Who Killed John Hartman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do it anyways.

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

Hope – A Letter from George Frese


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

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

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

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

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

Always Hopin,

George Frese


Didn’t Do It – Poem by Eugene Vent

Eugene Vent, a short time before he was wrongfully convicted of murder.

Below is a poem by Eugene Vent. We included a picture of both handwritten pages and typed it for easier reading as well. Imagine the incredible grief and pain that would come from being wrongfully accused and incarcerated. All of the things you cannot do – hug someone, stand out in the snow and see the lights, eat a meal, run into a friend, hold a hand, see you home, your family, stand on the banks of the river. For Eugene that river would be the Koyukon. A few days ago I found myself heartsick for that sight – I haven’t seen it in a few years, and then it dawned on me that Eugene has not seen the places he yearns for in over 14 years. Freedom is everything….freedom is the foundation on which nearly all things in life are built upon. All things except, perhaps, faith. These four young men have seen nothing but injustice, have been the victims of the worst in people. Yet, there they sit, with absolute faith. Faith in destiny, in love, faith in the goodness of people, faith in their friends, family, supporters, faith in prayer, FAITH IN JUSTICE. So much of their strength comes from all of you. We were blessed with two successful fundraisers this week, and are blessed with incredible generosity from so many people. To hear their story would cause anyone to lose faith, but to see the legions of people band together and fight for them restores it. Thank every one of you who reads, donates, hopes, and prays for these men. It keeps their hopes high, their faith strong, and someday soon we hope it WILL bring them home where they belong.

                                           “DIDN’T DO IT”

                                            by Eugene Vent

“Didn’t do it,” that’s what I told the detective, but still he chose to put me through it.

“Didn’t do it,” told my mother and she believed me – continued to have my back like countless others.

“Didn’t do it,” I told my first lawyers. “Take a deal,” they’d plead, instead of fighting like warriors.

“Didn’t do it,” what I told the judge, NOT GUILTY what I pled…..and on that I’ll never budge.

“Didn’t do it,” I told my trial attorney and he told me it could end up being a very long journey.

“Didn’t do it,” I told the D.A., and also the jury…..when found guilty I felt so much fury.

“Didn’t do it,” I told the judge that was going to sentence me…ultimately got 48 years in the penitentiary.

“Didn’t do it,” what I told some antisocial human beings, they didn’t care because they’re heartless machines.

“Didn’t do it,” I told the Parole Board that continued me to 2014; just another chapter in the saga that I know will end in the freeing of the Fairbanks Four!

“Didn’t do it,” what I tell anybody who will listen and do something with it.

“Didn’t do it,” that is our story and we will forever continue sticking to it because the Truth always comes out in the wash.

Thank you so much for reading this, I always loved poetry and being able to create my own style in writing it. Thank you to everyone for cooperating in this battle and never quitting, even in the hardest times.

I believe in the efforts of all of you, I feel extremely confident it will pay off soon and we can finally get what we truly deserve……Freedom.


Your Friend,

Eugene Vent

"Didn't Do It" by Eugene Vent, p. 1

Marvin’s Last Night – Timeline

Below is a detailed timeline of Marvin’s motions on the evening of October 10th and early morning hours of October 11th. John Hartman was murdered at 1:30am. You can read a timeline of John Hartman’s night HERE.

Marvin spent most of the night of October 10th and early morning hours of the 11th doing two things: dancing at a wedding reception and serving as designated driver to scores of people. Many, many people testified that they saw Marvin throughout the night. Ultimately the DA would make the argument that their testimony should be discounted because his alibis were Native, that Marvin was Native, and that all Natives lie for each other.

Here is what we know of how Marvin spent his last night of freedom:

11:00 pm – Marvin picks up his friend Daniel Huntington from a house about ten blocks from the Eagles Hall.

11:05 pm – After driving for a few blocks Marvin and Daniel stop to chat with some girls on 2nd Avenue. The girls were: Skye Malemute, Monica Carlo, and Justina Demoski. They joked for a few minutes before continuing down the road.

11:15 pm – They arrive at the Eagles’s Hall and head inside, but the dance is not yet in full swing so they decide to go look for a few more friends.

11:20 pm – Marvin and Daniel arrive at Harland Sweetsir’s house, but no one is home. They then drive through the Klondike parking lot and a few other local haunts to see if they come across anyone they know. They don’t, and decide to head back to the Eagle’s Hall and see if things are picking up over there.

