to the filing, Fairbanks man Takory Stern contacted investigators in March 2014 and requested a meeting. Once there, he gave statements indicating that Marquez Pennington had confessed to his role in the murder directly to him in 1997. At the time Stern would have been 14 years old. The officer who conducted the interview recorded only small portions of the interview. In this article about the statement, Officer Avery Thompson alleges that it is normal practice to only record portions of interviews. It seems contrary to basic investigative skill to record a statement only partially, but it is safe to say that for this case at least, it is routine for interviews to be truncated, partially recorded, or missing altogether.

Takory Stern is reported to have killed himself during a police chase several months after giving his statement. Whatever his troubles, we are grateful that he chose to do the right thing and come forward with his information, and glad he was able to relieve himself of this burden before his time on Earth was finished. It was clear from his obituary that he was very loved and is missed.

holmesMarquez Pennington is a man with a long criminal record who has been named as the killer of John Hartman by one of his accomplices and other witnesses. He is a resident of Fairbanks and North Pole, Alaska, and remains entirely free in the community he has been harming since at least 1997. In the Holmes account of the Hartman killing, Marquez Pennington was rifling through John Hartman’s pockets when the young boy shook and went limp. In that story, a child’s soul fled his body during an act of unspeakable violence, and Pennington was there hoping to steal a few dollars. Someday, he will answer for that, and it would do him well to get right with his maker before that day comes.

Pennington was allegedly distressed at the events, screaming in the back seat as they sped away from the crime scene. It is sad, really, to consider he may have been a misguided but scared teenager in way over his head in 1997. It is sad to think about the man he may have been had he received the intervention as a boy he so clearly needed at the time, and the harm to others that it may have prevented. No one did Marquez Pennington any favors when they arrested the wrong men for the crime. As it stands, he has made no public comment about the murder of John Hartman. If the accounts of Stern and Holmes, who passed a lie detector when his claims were tested, are correct, then Marquez Pennington is also guilty of the murder of John Hartman, a 14-year-old young boy who was mercilessly kicked and stomped to death for no reason in October of 1997. If so, he has lived the last 18 years without a shred of decency or honor, failed to take responsibility for his actions, and sad idly by while innocent men do his time. It is way past time for Marquez Pennington to stand up like a man to whatever events took place in 1997, and it is our hope that he does. It is extremely unlikely that he or anyone will ever face charges for the killing of John Hartman – the State is unlikely to prosecute after 18 years of publicly taking the position that someone else did it. But Pennington and the others could still come forward like men and own their decisions, give peace to the family, and assist in justice for four innocent men.Time grows short. Please keep Marquez Pennington in your hopes, thoughts, prayers, dreams, or whatever you do. He still has time to come clean before the Fairbanks Four trial begins October 5, and if life is providing him a chance at redemption, let’s hope he takes it, steps into the light, and can live the remainder of his days out with some peace.

Marquez, if you read this, please look into your heart and ask yourself what the right thing to do is. Do that. Think about how 18 years would feel locked up for anything, let alone something you didn’t do. Think about George’s baby girl, 3 when he went away. George is a grandpa now, and he missed almost all of it. Trust that good does come from choosing the right thing. It is never too late to find forgiveness, and there is always more shame in hiding a truth than owning it. We are rooting for you, hoping for you, praying for you, believing in you. Please do what you believe in your heart to be right.

If you or anyone you know has information about Marquez Pennington and his role in the 1997 murder of John Hartman, please call Alaska Innocence Project at 907-279-0454, or Fairbanks Police at 456-2583. Please do ask that they record your entire interview.

A Thanksgiving Perspective from Alaska

Alaska. The tourists come here in buzzing clouds, thick and as transient as mosquitos. They are very old. They are in the twilight of their lives. The women have poofs of white hair and wear elastic banded blue jeans. Their husbands carry cameras and wear khaki explorer hats.They arrive on enormous cruise ships and travel the thin highways on guided bus tours and train tracks, led by bright-eyed college students spending their summer working as tour guides. The greatest generation, spending their carefully sequestered Alaska portion of their retirement account, shuffling on the gravel at every highway overlook, scanning the horizons with their binoculars in search of a bear, a moose, their history.  They all buy the same deep blue sweatshirt that says “Alaska: The Last Frontier,” in gold-embroidered letters. It is, after all, why they came  –  to see the Last Frontier. It calls to them because they come from places where the frontier has been conquered and settled and is gone now. Alaska is the last, the very last, American frontier.

