“When Are You Coming Home?” – A Letter from George

A person always tells their own story best. We could write a thousand pages without expressing the simple truth as well as one short letter.  George is not a particularly sentimental person, so I know it took a lot to write this.It never fails to humble and amaze me that all four of these men have faith that this experience was meant to be and will serve a larger purpose. I think it is hard for many of us to keep faith in a life with all our freedom and every advantage - that they have found strong faith in a relatively hopeless place is.....beautiful.

If this letter moves you, get out there, and spread the word!! There is a lot of power in the truth, it has a way of spreading far and wide when it is repeated!

Also (since George begins this letter teasing Kevin) it is probably a good time to clarify that Kevin is Outside Indian and White, not Alaska Native. We have been asked about that a few times, and although it is not terribly important, thought this would be a good time to clarify for readers that Eugene, Marvin, and George are all Alaska Native, that Kevin is Native American and white.

Want to help bring George home? Sign our petition – click HERE!

I Shall Be Released – Video Post

This short video covers the most basic information about this case. This is a great thing to pass along, link to, post on Facebook, tweet, text, and spread far and wide. Many people who do not have the time to read the case files have three minutes to watch a video.

The soundtrack is I Shall Be Released as sung by Walter Trout and the Free Radicals

They say everything can be replaced

But every distance is not near

So I remember every face

Of every man who put me here

They say ev’ry man needs protection
They say ev’ry man must fall
Yet I swear I see my reflection
Some place so high above this wall
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him shout so loud
Crying out that he was framed
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released


Alibis and Witnesses III

Crystal Sisto is mom to six kids, and as if that isn’t enough she also fills many, many roles in her position at BLM where her job duties range from auditing and payroll to equipment and crew hire. Crystal works and lives in Venetie, Alaska. In 1997 she was living with George Frese and the young daughter the two had together. They were middle school and high school sweethearts and became parents together at a young age. Needless to say, the events of October 1997 changed the course of her life, and her young daughter’s life forever. Her story is a powerful reminder that the reach of injustice is far. Yet despite the hardship she encountered, Crystal has never lost faith that the justice system will eventually work, and that these men will be exonerated. It is still hard for Crystal to talk about that night and the events that followed, but she has courageously agreed to share her story.


It has been so many years its hard to remember everything. But a few things I know, will never forget, is that George was home at 1:30 am that night. I am sure. Also I know that George would have never done this kind of thing.

Okay, on October 12th. There was a wedding going on and at first we went to check that out, and I went to Cabaret for a bit. George and those guys made a run to the liquor store Patrick Henry went for them and had purchased 2 cases of beer a bottle of Bacardi……there was Vernon, myself, Patrick Henry, Edgar Henry, and George.

Patrick and I went to Cabaret and those guys went to out apartment. Then after a short while Patrick and I went to the apartment. My brother and his now wife were upstairs watching the baby. Those guys were already really drunk when we got there. We sat around at the apartment playing drinking games till my show was over that was around 1:30.

I know it was 1:30 in the morning because my show just ended at 1:30am, so they decided to check out the wedding at the Eagles Hall. It was Patrick, Edgar, George, John, On the way down they were going to stop at a friends that lived in the apartments next to the AK motel on Cushman.

George snuck into cabaret (also known as Elbow Room) and it was about 2:45 or 3 in the morning. He was in there with my mom and dad…he made it home between 3:30 to 4 or so in the morning……he had got a ride to part way and then walked. We sat around and continued to drink and laugh and then Vernon and George went to the bathroom to smoke a cigarette and it was the last one and they started to wrestle and became a little serious and in the end he hurt his foot in the bathroom.


George tried to lay down after a while. When he got up he was in pain and so we decided to go to the ER and I even explained it the nurse when she came in. She said something about downtown, and I told her no, and told her how he hurt his foot and she was like huh….then they took a long time to see him and then we found out she called the cops and said he was involved in the crime……I still can not believe an assumption from an ER employee could nurse would change our lives forever…….

When the police got to the hospital they talked with us for about an hour, and then they turned on the cassette tape. It was crazy the things they were saying, it was just like he was in trouble no matter what he said. Everything that happened there and everything and the way they interrogated him was not right. He gave in because he was drunk and tired and in pain. He just wanted it all to end and go home.

