State of Alaska Pulls Funding for Eugene Vent’s Attorney

obstaclesColleen Libbey, after 11 years working on one of the most complex and high-profile cases in the state of Alaska, has been removed from the case without warning.

This alteration in counsel, which the Department of Administration has attributed to budget cuts, comes deep in the midst of disovery, and days before Eugene vent’s scheduled deposition.

When the public defender’s office is too busy, conflicted, or otherwise engaged, the Office of Special Advocacy regularly assigns the work to private defense attorneys. It is a basic tenet of our justice system, so much so that it is incorporated into the Miranda rights…”If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you….” Colleen Libbey was assigned to Eugene Vent as a court appointed attorney.

Vent, the only one of the Fairbanks Four who had an ongoing active appeal at the time of the September 2013 Innocence Project filing, has had the same attorney since 2004. The litigation has dragged on these eleven years primarily because of delays and appeals within the system, and in part because of the complexity of the case.

When the Alaska Innocence Project filed their motion for post-conviction relief, the State immediately asked for an extension of just over seven months simply to review the case. By the time the case reaches court for the evidentiary hearing the original motion will be more than two years old. Although we have consistently found these extensions and delays to be extravagant, they are an appropriate measure for what kind of time the State of Alaska has determined is necessary for an attorney to prepare for even a singular action on the case. Now, days before he was scheduled to be deposed, and a handful of months before the evidentiary hearing, the State of Alaska has terminated Vent’s attorney.

The impossible task of preparing for a case in which the other attorneys have required years to gain familiarity is now left to Whitney Glover. Glover is a Office of Special Advocacy attorney, employed by the State of Alaska. Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman, in an interview with journalist Brian O’Donoghue, commented that Vent’s new attorney Whitney Glover currently has upwards of twenty other PCR actions pending and has repeatedly filed in other cases indicated that her “docket is so full she may not be able to meet deadlines.”

It is not uncommon for a public attorney to have an extraordinarily high caseload, and it is likely that Glover is indeed coping with a full docket, to which one of the most significant cases in Alaskan history was just hurriedly added.

It is impossible to know the motivations of the individuals who made the decision to remove Eugene Vent’s attorney from this case. The timing is so poor that it is difficult not to see the removal as strategic.

Other recent moves by the State seem equally strategic. The witness lists, for example. The State of Alaska did not include any information or clue as to the nature of the testimony of the sprawling list of witnesses they named in discovery. A move like this, as small as it may seem, is impactful. That means the Alaska Innocence Project, a tiny nonprofit with one attorney and limited funds, will have to investigate each and every name on that list just to know what the person may testify to. MY name, among other names, made that list. Right next to the kitchen sink….

Sometimes, the appearance of indiscretion is as good as the real thing. The State insists this is all a clean, above-board search for justice. Yet, it certainly seems like something else.

On this blog, we often refer simply to the State of Alaska. The state is, of course, composed of many branches, departments, task forces, offices, etc. That said, the State of Alaska is indeed an entity. State monies and priorities are delegated, and all of these many branches belong to the same tree. The State of Alaska through the actions of its many agents and agencies is engaging in a series of actions and deceptions which, if taken at face value, at best seem incompetent or reckless. If considered as a whole they seem strategic.

The State of Alaska was eager to share this figure as justification for the decision – in the eleven years that Colleen Libbey served as Eugene Vent’s counsel, Alaska spent $104,000.00 on his attorney. Roughly $25.00 per day that she worked on the case. Here is a figure they are not so eager to share – by the time the evidentiary hearing begins this October, the State of Alaska will have spent $896,400.00 housing him as an innocent man in prison. They will have spent about $3,585,600.00 incarcerating all four.*

As menacing as the incarceration figure is, there is another dollar amount we believe will be much higher. The figure that we would love to see, and one the State of Alaska has refused to share, is the total cost of the prosecution of the Fairbanks Four.

The State of Alaska has spent millions of dollars prosecuting, incarcerating, and fighting the release of Eugene Vent, yet suddenly cannot afford for him to have an adequately prepared attorney.

got thisWhitney Glover, Vent’s new attorney, deserves as much support and votes of confidence as she can get. Luckily for her, she is inheriting a lot of quality evidence, and above all will find herself fighting for the truth. There have been many moments over the last eighteen years where those close to the case and the four men themselves have come close to feeling defeated. It is not going to happen, no matter the obstacle, it can and will be overcome. We have learned that over and over – we have been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Colleen Libbey – thank you, thank you, thank you for eleven years of work on a hard case you surely deserved to see come to completion under your watch. We appreciate every moment you gave.