11:35 pm – Marvin and Daniel arrive at the Eagles Hall and spend a few minutes talking with Harland Sweetsir, Shannon Jenkins, and Brad Cruger.

11:40 pm – Marvin and Daniel drive a block over to Mapco to use the payphone to page Conan Goebel. They wait 5-10 minutes for a call back but don’t get one. They head back to the Eagle’s Hall, this time to head inside and join the reception in earnest.

11:50 pm – Marvin arrives at the Eagle’s Hall and sees friend Angelo Edwin outside. Daniel stays outside and Marvin hooks up with Angelo. They head in together, where Gary Edwin asks them to sit with him, joking that there are too many women at his table. They sit at his table.

12:00 am – 12:45 am –  Marvin dances with a series of women, including Athena Sweetsir, Tracy Monroe, Michelle Andon, and a handful of others.

12:45 am – Marvin drove a block over to Mapco (gas station) to get a soda for Athena Sweetsir. He was alone in the car.

12:55 am – Marvin made it back to the Eagle’s Hall with a pop for his dancing partner. He say with Gary Edwin, Angelo Edwin, Carrie Orrison, Eileen Newman, Tracy Monroe, and a few others.

1:15 – 1:30 am – Around this time there was some commotion concerning Frank Dayton, who had arrived back at the Eagle’s Hall injured. Marvin and Angelo asked Gary Edwin what had happened, and he responded “I’m trying to find out.” Out of the commotion, Marvin and Angelo eventually hear the basic story – that Frank Dayton had been mugged by four men driving a white or tan four-dour car. (911 Call came in at 1:30am, the same time John Hartman was being assaulted. Police would eventually add the mugging of Frank Dayton to the charges. Three people testified to seeing Marvin while the 911 call was made).

1:45 am – (approximately) Marvin sees Frank Dayton, who has a cut on his head.

1:45 – 2:00 am – Daniel Huntington rejoins Marvin and Angelo. All three continue to hand out at the Eagle’s Hall, where things seem to be quieting down.

2:00 am – The band stops playing. They are on break but a lot of people leave thinking the dance has ended.

2:05 am – Marvin, Daniel, and Angelo realize that the band is only on break and that the reception is not ending, and drive to Detour (a nearby club) to tell some of their friends that the party was not over. Gilbert Frank went with them. Gilbert was unable to get into the club so they all returned to the Eagle’s Hall.

2:15 am – They arrive back at the Eagle’s Hall and run into Allen Sisto who had just been dropped off by Joey Shank (Read more on Eugene’s timeline HERE)

2:30-45 am (approximately) – Marvin drives Alan Sisto and Shara David to Conan Goebel’s house on 24th Avenue. When Marvin drops off Allen and Sisto at Conan’s house Eddie Kootuk was there, and hops in with Marvin to head back to the Eagle’s Hall

2:45am – 3:00 am –  Marvin arrives with Eddie Kootuk at the Eagle’s Hall, and Marvin goes back inside to dance and mingle.

3:00 – 3:30 am – Marvin heads back outside of the Hall, where he visits with Calvin Charlie, Kevin Charlie, and Gilbert Frank for a few minutes. He reconnects with Angelo and Daniel and they decide to drive back over to The Detour to pick up their friend Shannon Jenkins. When they pull into the club parking lot it appears to be closing, with patrons outside in the parking lot and in cars. They cannot spot Shannon Jenkins.

3:30 am – They drive the half block over to Arctic Bar and find Shannon there. Marvin gives him a ride to an apartment at Executive Estates. The group goes inside for a few minutes, then leave Shannon there and head to Alaska Motor Inn to check out a party there.

3:50 am – Marvin, Angelo, and Daniel arrive at the Alaska Motor Inn. They see a heavily intoxicated Eugene Vent sitting on the bed using the phone. Harley Semekan is there along with Nicole Pitka and Gilbert Frank. Gilbert is passed out on the bed. The are only there for a short time before they are told the police had been called on the hotel room.

4:15 am – After hearing that the police were on their way, Daniel takes off on foot. Marvin leaves in his car and drops Angelo off before going home and going to bed.