Georges shoes were sooo old the soles had holes in them and the tracks on them were flat and gone. We could not afford shoes for him. He kept his so I could get new ones and he kept his old ones, you could see his sock under his shoes…..there were almost no tracks because we were waiting for dividends to get him new ones. They took those shoes at the hospital. They questioned him for a very long time and then eventually they dropped him back off at the apartment. He told us how scary it had been, that he had agreed to this story they told him, that they were saying Eugene and a whole bunch of others had. He just wanted to get home and felt like there was no choice. It was scary.

You all know what happens after that….well anyways I got a hold of Robert Downes, George’s first lawyer and he told me to write everything down,and this was before they printed the times in the paper and on the news, I had it all down on paper the times and everything the whole layout of the night. Later they posted on the news and papers the times and what had happened, the police said I lied and got it off the papers and the news but that was impossible. I said times before anything was ever in the news.


My daughter was having a sleep over when they came to our home with bullet proof vest and guns, they came and surrounded our apartment. and searched everyone in my home patting them all down….it was very humiliating and very discouraging. George was laying down and they were yelling at him to stand up and he had no shoes and they threw him against the wall and he had no shoes on and my baby was holding his legs crying and I fell to the floor thinking I was going to wake up and that this was a dream.

I cried and called my dad and mom and they came trying to explain the truth but they said we would all lie. George was handcuffed and had no shoes on……my daughter was crying and I was lost………and little did I know this was only the beginning…..my father told the officers to put Georges shoes on and he is not leaving without shoes on,so they did as my father said and put his shoes on,then my father said can you uncuff him so he can hug his family good bye..they refused and one cop, I think Officer Sullivan, said “Do it, where is he going to go?”

They uncuffed him and he held our daughter tight and told her to be brave and that daddy loves her, then he came to me we looked at each other and then he said I love you, I promise I will be home soon and I will be back. I cried and we held each other so tight I never wanted to let him go, I was scared and he was all I had in life and he was all I ever knew….


(It would come up, over and over in the papers, that George had a record of domestic violence, and therefore a violent past that indicated he was capable of violent assault).

I just wanted to let you know it is not what you think. George was loving and kind and never did hit me. We argued and I called the police with a story. It was me that had hit him, and that I tried to fix . I was the one but they don’t listen, so he told me to be quiet (I hit him). He never would hit a fly. He was never violent not at all.


I had no faith, courage, hope, or anything to live for anymore, he was all I had! The 3 of us. It was always just the 3 of us and no one else, we had no money but were happiest when we were broke.

You ask me how this changed me, the whole arrests and trials and him being locked away.  I was a drug addict and an alcoholic that wanted to die. I became a cutter and cut myself many times and now I write this thinking how far I have come and thank God for not giving up on me!

It was not easy to move on. It was the hardest part for me, because I would have waited for him till the end of time. He broke it off with me when he realized he was not coming home soon. He said it was the best thing for me and for me to move on. It was like a knife cutting in heart. I did not want to move on –  I wanted my life back.


I am thankful each and everyday that God sent Jeremiah my way,when I was at the lowest point in my life and just gave up, there he was holding me, a complete mess, promising me everything will be ok and that he would never leave me,and we have been together since………

My life now is good. It was a long recovery and I have my Love who loves me and he had some big shoes to fill, but in the end he understood where I came from and now he helps me. I have 6 kids and a home and a life I love now….I pray for George every day and know someday the truth will reveal itself!

Thank you for hearing my story. Please pray each day that all our prayers be answered…one day my baby and her daddy will be together again……..

– Crystal Sisto

Crystal and George as pictured in their high school year book, a few short years before George was wrongfully convicted of murder.

Read George’s timeline HERE and a touching letter from Crystal and George’s daughter, now 17, HERE. You can read about George’s interrogation and transcripts of it HERE. Crystal was watching Late Night with Conan O’Brien that night. Across town a woman watching that same show was able to provide the time of Hartman’s attack. Read about that HERE.

If you or anyone you know has information about other suspects in the Hartman murder, please come forward. You can call the Innocence Project at 907-279-0454 or email them at info@alaskainnocence.org There is a reward that is always growing for information leading to exoneration.

If you were with any of the Fairbanks Four this night, please consider coming forward and sharing your story.