Whitney Glover – we believe there is a rhyme and a reason to all things, and a higher purpose in this story. Congratulations on being the person our maker selected for the job, you must be the one meant for it. Fate brought you here, so it is here you belong. Welcome!

Read this story in the news!

 

 

 

*Costs of incarceration found HERE

 

State of Alaska Caught Lying AGAIN (Yawn)

liar2It is becoming routine and almost boring to get on a blog and explain that the State of Alaska is deliberately, illegally, criminally fighting to keep innocent men in prison. It is not a boring topic at all – it is an important topic. Yet, no matter how many times the media reveals another deception, the State does not get any better at lying or hiding, and shows no signs of ceasing.

William Holmes passed a lie detector test. HERE is the well-written article that revealed this latest development. William Z. Holmes has confessed multiple times over a handful of years to the murder of John Hartman, a crime for which the Fairbanks Four were convicted of and have served nearly eighteen years for despite their unbroken insistence on their innocence and a distressing lack of evidence against them. The Holmes confession was publicly revealed for the first time in September 2014 when the Innocence Project filed their case asking for the Fairbanks Four convictions to be overturned based on the innocence of the four men. This claim of innocence was evidenced in part by the guilt of William Holmes and the accomplices he named – Jason Wallace, Marquez Pennington, Shelmar Johnson, and Rashan Brown.

The State of Alaska’s Department of Law came out with a press release immediately following the September 2013 filing, saying that they had no reason to think that there was any problem with the conviction of the Fairbanks Four. What no one knew then was that they had been in posession of a confession from Holmes and one of his accomplices  in the case for years, and kept it hidden. Holmes confessed to a Fairbanks corrections officer in 2011 who then passed the confession on the the Fairbanks Police Department. The FPD then shared the confession with the Fairbanks DA’s office. The DA was legally obligated to disclose this but elected to withhold it. The FPD could have elected to investigate it, but by their own admission simply shrugged it off.

When the Innocence Project unearthed this outrageous act they filed misconduct allegations against the state, and Detective Nolan, the police officer who received the confession said (and yes, pay attention, this is an actual quote) that he “”got it and basically, uh, I didn’t write anything up.”

Sitting chief of police Laren Zager described the receipt of a murder confession in a high-profile alleged case of wrongful conviction “basically a shoulder shrug,” in a May 2014 interiew with the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer. While an alternate murder confession sat on his desk, Zager boasted to the cameras during the KTUU documentary “The Fairbanks Four” that he had reviewed the case and considered it “model police work.”

After a seven month delay the State of Alaska responded to the original filing by the Innocence Project that contained the Holmes confession. The twenty-three-page response (so….just over one page per month in productivity) was a disorganized, hurried, odd attack on the Holmes confession, alternately attacking its credibility and its admissibility.

Over a year later, we now know that the State of Alaska had not only already covered up Holmes involvement by sweeping his confession under the rug, but had the gall to administer a lie detector test to the man, and after he passed it, continue to insist he was not telling the truth.

We didn’t need a lie detector test. It as been clear for a long time who is lying and hiding and who is telling the truth.

The argument could be made, and would likely be made by the State, that failing to disclose information or making an argument that a piece of evidence should be ruled technically inadmissible even though it is important and true is not as simple as lying. The procedures, loopholes, standards of practice, and theories of the court cloud and complicate things which should be in their nature quite simple. For example, they were under no obligation to disclose the lie detector test to the public. But the strategic withholding of information and deliberate proliferation of misinformation, however cloaked in orders or procedures, is at its core simple dishonesty. To create filings and statements that argue a murder confession should be suppressed because it isn’t credible while you hold back a lie detector test that demonstrate it is credible is lying, no matter how buried in technicalities the core is simple. William Holmes is telling the truth, the State of Alaska through many of its assigns knows that, and is still fighting to dismiss and hide that.

liedetectorWilliam Holmes has killed two people and participated in the murder of at least one more. Yet, he appears to be more capable of telling the truth about that than agents of the State of Alaska who have taken an oath to uphold justice. The State of Alaska is less ethical and honest than a convicted double murderer serving life in a maximum security prison. And we have the statements, videos, photos, lab reports, newspaper articles, science, forensics, witness statements, and now add to that list the LIE DETECTOR RESULTS to prove it.

