In late 1997 Lathrop student Scott Davison skipped school to smoke pot with friend Matt Ellsworth and fellow student Jason Wallace. While the three young men got high and talked, Wallace made a statement that would prove life-altering for Davison.
According to Davison, Jason Wallace told them that he and his friends had beaten and killed John Hartman. He detailed a night of driving around looking for victims that culminated in the fatal beating for which four other young men had just been charged. Wallace ended the story with a threat. If Davison or Ellsworth ever repeated what he had just told them, he would kill them as well.
At the time, Davison was only seventeen years old. He was a child. And he was now a child burdened with a terrible and violent secret and the very real possibility that unburdening himself of the secret would result in his death. To keep a secret is to carry a weight. It drags you down and it permeates the deepest recesses of the mind. It hardens the heart. What an awful curse to be placed on the shoulders of a child.
Davison, understandably, said nothing to anyone. Years passed. If there was ever any doubt in his mind that Wallace was capable of making good on his threat, that doubt would have been entirely destroyed when just five years after Davison heard Wallace confess his first murder, Wallace killed again. On Christmas Eve of 2002 Jason Wallace beat a young woman to death with a hammer, crossed town to stab another man repeatedly with a screwdriver, and then returned to the woman’s apartment to set her lifeless body on fire. Clearly, Wallace was not only capable of killing, he was capable of inflicting unthinkably depraved torture and killing in cold blood. He was capable of killing an unarmed woman on Christmas Eve. He carried within him a darkness beyond imagination. So, understandably, Scott Davison continued to hold his secret.
Yet, a secret of that magnitude is a heavy burden. It is difficult to imagine the internal tug-of-war that any human being holding that information would endure. On one hand, innocent men are in prison. On the other hand, the system in place put them there and could not be trusted to allow the information to free them. On one hand, Wallace was locked up and couldn’t just show up at the door. On the other hand, Davison himself was in and out of jail at that time. On one hand, his life could be destroyed or taken if he revealed his truth. On the other hand, four other men’s lives had been destroyed. Hartman’s life had been taken.
Davison must have weighed these things over, and over, and over. Like a stone tumbled for years until finally the rough edges are worn away and the stone is smooth. And after years of that internal dialogue, Davison made a choice.
He had nothing to gain. Absolutely nothing to gain. Nothing, that is, besides becoming a man who was given a choice and made the right one. With his life and dignity and reputation at risk, Davison walked into the Innocence Project office and revealed the secret he had been so unfairly lain in his life’s path on a snowy October afternoon in 1997.
There is a reason for everything. Davison was not the victim of happenstance. To be the bearer of a truth so heavy was a task he was fated for, because Davison did something with it that few are capable of. He risked his life, he signed up for humiliation, risked retaliation, reputation – he laid all he had to offer down in service of a higher truth.
Much of the State of Alaska’s filing made in response to the Alaska Innocence Project’s aimed at demonstrating the innocence of the Fairbanks Four is focused on the task of discrediting, humiliating, and slandering Scott Davison.
Although prosecutor Adrienne Bachman waxes disjointedly and frequently about hearsay throughout the twenty-three page document, claiming that the Holmes confession and Davison’s statements are both hearsay and therefore have no place in a court of law, the remainder of the filing appears to consist nearly entirely of actual hearsay generated by Bachman herself. She makes one claim after another about the character of Scott Davison, yet the filing contains no documentation to support that her claims are factual.
Bachman berates and belittles Davison in every imaginable way. She calls him an informant in one breath, and with the next says he did not follow through with a request to be an informant. She speculates about the relationships Davison had, claiming he was “charged often and convicted occasionally” of domestic violence. Which, of course, means what it says – despite frequently being accused of domestic violence inside a relationship, he was seldom found to be guilty of the charges. Not that the nature of his relationship drama has a thing at all to do with his credibility.