Dead Man Walking – A Witness and Song Come Forward

“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

In the days and weeks following the murder of John Hartman many, many people who came forward to tell the truth were treated poorly by police, threatened, and terrified by their experiences. In barely veiled threats, some were even made to believe that if they stuck with their story they may become suspects in the murder as well.

“You keep asking me for the truth, I keep telling you the truth, I don’t understand…” cried one fifteen year old being interviewed. Incarnations of her fear, tears, confusion, and BRAVERY when being pressured to give up the truth and accept someone else’s lies are echoed in many, many interviews with the case.

Why? Because by telling the truth in a climate of deceit, these ordinary people were threatening to tear down all that the investigators thought they had built in the early days following John Hartman’s murder.

The police had a lot of things going for them in the moments, hours, and days immediately following John Hartman’s death. They had four men in custody, two of whom relented to some degree to the aggressive and relentless interrogation and had arguably implicated themselves in a murder. They had collected shoes and boots, pants and shirts, jackets and caps, and the alleged getaway car. All evidence was sent to a crime lab, and they likely expected the tests performed there to confirm their theory. Early, brief conversations with the a handful of the people the men claimed to have spent the evening with made it seem at least possible that all four of the men had been at the Eagles’s Hall at 2 am or shortly after. The police theorized that they had met up at that point, taken a short drive down the street, beaten and sexually assaulted John Hartman for being white, then parted ways. Perhaps they expected that as time went on more witnesses would come forward to confirm their theory. They announced that the crime was solved, and maybe they believed it was. A story of the beating appeared on the front page of the local paper, followed the next day by mug shots of the four arrested. And then, the station was flooded with calls. Witnesses did come forward, including one call that would throw the first of many, many wrenches into the case the investigators were building.

The call came from Melanie Durham, a resident at the women’s shelter adjacent to the crime scene. A house where women and children go to escape fists and feet and men that would hurt them. A place women go so that they do not have to hear children plead weakly for help. On the deck outside this place, Melanie heard a murder.

Melanie said that she knew what time John Hartman had been killed. She had been watching the Late Night with Conan O’Brien show that night, and David Bowie was the musical guest of the evening. She is not a Bowie fan. As he began his performance at 1:30 am, she stepped outside for a cigarette. As the door shut behind her, David Bowie played the first acoustic notes of his song for the evening. He played “I’m Afraid of Americans,” and  “Dead Man Walking.”

Melanie could not hear Bowie’s voice haunting the air inside, “I’m gone, gone gone, like I’m dancing on angels. And I’m gone, through a crack in the past…”

Outside the air was freezing cold and dead empty, silent. Melanie lit a cigarette. Then, she heard a smacking sound, a crack in the silence. A familiar sound. Violence had brought her to this place, she knew its soundtrack. She heard one smack, another, another. She heard a small voice plead for help. She heard darker voices respond without mercy. And then, a return to silence.

Melanie rushed inside, told a night shift worker at the shelter what she had heard. The two stood outside together for a moment, listening. They heard nothing. So, they did not call for help.

Inside, perhaps  David Bowie crooned the last of his song, “I know who’s there, when silhouettes fall…… and I’m gone..”

When Melanie saw the article about the boy in the paper, she called the police to tell them her story, to tell the truth. Her timeline was strong, and through it, police established that John Hartman was beaten to death in an assault that lasted the length of a song. 1:30 to 1:35am

This information changed things. All of a sudden, it was crucial to know about time, to the minute. Naturally, these investigators returned to their notes, the others they had interviewed, to verify that the four in custody had no strong alibis during those critical five minutes. But what they found, probably much to their surprise, was that all claimed to have been elsewhere at 1:30am. And initial interviews with the witnesses who had seen them appeared to confirm that claim.

So, they returned. More interviews, more people. People who would continue, by and large, to tell a very simple truth. Only this time they would be treated as criminals. As revolutionaries, threatening the powers that be. Because, when the police heard the truth, a time of deceit had already begun. These small truths were cracks in the theory, threatening to break apart the entire story.

In the days to follow we will provide details of the police interviews that came in the early days of the investigation, and letters from some of those who were interviewed, who have graciously and bravely agreed to tell their stories again.