When I was a little kid my dad used to say, “if you’re going to lie to me, lie to me. But don’t insult my intelligence by telling me a stupid lie.”

This entire case has become an exercise in humiliation, incompetence, incredible fiscal irresponsibility, moral bankruptcy, and stupid lies on the part of the State of Alaska. I am not sure whether or not the constant deceit will ever change, but it has come to a point where it seems the most insightful thing to say to the State of Alaska is, if you are going to lie to us, lie to us. But don’t insult our intelligence with another stupid lie.

No one can alter the past, but anyone can change the future. At any point in time the State of Alaska could drop charges against the Fairbanks Four, and perhaps even use that money to prosecute the men who actually killed John Hartman, some of whom still walk free. And this case reached a point long ago when that was simply the right thing to do. Instead, it appears they are absolutely unwilling to change course, and will spend millions of more dollars of Alaska’s money during a budget crisis to defend a prosecution they know is fatally flawed, completely fail to protect the public from accused thrill killers, and fail to pursue charges against criminals who should be in prison for killing a child.

truthMeaningful change does not come easily. There is a bias and a sickness in the justice system of Alaska that must be changed. Every door that is kicked down or pried open in this case will remain open for all those who come after them. The precedents that will be set while one grant-funded, underpaid, dedicated attorney for the Alaska Innocence Project faces off against the entire Alaska legal system will be relied on for the forseeable future. The Fairbanks Four case is and has always been about more than one case or four wrongfully convicted men. It is about all Indigenous people, all people, all Alaskans, all of the lives that have been lost to the bias in the system, and all the lives that will be saved when it is changed.

Thank you all for your continued dedication to the innocence and justice movements in Alaska. Never be discouraged – let each of these revelations, however troubling, be a reminder of why you have taken a stand. And brace yourself for more – I would love nothing more than to write the blog post that says the State has acted honorably and in the interest of justice, but expect that change will have to be brought upon them, not led by them.

The truth makes a formidable enemy, and one against whom the State has no chance. Truth prevails in the end, there is not enough money or deceit in the world to defeat it. The truth makes a powerful ally – be glad to stand on its side.

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I Am Spartacus – Prosecutor’s Hate Speech Backfires in Fairbanks Four Case

fairbanksfour4Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant, in cooperation with lead detective Aaron Ring, was without question the driving force behind the conviction of the Fairbanks Four. They pursued the conviction with a strange zealotry that to this day remains hard to understand.

By the time the cases went to trial it is impossible to conceive that the two men driving the court action could have possibly believed that the Fairbanks Four were guilty. In fact, they fabricated court exhibits, coached testimony they knew to be false, and attempted to intimidate defense witnesses, threatening them with arrest if they testified. They do not appear in this story as men who believed incorrectly that the four young men were guilty. They do not come across as men making a mistake – in reality it is clear that their actions were deliberate and calculated. And someday, we hope they are imprisoned for the crimes they committed.

Jeff O’Bryant was the man who tried and convicted George Frese, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, and Marvin Roberts. He went to trial with very little evidence of any kind, a few jailhouse snitches in his pocket, one fabricated exhibit presented as scientific, and absolutely no physical evidence. In addition to the lack of evidence indicating the men were guilty, there was a tremendous amount of alibi testimony indicating that the men were innocent. To convict the Fairbanks Four, O’Bryant knew he would have to convict the alibis, the witnesses, and in reality, all Native people. He had the ideal stage. Overt, extreme racism against the Native people of Alaska is the norm in the northern state. Persuading an all-white jury that being guilty of being Native was guilty enough was not as difficult as we hope it will be someday. So, Jeff O’Bryant argued that the alibi witnesses in the Fairbanks Four case should be ignored because they were simply Indians sticking together the way Indians do, a la “Spartacus.”