There is a lot of magic in a name; part truth and part spell. The Last Frontier was bestowed carefully, a  tribute both to the land’s untamed expanses and America’s deep rooted nostalgia for the era of cowboys sleeping under the stars and teepees peppering the wide open plains. America misses the Last Frontier. The idea that our ancestors walked bravely into the unknown, carved trails through an unforgiving wilderness, and ultimately weaved from the fabric of drastically different cultures, hard work, and luck the world’s strongest country is a great story. Our story. It is written so deeply into our collective consciousness that we walk with it, always, so intrinsic that we forget it is there. All of those old men and women were children once, together in that November classroom to learn the story. We were all there. When winter began to bite through fall we carefully stapled together the wide brown band of construction paper and pasted bright feathers to our Indian head-dress. We glued the bright yellow paper buckle to our pilgrim hats while the teacher laid out the multi-colored corn and parents arrived for the feast. And there, divided only by our different paper hats, we acted out the story: pilgrims and Indians eating together. Pilgrims and Indians celebrating abundance, welcoming the winter, waiting for the thaw, for the spring when America would begin in earnest. Thankful. So very deeply thankful for not just a meal, but for what was to come.

The story of our bright beginning, the purest freedoms, the wide open plains, that story is deep in our bones now. But we know that it wasn’t that easy. We feel the ghosts of other, less often told stories, lurking in the periphery of that happy story. We close our eyes and see teepees burning. We know that the pilgrims won, and we know how. Sand Creek. Custer’s Last Stand. Trails and trails of blood and tears carved through what was the frontier, paved and perfected so that the wild could become America. We sense it – that when those early November’s frost chased away the last of the leaves and winter was moments away, thousands of children were placed in hard-dug graves, wheels of wagons crashed over tiny bones and ground them to dust, and the division was real. Some of us walk with those stories, too, as deeply written and as impossible  to shed as the first Thanksgiving. But those stories are heavier. Harder to carry.

For most of America, the stories get further away each season, until they are so far in the distance they are forgotten. The terrible ones remain untold until the words are hard to form and people are able to forget. But this is the Last Frontier, and here, the wagons must keep moving if America is to take root properly. Here it is sometimes America of golden arches and great bridges, but much of the time it is still cowboys and Indians.

In Alaska we are plagued with a terrible double vision, one we cannot make peace with. See, this is the America that learned from its past. This is the country that has progressed, where a million men marched, where a woman would not budge from her bus seat, where we can erradicate the past in order to form a more perfect union. And Alaska is part of that America. Yet, we are out of time in some ways. We are not as far along in our story, we are somehow still in the part where teepees must be burned and trails must be carved, even though we know the ending, even though McDonald’s is here before all the bison are dead. We are American enough that we believe ourselves to not be racist, to believe ourselves to be undivided. But when Martin Luther King had a dream, soldiers still came in the night to take Indian children out of their beds and send them away. Not a story from our ancestors, a story from our parents. It’s all wrong. Someone forgot to divide the Indians into reservations and erect copper likenesses of their murdered chiefs in the town squares. Someone forgot to build town squares. We are not divided enough to pretend convincingly that we are undivided. So, we have to play a kind of first Thanksgiving. America lays out the feast and shows us the colorful corn that could never grow in this soil. See here? America says. The proof that this is your story, too. Our story together. And we put on our technicolor feathers and flopping construction paper buckles and rehearse our happy meal. Pilgrims and Indians, cowboys and Indians, make believe until you believe.

Then, sometimes, something happens that breaks it all back open and the other stories come roaring alive. A boy, say, scalped on the streets, his blood staining snow, the last of his hot breath wisping into the late fall sky, life leaving him.

Men in cars with red and blue flashing lights, wearing badges and those black paper hats that were placed onto their heads so long ago that they have forgotten they are there. Still, right away they scan the horizon, begin looking for four Indian boys playing at warrior games, feathers like a shadow. The investigation is over now, before it has begun, because these men remember this story. They know how it ends already.

This story is very old. This is the story of America. This is the story of the Last Frontier, the very last. This is a story that you know already. This story was whispered to you once in the rustling of construction paper and dried corn. This is a sad story. Listen, listen.

Free the Fairbanks Four

The Beginning of Our Story

It is hard to introduce a story so specific yet universal, so young, yet so old. It is not enough to say that this is a blog about four young Native men wrongfully convicted of a brutal murder.

It is not enough to say that this blog is about racism or hate, or faith or hope. This is the story of Alaska. Of America. A story of injustice, a plea for help, for understanding, and above all a story of faith in the power of stories, of the truth. Writing this blog is an act of faith, a testimony to the power of the truth, spoken, read. We may not be experts in journalism, in law, or many other things. But the contributors here come from Alaska, from a culture that has a long tradition of storytelling, and a belief that the truth holds incredible power. This is a long story, and we will have to tell it the old way, the slow way, in pieces as they come.

In telling this story we hope to achieve one small justice for four men, but also to contribute to building justice for all Native people. For all people. In the weeks and months to come we will introduce a brutal murder, a shocking investigation, and the stories of heartbreak, determination, and hope from many people that have all sprung from one terrible night.