George’s Last Night – Timeline

George’s timeline is established through his interrogation, alibi interviews, testimony at trial, and his own account. Times are verified by more than one source. One of the biggest problems George faces was his level of intoxication, and inability to be his own alibi for portions of the night.

9:30 pm – George and his girlfriend Crystal Sisto call a cab and head to the Eagle’s Hall for the wedding reception at the Eagle’s Hall. The cab ride takes perhaps 10 minutes. When they arrive there is not much going on, and they only stay a short while.

10:00 pm – George and Crystal leave the reception on foot and walk down to 2nd Avenue.

10:05 pm – A few minutes into their walk they run into Vernon Roberts, Edgar Henry, and John Folger. Crystal decides to head to the Elbow Room bar, while George, Vernon, Edgar and John decide to head to George and Crystal’s apartment.

10:30 pm – George, Edgar, Vernon, and John stop by Thrifty Liquor, a liquor store on the way to George’s apartment. There they buy two cases of Miller genuine Draft and a 750mL bottle of Bacardi rum.

11:00 pm – The group arrives back at George and Crystal’s apartment, where Antonio Sisto and Dawn Carrol are babysitting. Antonio and Dawn visit for perhaps ten minutes, then head upstairs for the night shortly after the group arrives.

11:10 pm – George, Vernon, Edgar, and John begin drinking. They play Up River, Down River (an Alaskan variation on a card drinking game) and Quarters. They drink all of the beer playing these games. George and Edgar drink the most, probably consuming ten or twelve beers each.

12:30 pm – Crystal returns home to the apartment with Patrick Henry. Crystal has been drinking, but Patrick Henry does not drink and is completely sober. Patrick went with Crystal to the apartment to get the group there and return with everyone to the reception. He wants to leave right away, but the group continues drinking for the next hour or so, George drinks several shots of Bacardi. At this point George has drank about 12 beers and at least three shots of liquor. He is 150lbs. Even by conservative measure, his Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) would be about .358 This level of intoxication can actually be lethal, and can induce comas. Blackouts become “likely” at a Blood Alcohol Content of .20. Read about BAC levels and their symptoms HERE Calculate his BAC on your own HERE

1:20-1:30am – George leaves the apartment with John Folger, Vernon Roberts, Edgar Henry, and Patrick Henry, at this point he is extremely intoxicated. He remembers walking for a short time, but blacks out between 16th and 17th Avenue. The group walks toward the reception but decides to stop to visit a friend along the way and warm up. This time was confirmed several ways. Crystal Sisto who was at the apartment estimates that the group left at 1:30. When George arrives at the hospital and is interrogated, he states that he left his apartment between 1:20-30am, and blacked out shortly after. In a police interview and court testimony the late Patrick Henry states they left the apartment at about 1:30. Vernon Roberts confirms they left as a group and cannot remember the time. This time frame is crucial because this was the time when John Hartman was assaulted.

1:30-1:40 – George, John, Vernon, Edgar, and Patrick stop by Shannon Charlie’s apartment on 11th Avenue (George has no memory of this, others involved established this time frame). They stay for a short time and head to the reception.

2:00am – George, Edgar, and Patrick Henry arrive at the Eagle’s Hall. Patrick heads inside while Edgar and George drink with a group in the parking lot. Patrick Henry says the two were so drunk he felt he had to “babysit” them. He stayed inside the reception about 3am.

3:00 am – Patrick Henry returns to the parking lot to retrieve George and Edgar, who are still there. The trio walk to the Elbow Room bar, where Patrick Henry goes inside. Despite being underage, George and Edgar follow him inside. The bartender kicks George out (this is one of the few moments George recollects from these hours, and has a brief memory of being chased out of the Elbow Room).

3:00 am  – 3:15 am –  Agnes Brockmeyer arrives at the Elbow Room to pick up her father, Johnny David. She sees George, her father, and a group “horse-playing” on the sidewalk outside the bar. George approaches her and asks for a ride home. She says he was not limping or injured at all. Agnes gives George a ride. He gets out a Midtown inexplicably and walks toward the direction of home. (George remembers getting a ride with Johnny David, and remembers being at Midtown. He references both during his interrogation). Vernon Roberts confirms that he parted ways with George at Elbow Room around 3am. Vernon walks back to George’s apartment with Patrick Henry, John Folger, and Edgar Henry. The three do not know that George caught a ride with Agnes, and are concerned that he is missing, given his level of intoxication. Vernon and Patrick Henry both state that George did not have an injured foot at this time. Three witnesses confirm his foot was not injured. This is important because the prosecution will allege that he had badly injured his foot kicking John Hartman at 1:30am, which would mean he should have been injured at this time.