Fortunately for ol’ Jeff, the jury must have met the demographic of people who have seen the movie Spartacus. In order to fully understand the reference we did some research into the Spartacus mythology, and the pop culture “I Am Spartacus” moment that Jeff O’Bryant compared Native people to. And, wow, Jeff. He got it all wrong. He really misunderstood Spartacus. And he really misunderstood Native people. He really misunderstood a lot of things, and the jury misunderstood with him. But at the end of the day, he may be right about the Spartacus-Fairbanks Four Supporter connection.

spartacusThe mythology of Spartacus has taken many forms, and made its way into American pop culture in the 1960 movie “Spartacus” starring Kirk Douglas. According to that account, Spartacus was born into a corrupt Roman empire, where the poor were regularly enslaved as soldier in a never-ending series of wars. Spartacus was born a soldier in that world, but eventually refused to fight and escaped. He was hunted down and arrested, then turned over as a slave in a labor camp. While enslaved there, Spartacus led a small band of other slaves to freedom with a brazen escape plan. Shortly after escaping, the enemy army located Spartacus and his fellow slaves in a camp. They fought off the soldiers sent to recapture them, and went on to free many more slaves and win many battles. At its height, his army born from a slave uprising is said to have reached over 100,000 men. As the leader of the most notable uprising of the lower class against the government in the history of the Roman empire, Spartacus was most-wanted man in the ancient world and there was a huge price on his head. When the Roman army eventually circled around and outnumbered the escaped slaves they made the recaptured soldiers a simple offer: all of the slaves would be pardoned. They would not be killed, but would remain slaves. All of their lives would be spared so long as they handed over Spartacus. If they failed to hand over Spartacus, they would all be crucified.

Spartacus heard the offer while they all sat surrounded and stood up. To spare the lives of his friends and fellow warriors, he said “I am Spartacus.” But one after another, more slaves stood up and proclaimed “I am Spartacus.”

i-am-spartacus-2The rebel army that stood behind Spartacus met a bloody fate. Most were killed that day in 73 BC and in the days that followed. 6,000 escaped followers of Spartacus were hunted down and crucified. The government lined the streets with their corpses as a warning to any other citizens considering rising up against the empire. Yet, the men died free, and the rebellion has inspired humanity ever since.

The story of Spartacus is told as a story of loyalty. Bravery. Of the perseverance of the human spirit and the ability to defeat enormous enemies in the face of oppression if not logistically, then spiritually.

With that in mind, it is a strange and poignant irony that Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant chose this story as the metaphor for the Fairbanks Four alibis and witnesses. O’Bryant argued, apparently persuasively, that the witnesses were all somehow simultaneously fabricating their testimony in an effort to protect other Natives. Slaves. Unruly slaves were what came to mind when O’Bryant wanted to undermine an entire race of people.  According to the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer, O’Bryant told this version of the Spartacus story in closing arguments:

“It reminded me,” he told jurors, “of the movie where the Romans have a bunch of prisoners, slaves, and there’s an uprising amongst the slaves because of the conditions. And the leader of the uprising, apparently, was Spartacus.”

When the Romans came looking for Spartacus, O’Bryant observed, “much like the witnesses here” slaves stepped forward declaring “I am Spartacus,” one after another.

When the jury announced a guilty verdict, Kevin Pease turned to Jeff O’Bryant and said, “How does it feel to convict an innocent man, Jeff?”

How did it feel, Mr. O’Bryant?

fairbanksfour6In 1997 there was no army. There was no conspiracy, there was no massive decision by dozens upon dozens of Native people to lie for the benefit of other Native people. There were only people, telling the truth in a court of law, where they were dismissed at face value because of their ethnicity. Kids. Living out a role they were born into. They hadn’t had that moment yet. That moment when you realize some kinds of discrimination are bigger than the individual. Those kids walked into the courtroom believing justice was blind, and they walked out with their eyes wide open.

billfairbanksofurBut today, there is an army. There are thousands of people willing to stand behind these wrongfully convicted men and say, if you take one innocent person you take us all. To say no, we will not quietly allow you to take a few people in exchange for a life where we are complicit in our own continued enslavement. Thank you for pointing us to this inspiring bit of history. But remember, never take heavy words for granted. Never forget words have a power all their own, that once they leave your mouth there is always the risk that they will be truly heard. Cause guess what, Jeff? Can you hear them now? They’re saying, I am Spartacus. We are all Spartacus.

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Birthday Letters – Happy Birthday George

George Christopher Frese turned 38 years old on January 17, 2015.