The next afternoon the police arrive at Marvin’s house and take him into the station to interrogate him. He is as stunned as you would expect him to be. Read about his interrogation and access transcripts of it HERE

Everything that comes next is…..unthinkable. If it had not happened, it would seem impossible. Marvin is arrested for the murder of a young man he had never met, whom he had no connection to, with no physical evidence, and shortly after many hours of interrogation where he begged for a lie detector and maintained his innocence. Marvin had never had so much as a speeding ticket before the day he was arrested for Murder in the First Degree.

Read what Marvin has to say about his time in prison HERE.

Read about the physical evidence against him HERE.

Read a little about the men who sought him HERE.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

A better question might be who’s afraid of the big bad wolf pack?

The corruption in this case runs very deep. So deep that there is no point in denying that there is a large range of potential risks in writing about some of it publicly. Every stone that is turned over in researching this case reveals more and more indications of corruption, some on the part of common criminals, some on the part of those that we should be most able to trust – police officers, attorneys, and judges. And the idea of making any of them too angry is, well, scary.

But the truth in this case is that fear was used like a tool to repress many people. A lack of courage on the part of many was required for justice to be so far miscarried. In this climate, the courage of some is all the more astounding. The earliest truth-tellers in this situation are people to be admired. It seems simple enough to just tell the truth, but as Orwell said, “In times of universal deceit telling the truth becomes of revolutionary act.” It was scary to stand up then, and many didn’t.

There is a quote so often repeated that it is hard to find its original source – “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” It is a powerful idea, and one that applies here. Many, many, many people did not come forward as alibis, or as informants to the actual perpetrators while this case was active because they were afraid. It is understandable, it was a terrifying time, but to move forward we must let go of that fear. Many good people did nothing when this case occurred. That is the past, and we must learn from it, but we must also let it remain the past and walk bravely into a new future.

So, here is a new quote to for a new era:

“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.”  – Gandhi

We possess a power greater than those that oppose us because we act from love. On that note, here are some of the highlights of corruption in this case. Sadly, this is the tip of the iceberg:

When the labwork came back and there was NO physical evidence against the Fairbanks Four, the investigators did not pursue other leads. They went “shopping” for jailhouse snitches. One was a woman who claims that she overheard an incriminating statement while she was in jail at FCC the same time as the four. Even though male and female inmates are separated even in general population. Even though the four were being held in isolation, where they made comments of any nature to absolutely no one. The star witness was a man who received leniency in his own crimes (and whose criminal record would make you sick) who agreed to testify that he had seen the four together. From 550 feet away. In the dark. Drunk. High on drugs. Standing with a group of people, some who were sober, who saw nothing. (To be fair, perhaps he got into radioactive goo or something as a child and has super powers).

In the absence of any physical evidence to take to trial, Detective Aaron Ring and Prosecutor Jeffery O’Bryant got together in their hotel room and made some. Don’t bother reading that sentence twice, you did indeed read it right the first time. With young men’s entire FUTURES at stake men sworn to uphold justice, to serve and protect us all, made exhibits for court during a hasty craft hour held in their hotel room. They took a lab-made ink print of George’s boot that was printed on clear overhead type paper. They selected a few slides that did not show all of the tread. They then layed it over a photo of John Hartman’s face. The photo had no scale. It was scientific garbage, but the lab logo would lead the average person to see it as legitimate. With no scale, a picture can be adjusted until its size roughly corresponds with any shoe. The exhibit was not made by a forensic lab, but by a police officer and prosecutor in their hotel room.

In an affidavit filed by John Cayton, the forensic expert the defense employed at the trial, filed post-trial, Mr. Cayton calls the exhibit “extremely misleading,” “troubling,” a “misrepresentation,” and states that, after repeatedly asking the defense attorney for a chance to review the evidence (remember, the defense attorney should have WANTED his expert informed), he was eventually told to get it directly from Aaron Ring, who sent poor quality copies and copies without any scale.

George’s first attorney, Bob Downes, made some other remarkable choices during trial. In addition to not supplying the expert the information he would have needed to testify properly, he did not call any of George’s alibis as witnesses. He also DID NOT OBJECT to the homemade bogus boot exhibit.

Bob Downes had worked with the prosecutor, Jeffery O’Bryant in the past, and knew him personally. After the trial was lost Bob Downes became a judge. He used Jeffery O’Bryant as a reference, and got the job. You can read his application/resume HERE.