4:00 am (about) – George arrives back at home where all of the original group are at his apartment (Crystal, Patrick, Edgar, John, Vernon) and have been joined by Crystal’s cousin Rachel, who brought another bottle of liquor. George begins drinking again at the apartment and remembers drinking several shots. He again blacks out and does not remember anything until waking up the next afternoon. Crystal states that during this time, George and Vernon got in a wrestling match over the last cigarette that started lighthearted and became a bit serious. She believes this is how George injured his foot. He has not memory of this time, but presumably kept drinking. (Others state that he continued drinking, slept a brief while, stopped by another apartment for a few beers, and then slept briefly in the afternoon at the apartment).

Afternoon – George wakes up with severe pain in his left foot. So severe he is at first unable to walk, and crawls down the stairs, where many of last nights guests remain. At this point Antonio Sisto asks him how he hurt his foot. Although he does not remember how he hurt his foot, he tells Antonio he hurt it in a fight. “I actually wanted it to be from a fight,” George said, “I wanted some sort of social praise. Little did I know that when I told the same story to the receptionist at the hospital that there was a fifteen year old boy in the Intensive Care Unit.”  After deciding that the pain is extreme and his foot is likely broken he calls for a ride to the hospital.

3:30 pm – George checks into the E.R. with an injured foot. When the receptionist asks him how he hurt his foot, he tells her he hurt it in a fight. Although there is no record of George’s Blood Alcohol Level (a Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Nurse confirms that it is standard practice to take a BAC reading in intoxicated patients), if we assume that he only drank two more beers and four more shots of liquor (his companions think he drank even more), his BAC level would be .314 when he checked into the hospital.


When George checks into the hospital he tells the receptionist the same story he told his Antonio: that he hurt his foot fighting. Pretty tough-Indian thing to say, but not true. He thought it was a cool thing to say, made him seem tough, and certainly cooler than “I was so drunk I don’t know.”

Diane Hill has been upstairs, performing a sexual assault exam on John Hartman. When she comes down she is assigned a patient.. In a happenstance that will change the rest of his life, Diane Hill is assigned George Frese as her next patient. The triage nurse tells nurse Diane Hill when she hands over the chart that a drunk Native kid is in with a hurt foot and says he hurt it in a fight.

She testifies during trial that when she went into room where George was waiting to have his foot looked at she entered and they had the following exchange, which persuaded her that he was involved with the beating of John Hartman “I understand that you were in a fight downtown last night, and kicked someone, and hurt your foot, is that right? And he answered Yes.”

Diane Hill then calls the Fairbanks Police and says she believes one of the murders is there as a patient. George is transferred, according to his girlfriend Crystal, to an odd and secure room. According to Crystal the police show up and begin aggressively interrogating and threatening George for some time before his interrogation begins.

Read about his interrogation HERE, including links to transcripts of the interrogations.


When George said he was blacked out of periods of time, the police insist that it is SCIENTIFICALLY impossible to black out and indicate that he will be charged with sexual assault and murder if he continues to insist that it is the case. Read about the science of blackouts HERE. There are plenty of articles about the science or blackouts, so feel free to post any others you find!

In a nutshell, over consumption of alcohol can block neurons and inhibit the formation of memory, meaning that the memories are not there “deep in the brain” as the detectives insist, but actually were never created, so try as a person might, the memories cannot be accessed because they are not there.

George’s level of intoxication was such that he could not be his own alibi. However, his level of intoxication is such that it also seems unlikely he could participate in an assault. There are significant witnesses who were willing to provide alibi testimony. Many were ignored by the police AND defense council (see affidavit of Agnes Brockmeyer below who tried to contact both the police and attorney). Some, most notably Patrick Henry, Edgar Henry, and Antonio Sisto were threatened, lied to, and made to feel that if they continued to provide an alibi that they would be charged with this or another crime. Although George Frese’s attorney did not call any alibi witnesses, Patrick Henry testified to timeline in a different trial.