His birthday marked the 6,296th day of his incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit.

Npaper1In prison George has grown from adolescence to middle age. He entered prison at a time in life where we all thought thirty was old. Now gray streaks our hair and thirty is just a memory. He is a grandfather. His daughter is older today than he was when he was taken away. The loss and tragedy of the situation are enormous, but he rarely focuses on that. George has managed, against the odds, to grow in other ways during those years. He has managed to find peace and acceptance for this life path, and has kept a steady determination to fight toward exoneration. His absolute faith that the suffering he and the other three men he was convicted with means something has long been an inspiration and source of solace to the family, friends, and supporters who fight for his release. If, George has said, their wrongful conviction and incarceration leads to changes in the system and the social concept of justice and equality in Alaska, even if it is only enough to prevent one wrongful conviction, it is a suffering he is willing to endure.
George received the longest sentence in the case. There is no rhyme or reason behind the sentencing disparity, but there are some real consequences. George will only leave prison if he is exonerated. There is no second chance – no side door for him. If he is not freed, he will spend his last birthday on Earth there.

Yet, George has kept his sense of humor. He has kept the desire to learn, kept standards. He has held on to his love for his family and friends on the other side, and has fought the hard battle to keep faith and mostly won. He has voraciously studied the fields of philosophy and psychology, with an emphasis on cross cultural communication and social psychology. He has spent the time bettering himself, playing cards, drawing, letting time pass without letting it pass him by entirely. He is remarkably well read, articulate, and as steady and funny as he ever was.

And out here, he is just missed. There is an empty space where George should be in so many lives and places, and that space will always exist and it will always hurt until he comes home.

Happy Birthday, George. Whatever life brings, or means, or throws your way or ours, just know we are in it together. We’re still fighting and waiting, and one of these birthdays we will see you at home.

Below are letters from George that have arrived throughout the years for the blog, links to the Fairbanks Four documentary by KTUU, and a radio interview by George.

Letters from George HERE and HERE

KTUU 49th Report “The Fairbanks Four” special Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw6mAJvzzIg

Radio interview HERE.

The “Secret Confession” Alaska Courts Failed to Unwrap this Christmas

statueThe snow-covered courtyard that stretches from the doors of the Fairbanks Superior Courthouse to the meandering bank of the Chena River twinkles with Christmas lights throughout the late winter months. The clock tower chimes the time. In the shadow of the clock lies the cernterpiece of the plaza – a large bronze statue of an Inuit family. It is meant as a tribute to the first peoples of Alaska who for years have gathered at the courthouse doors asking for justice. In summer months the statue is the centerpiece of a busy downtown, but in the silence and snow they appear determined, but alone.

Inside the courthouse, on the desk of Paul Lyle, sits what is likely to be one of the most controversial court rulings in the history of Alaska. The ruling is another layer in the web of bureacratic secrecy that has troubled the Fairbanks Four case for many years.

Judge Lyle has made a ruling on the “secret confession,” and that ruling now sits hidden from public view while the appeal courts consider the secret appeal to the secret ruling on the secret document contained in the Alaska Innocence Project filing from September 2013. The document is widely assumed to contain a murder confession by Jason Wallace in the 1997 death of John Hartman, the crime for which the Fairbanks Four have been imprisoned for over 17 years and which they have claimed to be innocent since their arrests.

In recent weeks, a long-awaited sign of activity on the Fairbanks Four case appeared on the docket of the Fairbanks Superior Court. The court records available to the public are scant, but have put the community on notice that there is indeed activity behind the closed doors.

Court documents released in early January indicated that Judge Paul Lyle has indeed made a decision on some element of the case, but the decision has been stayed – the legal equivalent of a pause button. The reason for the stay is to allow for a person named only as “The Affected Party” to perfect an appeal. Although the nature of sealed proceedings is inherently vague, the press was quick to deduce that the affected party was Jason Wallace, a man whose “secret confession” is at the heart of the sealed brief, the closed courtroom proceedings, and much controversy.

jason wallacLittle is known about the details of the statements made by Jason Wallace and filed under seal. But enough is known about Jason Wallace, his crimes, his actions, his habits, and circumstances, that coupled with the reporting surrounding the issue, that supporters have long been able to read between the lines.