No other suspects were investigated. Even though John Hartman’s brother had received a phone call warning him that his brother might be in danger the same night that he was killed. Even though Chris Stone, the person last seen alive with the victim, had astounding inaccuracies in his statement. Even though the victim was found wearing his pants. Even though he had suffered a similar beating a few weeks earlier and had refused to name his assailants. Even though there was never ever any evidence that any of the accused knew the victim or would have had any reason to harm him. Even though Chris Stone left a disturbing message for a friend that night, even though that friend asked police to get a copy, even though she went to the police station that day to make a statement that she thought Chris Stone was not being honest. EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE.

All interrogations in Alaska are required by law to be taped. George insists, and Crystal Sisto also insists, that his interrogation began long before a tape recorder came on. Read transcripts of the interrogation HERE and decide if that seems to be the case. You can also read the post about his interrogation HERE.

Eugene Vent was a minor and had the right to have a parent present. They told him that, but read about his interrogation HERE and ask yourself if they really believed he had understood all of his rights.

There is no recorded Blood Alcohol Level for George Frese on record anywhere. Interesting, considering that he had drank beer and liquor all night, hard liquor all morning and into the afternoon. Unusual, since it seems that an intoxicated underage patient would typically have a blood alcohol test. It makes you wonder…..is there a blood alcohol content at which a person must receive medical treatment and cannot be interrogated? Is there a blood alcohol content at which a person is considered legally incompetent and their statements could be voided? If there was one taken, how did it disappear?

The key players in this case received serious promotions following the “successful” outcome. These boys made the list of his notable accomplishments when Jeffery O’Bryant’s promotion to Fairbanks District Attorney was announced. Check that out HERE

Add to that the MANY PAGES of details that we will need time to write down. Add to that controversies that we are still afraid to write down. Add to that corruption we have not unearthed. And add this final quote to your mind for times when you want to blend into the flock because you are afraid:

“Make yourself sheep and the wolves will eat you.” Benjamin Franklin

There are many people in our community who know who committed this crime and have remained quiet out of fear. To you we say, muster your courage. Put your faith in the idea that to act from love gives you great power. Remember that fear does not make you safe, it makes you sheep. And the wolves are out there.

Eugene’s Last Night – Timeline

Below is a detailed timeline of Eugene’s motions on the evening of October 10th and early morning hours of October 11th. John Hartman was assaulted at 1:30am. Through a series of bizarre events, Eugene becomes a suspect at about 4:30am. You can read a timeline of John Hartman’s night HERE.

Eugene Spent the evening getting drunk with friends of his from school at a house party. He made his way from the house party to the last bit of a wedding reception at the Eagle’s Hall, and eventually continued partying into the early morning hours at the Alaska Motor Inn.

10:00 pm – Eugene gets a ride with Christy Moses, who drives Eugene, Kevin Pease, and several others to Kevin Bradley’s house off of Chena Small Tracts. Since the van was full, he left his friend Daniel behind at his house. A very small decision, but one Eugene says still haunts him. Of course at he has no idea as he heads to the party that this night will change his life. Kevin Bradley’s parents are out of town, and he is throwing a house party. The drive from downtown to the Chena Small Tracts home takes them 20 minutes or so.

10:30 pm –  The group arrives at the house party. There are a dozen or so people drinking and partying at Kevin Bradley’s house, including Joey Shank. They listen to music, drink, drink, and drink for the next several hours.

1:30 am – Joey Shank, who was the only person not drinking at the house party and was the designated driver, says he left Kevin Bradley’s house at about this time with Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease, and a group of other friends (Shawna, Allen, Dana, and Nathan). He is driving a blue Nissan owned by Kevin Bradley’s parents. He takes the Johansen to the College Road Exit, then takes the Wendell Street Bridge toward the Eagles’s Hall.

1:50 am – Joey Shank arrives at the Eagles Hall. Joey Shank says he remembers the timeframes because he was nervous, sober, and conscious of the time. He was driving a car packed like sardines full of drunk teenagers, and the car belonged to Kevin Bradley’s mother, who was out of town. Once there they only stay for a few minutes – long enough to figure out that Conan, who they had hoped to meet there, was not at the reception.