Bachman asserts in her filing that because Scott Davison has nothing to gain by coming forward, and that in the past when he had legal problems he could have attempted to leverage this information to ask for leniency in his own sentencing and did not, that he should not be believed. Read that one twice. She says there is nothing in this for Scott Davison personally, and somehow that makes him less credible. Umm…okay, Adrienne. In all reality, the fact that he has nothing to gain and so much to lose bolsters the credibility of his statement.
She further attacks his credibility because he did not come forward in 1997 when Wallace first confessed to him. Yet, Davison was a teenage boy when he heard the confession of Wallace. Wallace had literally just gotten away with murder, and threatened to kill Davison should he come forward. It is unreasonable for anyone to think that a child sworn to secrecy under threat of death would call the police to tell them the secret. A secret he had heard while skipping school to get high. It is reasonable to expect an adult to make that judgment – to come forward despite the risks. And when Davison became an adult he used the judgment of one and came forward. But in 1997 he responded the way any thoughtful person would expect a child to respond. With fear. He was scared, as anyone would be.
As a young man Scott Davison clearly took a troubled path. It was that troubled path that crossed with Wallace’s. If not for the poor life choices Davison was making in the late 90’s, he would have never encountered Wallace. Although Bachman attacks his credibility based on his past criminal activities, it is only logical that anyone who had credible information on Wallace would be an associate. And most of Wallace’s associates would have had criminal tendencies. Brids of a feather, as they say.
Davison was a drug user and committed a series of crimes, primarily domestic violence and violations of the original conditions of release which all stemmed from an incident in 1998 when Davison apparently robbed someone and injured them in the course of the robbery. She describes this in such a way as to lead a reader to believe that Scott Davison ran up to an old woman, slashed her face, and ran off with her purse. Although her characterization of the events is dramatic, it is unsupported and irrelevant.
Scott Davison has clearly made mistakes in his life. He has made choices I cannot and will not defend, and he has made choices which are not admirable. Most human beings have made choices that are not defensible, and that we are ashamed of. Most of us would be devastated to read our regrets, shame, and sins on the front page of the paper. Scott Davison may have made some bad choices, but he made one decision that I find heroic. With nothing to gain and everything to lose, he opted to tell the truth and do the right thing for four strangers. For fellow human beings that he did not know. He laid his life on the line for men he never knew. And that, my friends, is one of the most courageous things I have seen a person do during my time on Earth.
When the investigators for the state contacted Davison he stuck with his story. They attack his credibility on minor details – in one version of events he claimed they smoked pot inside a car, in another version outside, etc. But on this point he did not waiver: Jason Wallace had confessed in detail to murdering John Hartman in 1997. When the state was unable to attack the factual merit of Davison’s story, they attempted to attack his will. They attempted to humiliate and discredit him as a human being when they realized that he could not be discredited as a witness.
Scott Davison, wherever you are, thank you. From the bottom of our hearts. Matt Ellsworth, wherever you are, please, DO THE RIGHT THING. That secret was bestowed upon two men. Two men have turned this over and over in their minds and made very different decisions. Davison’s is to speak, Ellsworth’s is to remain silent. We have said before and will say again the enemy of the truth is not a lie, it is silence. It is time to speak up. Four innocent men are in prison. Many murder victims followed Hartman and their lives could have been saved. Ask yourself, are you the kind of man who in the face of oppression with lives on the line speaks or remains silent? What would you wish from your fellow man if you were the the victim of injustice? It is understandable to be afraid then, and now. But how does a secret keep you safe when murderers know you are keeping it? The time for secrets is over. Scott Davison should not have to stand alone. You should be standing behind him. And if you do, we will stand with you.
Imagine hearing a confession of murder as a kid. Imagine carrying that secret for years. Imagine mustering the courage to speak out. And imagine, for a moment, what it must feel like to be so personally and obscenely attacked as retaliation for doing the right thing.
Whatever his past misdeeds, Scott Davison did what the State of Alaska will not and more: he accepted the risk of humiliation and even death to protect the concept of justice. Scott, thank you. We are so very sorry for the way you are being treated, and admire your decision to come forward. No matter what contents of your past the state chooses to parade around, your courage in this case has revealed the content of your heart to be good. Keep on keeping on!