Jason Wallace currently resides in Spring Creek Maximum Security Prison in Seward, Alaska, where he is serving a 60 year sentence for the 2002 murder by hammer of Fairbanks woman Teacke Bacote, the stabbing of Fairbanks resident Corey Spears, and his part in the conspiracy that led to the killings of Hakeem Bryant and Christopher Martin. The bloody crime spree planned by Wallace and his associate William Holmes was interrupted before they were able to kill thier last three intended victims – Michale Keys, Jaqueline Godfrey, and Godfrey’s young daughter.

Wallace and Holmes had a relatively simple plan – the two were involved in a planned $80,000 drug purchase, along with a handful of friends. Wallace was to stay in Alaska to kill the two people in Fairbanks who knew the details of the buy, Teacka Bacote and Corey Spears, while Holmes flew to California with their fellow buyers, Hakeem Bryant and Christopher Martin, to kill them. Then, Holmes and Wallace would reunite in Washington to make the purchase and kill the last targets – Michael Keys and Jaqueline Godfrey along with her young daughter (presumably to prevent witnesses) -allowing them to keep the drugs and cash. William Holmes and Jason Wallace were willing to kill their own friends, women, and an innocent child for $80,000 in cash and another $80,000 worth of cocaine. The plan did not end as planned and fate spared the lives of the last three victims.

William Holmes, 1997

William Holmes, 1997

Holmes killed Martin and Bryant in California. He shot them execution-style on the side of the freeway on Christmas Eve. Their bodies along with the charred remains of the rental car the three were travelling in were discovered the same day.

On December 27, Jason Wallace went to the home of Teacka Bacote, an unarmed 22 year old woman and friend, and killed her with a hammer. He then went to the house of friend Corey Spears and stabbed him in the neck with a screwdriver as the man slept. Although it was Wallace’s intention to kill him, Spears survived the brutal attack. After attacking Spears, Jason Wallace returned to the home of Teacka Bacote to set her body and fully occupied apartment building on fire.

Wallace was apprehended at the Fairbanks International Airport when he arrived burned and reeking of gasoline and attempted to board a flight. He confessed nearly immediately to his crimes. He cried and talked often of his mother and God in his interviews with troopers. His tears were not for his victims, but for himself. Having planned the deaths of seven people, stabbing his friend, and murdering a woman by hammer, Jason Wallace was overcome with self-pity. It is clear in transcripts that Wallace wanted to do as little time as possible, and he immediately began providing information on his codenfendent as well as many other associates. He, for example, names Shelmar Johnson as the man who supplied the weapons for the crime spree he and Holmes planned. He named many individuals as drug users, sellers, and showed an extreme willingness to provide any kind of information he could to negotiate for leniency.

Sometime between the night he was arrested and early 2004, Wallace said something else. The Alaska Innocence Project refers to “statements of Jason Wallace” that corroborate the written confession to the Hartman beating death by William Holmes, and goes on to say that the court must determine whether these statements are still subject attorney client privilege.

Given that Jason Wallace only had one attorney, public defender Geoffrey Wildridge, and only had communication with the attorney from spring of 2003 through the end of his trial, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that Wallace must have confessed to killing John Hartman to his attorney. Because Jason Wallace provided so much information, and so openly negotiate information for leniency, it is easy to imagine that Wallace may have confessed only in an attempt to trade the information for more leniency. It seems not only possible but very likely that many people under State of Alaska employ inside the justice system may have known about alternative confessions in the Hartman case as far back as 2002 or 2003.

Do Not EnterYet, unless and until the words of Jason Wallace currently buried inside a secret filing and caught up in a secret appeal are ever released, the truth about Jason Wallace remains a carefully kept secret.

As always, Alaskans, remember that there are many who walk among you with secrets about this case. Sadly, that includes some members of society we are told to trust the most. But it also includes scores of individuals who heard directly from William Holmes, Shelmar Johnson, Marquez Penningotn, and Jason Wallace about the killing of John Hartman. If you or anyone you know has information about this case please contact the Alaska Innocence Project at (907) 279-0454.

Want to read more? Do!

Local Reporters Visited Wallace at FCC in 2004. In this article, they describe his response to their questions about the case. Read that HERE

Local reporter Brian O’Donoghue released an article recently in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer. It is as detailed as any article is likely to be regarding the appeal process.HERE.