1:55 am – After Dana determines that Conan isn’t at the reception, the group all jumps back in the car. Eugene hopped in the front seat even though Kevin had called shotgun, so Kevin got Eugene to move and Kevin rode in the front, Eugene squeezed in with the rest in the back. They left to drive  to Conan Goebel’s house.

2:05 am – The group arrives at the Goebel Residence, but Conan isn’t home. Shawna Goebel, Kevin Pease, Eddie, and Nathan get out at the Goebel house. Joey Shank drives the rest of his passengers (Eugene Vent, Shara, and Allen) back to the Eagle’s Hall.

2:15 am (approx) – Eugene attends the reception. The band at the wedding reception was supposed to stop playing at 2 but the audience takes a collection and pays the band to keep going. Eugene spends some time dancing and mingling with the crowd at the reception.

2:50-3:00 am (approximately) Eugene and others leave the wedding reception sometime near 3 am and head to the Alaska Motor Inn to continue partying in room 107. There is a small group of core people there, and others are trickling in and out. The party is making a lot of noise, and the frustrated hotel clerk Mike Baca tries unsuccessfully to break it up. He calls the police to report the loud underage drinkers, but they do not respond. They are, of course, very busy with a rash of crimes, including the recently discovered assault victim John Hartman.

4:19 am –  Alaska Motor Inn Clerk Mike Baca calls 911 and reports that he has had a confrontation with the young partiers, who refused to quiet down or leave. Eventually, he says that he maced a few of them after one pulled a gun on him. In reality, he did mace at least one of the kids, but no one had a gun. He made that up, hoping the police would respond immediately and break up the loud party. The police do respond within minutes, and the kids from the party scatter, running off to avoid getting in trouble for underage consumption of alcohol. Among those running are Conan Goebel, Gilbert Frank, Harley Semekan, and others.

4:30 am – Police catch one of the kids that fled the Alaska Motor Inn Party – Eugene Vent. They find him at the intersection of 5th Avenue and Barnette. They tackle him violently and arrest him for minor consuming. Although he is unarmed and shows no signs of having been maced, they think he may be the gunman from the hotel clerk’s report.

4:40 am –  (approximately) The police drive Eugene to the Alaska Motor Inn and have clerk Mike Baca look into the back of the squad car at Eugene Vent, and ask him if Eugene is the gunman. Baca identifies Eugene as the gunman (although it was soon learned that there was no gunman). While they are there, they show Mike Baca a picture of John Hartman’s clothing and ask the clerk  if John Hartman had also been at the party in room 107. Mike Baca says he is “sure” that there was a kid there in those clothes (it is determined within a day that John Hartman was not there, and that Mike Baca once again was falsely reporting).

5:00 am – Eugene’s questioning begins as soon as he was arrested, but begins in earnest sometime around 5:00 am. He is processed at Fairbanks Youth Facility, where he registers a blood alcohol level of .168, a level known to indicate extreme intoxication and blackouts, confusion, disorientation, difficulty walking, slurred speech, and a myriad of other symptoms. He is interrogated into the late afternoon.

Eugene’s interrogation lasts, with a few breaks, approximately eleven hours. You can read about the interrogation and read transcripts of the interrogation HERE

Can DNA Evidence Set the Record Straight?

Many prominent exonerations have come after Innocence Projects re-tested DNA evidence collected from a crime. Unfortunately, that is not an option in this case. The summary of physical evidence connecting George Frese, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease, and Marvin Roberts to the murder for which they were arrested and convicted is contained below:

That’s right – nothing. No physical evidence. Zero, Nada, Nothing. There are many points of this case on which people disagree and can present a compelling argument. The point of physical evidence is not one of them.

Perhaps, if we assume the best of the investigators, they may have believed during the earliest points of the investigation that they had the right men. Kevin Pease, for example, had blood visible on his shirt when he was questioned. He claimed that the blood was his from a nosebleed. Labs would confirm that was the case.

Police collected the shoes and clothes that George, Marvin, Eugene, and Kevin were wearing the night of October 12, 1997 and sent them to a forensic lab, most likely hoping or assuming that some physical evidence would link them to the victim. Nothing did. No blood, no DNA, nothing.

Police dismantled Marvin’s car looking for evidence that would at least place the four young men together in the vehicle. Nothing.

