Day 16, October 27 2015
The 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.
When 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.
Hoffman 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?