It is also worth noting that George says he left his house at 1:30am during his interrogation. Crystal also makes this statement to the police, and so does Patrick Henry. They state this time BEFORE even the police knew the time of John Hartman’s beating, and without a chance to speak to each other and “create” a timeline, as the prosecution would constantly hint at trial.

The Truth About Fear – George’s Interrogation

 George did not confess.
  He did, after hours of pressure, make incriminating statements.
 George was so drunk on the night of October 10, 1997 that he couldn’t remember much of the night, and was perfectly primed for deception.
    The police lied to him about evidence, lied and said his friend’s said he was at this crime scene, lied and said blackouts are scientifically impossible, lied and gave him two choices: admit you were there, or be framed for a brutal beating and sexual assault of a child.
   Please, read the post about Eugene’s Interrogation, and use the links in it to educate yourself about false confessions. Much of what is said regarding false confessions is of huge significance in George’s interrogation as well, but for brevity do not want to rehash it in this post.
   George’s interrogation began at the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. Although it is required by law that interrogators record all of an interrogation, George’s transcripts have some glaring issues. First, logic makes it seem that the interrogation began long before the recording began. Secondly, mid-way through George says “I want to go home.” If, in fact, he had asked to go home the police would have HAD to let him go. But they allege that the detective stepped out of the room, George said that to himself, and then the detective re-entered. His police interview following the statement “I want to go home” was deemed inadmissable in court, which means that the incriminating statements he made toward the end were not used to convict him.
   George, like Eugene, was incredibly intoxicated during his interview. He began drinking the night before and drank through the morning and into the afternoon. He came to the hospital with a hurt foot. Crystal Sisto, his girlfriend at the time who spent the night with George says he hurt his foot when a wrestling match between he and his cousin over the last cigarette went from lighthearted to a bit too intense. George did not remember how he hurt his foot. He told the nurse he hurt it in a fight. The nurse decided that his hurt foot was connected to the victim dying in ICU and alerted police, who established that he knew Eugene Vent (already being questioned) and came to the hospital to question him.
   Through much of the interrogation he is confused. For example, he thinks that Eugene is actually the victim, and person in ICU. He denies involvement for most of the interview. For hours they insist that his friends have said he was there at the crime scene and kicked John Hartman. When he tries to call one of the named friends, they tell him he cannot. Like in Eugene’s interrogation, the police lie about the evidence, they tell him that there is blood on his boot, that his footprint has been matched to the victim’s wounds. George had been blacked out drunk for much of the night, and in reality knew little of his movements after about 1:30am.  After the detective comes in and says they have Marvin Roberts, he finally relents and agrees to the scenario the police have been laying out for may hours. Perhaps it was a tipping point – Marvin was well known as an honest, sober kid. Believing that Marvin had said he was there may well have convinced him that he was.
     The premise the police use through George’s entire interrogation is saying that a claim of being blacked out drunk was a lie, that it is scientifically impossible (this, of course, was itself a lie). George asks for a hypnotist to help recover the memory. He tells them repeatedly that he is scared. For hours he insists he does not remember much of the night. The interrogators insist that his options are to admit having kicked the victim a few times, or continue claiming that he has no memory and have them “assume the worst.” They insist that the others are pointing fingers at George if he claims to have no memory. They insinuate that he will be framed for a brutal beating and sexual assault of a young boy if he doesn’t admit to having been there.
      After hours, George caves and agrees that he was probably there, and probably kicked the person. Immediately following admitting that he was there, he recants and says “I don’t f**king really remember all that sh*t.”
     As the interview continues he answers most questions with “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” The tape then cuts out again, and when the recording begins again he answers a series of questions. Ultimately, he is given two scenarios. One is bad, one is worse. He picks the lesser of two evils.
      When I read this interrogation, I hear the voice of a terrified incredibly drunk friend navigating the worst experience of his life, and know now what he probably feared most at that time – that this interview was the first in a series of events that would separate him from his family, from the daughter he loved perfectly. That type of fear is a tactic, the truth is that fear can be used like a weapon to break a person down. The truth is that a drunk, confused, manipulated, scared kid will say about anything to get away from that kind of fear, even if the reprieve is brief.

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.