Despite the accusation that these four men had spent the evening together on an unprovoked spree of violence, culminating in the kicking/stomping murder of John Hartman, no physical evidence of any kind has ever linked them to the victim, the crime scene, or each other.

According to the national Innocence Project, eye-witness misidentification, snitch testimony, and false confessions are often the key ingredients to wrongful conviction. All of these elements would be used to build a case against the four. Missing from this case is physical evidence of any kind, the most reliable form of evidence, and in a crime of this nature, the most obvious type of evidence to look for in the search for the responsible parties.

It seems logical to assume that there was indeed physical evidence on the people who committed this crime. Unfortunately, such evidence was never collected. No other suspects were ever pursued in this case. The physical evidence of this crime probably existed in those crucial hours following the murder, on the shoes, vehicle, and clothing of the actual perpetrators. And it was probably washed away a decade and a half ago.

These four will have to proceed toward exoneration without physical evidence, a notoriously difficult and complex fight.


Introducing the Fairbanks Four

On the same evening that John Hartman lived his last night on Earth, four other young men also spent a normal day with their friends and families, with no idea as evening fell that October 10, 1997  would be the last normal day. No premonition that the night and early morning hours of October 11, 1997 would contain the moments that changed their lives forever; the line that now divides their lives into two parts –  before and after.

None could have possibly predicted that each movement they made would be scrutinized for a decade and more. Not one of the looked into the faces of those around them knowing that these friends, family members, acquaintances, and strangers were about to become alibis. That some of them would be threatened, that some of them would be courageous, that some would be afraid, that some would become activists, that some would sink into their sorrow. No. It was an ordinary night.

 The four boys knew each other. They were not close friends, but had all played on the same basketball team for Howard Luke, a predominantly Native high school. They did not spend the evening together, but each saw the others at least for a moment at some point that evening. The  times their paths crossed that evening they would not have known that soon they were to be each others only friends – the only familiar faces in a foreign place, and an all encompassing nightmare.

 The Four Were:



Marvin Roberts. Marvin was 19, had been valedictorian of his class that spring, a basketball enthusiast, a doting older brother to his toddler brother, and best friends with his sister. A gentle person. He was not a drinker, and unlike most of his classmates and friends, had a car.

Eugene Vent. Eugene was 17 that fall and a basketball enthusiast. He was funny guy, always smiling, and kind. He was young, and like many young men he drank too much and too often. He had, just days prior, revived a ticket for drinking underage. Like so many other teenage boys Eugene was finding his way from boyhood to manhood, a road not without challenges, but on the whole was a good guy.




George Frese. George was 20 at the time, and the oldest of the four. He was a doting father to his three year old daughter Tiliisia, and most who knew him at this time will talk first of his dedication to his daughter. George and his partner faced challenges common for teenage parents, but met most of them with grace. George did not drink often, but when he did he drank to great excess



Kevin Pease. Kevin was 19, smart, an athlete, and a kid who was doing his best to transcend hardships at home. His father had been murdered just a short time before this pivotal night. One friend, asked to describe Kevin, said “Fun. Brave. But if I had one word I would say fun. It was hard not to smile when Kevin smiled.” Kevin had had a series of small run-ins with the police. He was the baby of his family.

How they spent that fateful night:

Marvin spent the bulk of the night at a wedding reception, where many tens of people saw him throughout the evening. He was the only one of the four that did not get drunk that night. Earlier in the evening he cruised around aimlessly with a few friends, looking for girls. He gave a few people rides. No less that 10 people insist that they saw him dancing and mingling between the hours of 1 am and 2am.

That night, Kevin and Eugene went to a house party in the hills above Fairbanks. Their friend had the house to himself with his parents out if town, and the predictable party and mayhem followed. A house party full of people of course saw them at the party, drinking and mingling. Both Kevin and Eugene drank heavily; Eugene drank to the point that he blacked out much of the night. A sober driver eventually drove a car packed with teenagers like sardines back toward town. He remembers looking at the clock frequently he says, because he was nervous about getting pulled over with a car full of drunk teenagers out past legal curfew. He says that the arrived in town at about 2am. This is notable because it is a full half hour after John Hartman was attacked.

Once in town, they stopped by the wedding reception, and ultimately went their separate ways, with Eugene heading to a part in a room at the Alaska Motor Inn and Kevin heading home.

George spent the first part of the night at home drinking with some friends and his girlfriend Crystal. Three sober babysitters watched George and Crystal’s daughter while they visited with their company. Another sober friend, the late Patrick Henry, older brother of Edgar Henry, said he was with George and his little brother all night. He says that they left George’s apartment as a group at about 1:30am, and walked as a group first to a friend’ s house, and then to the large wedding reception downtown. He said his brother and George were so drunk he had to “babysit” them, and consequently remembers their actions that night well. He says they arrived a the reception at 2am, and were together until after 3am.

How did they become suspects?

Eugene was arrested first, walking home from the part at Alaska Motor Inn. He ran when the police car pulled up on him, which they considered the first indication of his guilt. In reality, he ran because he was a young drunk kid, and the police were behind him. Clearly, his whole life would be different if he had run faster.

Kevin was brought in next.  When he got home to is mother’s house, they had a huge fight, and he smashed up the house – punched Sheetrock, broke a few things. His mother called the police, a decision that she went to her death-bed regretting. He was a teenage troublemaker, already known to the police. When they realized he knew Eugene, a theory began to develop.

George was the third one taken. He woke up the next day still drunk and with a hurt foot. He was limping around in it complaining, and went to the E.R. to have it looked at. An ER nurse who had treated both the white boy dying upstairs and the Native boy with a hurt foot downstairs decided that the two patients were linked and alerted police. At some point the police did enough research to determine that George had played on the same high school basketball team as Eugene and Kevin. They came to the hospital for him.

Marvin was last. They showed up at his home, where he was sitting with an uncle, and took him in for questioning. During his interrogation he said he was innocent dozens of times, apologizing when an officer accused him of being disrespectful for saying it, and calling both officers “sir” through the entire interview, but never wavered for a moment in his insistence that they had the wrong person. Marvin was in that same yearbook photo, and probably the only one who had managed to get a car since graduation, and for the scenario that the police were building there had to be a driver.

A child was murdered at 1:30am, at which time four Indian boys were dancing at a wedding, walking to a friend’s house, and driving in a car packed like a sardine can. Yet, by the next morning the police are taking a victory lap for the local press, theorizing that these Indians probably killed the kid because he was white, or else that it is simply in their savage nature.

If you have read this far, you are likely left with nothing but questions, most of which boil down to why and how. If what we wrote above is true, and it is, why did they arrest these four men? Why were these alibis discounted? How were they convicted?

The answers can be long, or they can be short. The short answers are that they were arrested by chance, and guilty of being Native before the first question came. That they were drunk, terrified, with no idea what their actual legal rights were since they were not raised in the Law and Order culture, but the culture of Interior Alaska, where in the late 90’s most Native kids understood that once the cops picked you up whatever came next was up to the cops, and that resistance made things worse.

Their alibis were dismissed as not reliable, because their alibis were Indians. The D.A.’s closing argument was that, much like in the “I am Spartacus” scene, that Natives will lie for Natives, take care of their own kind, and can’t be trusted. Similar to the decrees long issued in this country that the savage is different.

They were convicted in puppet show trials by juries not made of their peers, with no physical evidence, and plenty of corruption. And the trials didn’t matter. Despite the fact that no one here had ever seen any prisoner from Fairbanks Correctional costumed that way before, they marched them out chained together and dressed in orange for their arraignment. The public defender of course voiced his shock and called it grandstanding, but it was too late. The picture was snapped of the four chained together in orange, and it would run beside the smiling school picture of a victim that could be anyone’s child in every early article and news story run in Alaska and was the stock image for years to come. And the story, see, made sense. It didn’t have to make factual sense to make sense in the hearts of many. The official statement may as well have been, “Four Indians savagely killed a child, because he was white. No one’s children were safe, but now they are. We are protecting you from a fear you felt but could never substantiate. There will be no further questions.” They didn’t come up with any motivation beyond hoping that the public would assume these four were just senselessly violent people.

The LONG answers? Will be here, in this blog, and are partially addressed in the links below. You do not have to take our word for it, because we wouldn’t expect you to, and because we don’t need you to. All we ask is that you remain, hear this story, and take from it what you will.

If you want to do further reading, please take  a moment to look at the work of journalist Brian O’Donoghue and the UAF Journalism Department Students via their website, or the “Decade of Doubt” series that ran in the local paper.