HERE, HERE, and HERE are a few articles on the murders Wallace and Holmes committed in 2002.

Wallace was hardly the only one talking. Bill Holmes confessed to the murder of John Hartman first in 2011 to an officer at the correctional facility where he is serving a double life sentence, who sent the confession on to the Fairbanks Police Department, who passed it on to the District Attorney. They then worked together to hide the confession, but it was eventually revealed. Read about that HERE. Holmes eventually got a confession to the Alaska Innocence Project as well. Read about that HERE.

A Life Split in Half – Happy Birthday Eugene Vent

TEugeneoday, Eugene Vent has officially spent more years as an innocent man in prison than he spent in the outside world.

Seventeen Novembers have passed since Eugene Vent turned 18 inside a holding cell in Fairbanks Correctional Center. He was kept in isolation because of the very real and persistent threats of violence from other inmates. Jail records recall how inmates would lean up to the small slat in his door and whisper graphic threats to Vent, alone for 23 hours per day in the cell. Imagine how it must have felt, alone and away from family for the first time in his young life, on a birthday considered the passage into adulthood, in a concrete room with faceless voices that whispered a hundred ways to die.

“You know,” Vent said, “It took me a long time to forgive myself for not being stronger. Like, years and years walking around knowing that if I hadn’t broken under the officer’s pressure, if I hadn’t falsely confessed, how many lives would be different. Better. I was mad at myself for not being more of, like, a man. But over time I realized I was just a kid then. When I think back on that kid so scared, so stupid, so young, man, just so young, in that interrogation room, now I think, I forgive you. I forgive that kid. I forgive myself. It seems so long ago it’s hard to even remember who I was at 17. A lifetime ago. I’ve missed a lot of life. But, you know, if all this time we have done and our story out there, if it stops this from happening to even just one kid like I was, it’s worth it. I will know my life had meaning.”

Life. Fresh cut grass, dinner on the table, babies crying, sisters laughing, grandma’s hand on your face, Christmas morning, scraped knees, pretty girls, mom’s voice, falling asleep on the couch, sick days, boot prints on fresh snow, high-bush cranberries, dead leaves in the fall, melting snow, mud, puddles, bicycle wheels over gravel, running on dusty roads, first kisses, first loves, last chances, thunderstorms, birthday cakes, moose soup on the stove, woodsmoke, fish, summer, fall, spring, winter, life, life, life. Seventeen years of living in color, until one night in the seventeenth year, so scared, so young, it changed. Everything changed.

It makes sense that the first life, the other life, is one so far away that he can hardly remember himself back then. Like a photograph out of focus. A dream slipping away in the space between awake and asleep. For seventeen years there was one life. And for seventeen more there has been the other. The smells, the voices, the people, the faces, the seasons – all gone. Concrete and barbed wire, every day the same as the last, the threat of violence pulsing down constantly like the florescent flickering light in any institution. Yet, somehow, there Eugene has found forgiveness. He has found faith. He has, absent all the tiny pieces that contentment is made of, has found assurance that his life has meaning.

Birthdays are not eulogies for the life that came before them. They are not a time to mourn the past.They are not celebrations of the present alone. Birthdays are markings of the passage of time – acknowledgment that time is moving forward, that we are moving with it, and that time has circled one more year, leading us where it will.

Happy Birthday Eugene, and many happy returns. May the next seventeen years of your life be a joining of the last 35. May you someday know the simple joys of life coupled with the wisdom that suffering gifted you. For all the things that are hard to recall from those first seventeen years we know one remains clear – love. The love was real, the love remains, and we know you feel it there too. We are still holding a candle for you, brother, we always will.

 

Secret Court Hearing in Fairbanks Four Case Held

IMG_1857 A nearly silent crowd of Alaskans flanked by reporters filled the hallways of the Fairbanks Superior Court this morning. They passed methodically through security and made their way to courtroom 401. The crowd lingered around a closed door, and on that door hung a sign that said “Confidential Hearing – Do Not Enter.”

Behind the doors the crowd was barred from entering, Judge Paul Lyle heard arguments from attorneys for the Fairbanks Four and the opposing counsel on the sealed brief, or “secret confession,” of Jason Wallace. The statements of Jason Wallace, filed under seal so that the court could determine if the statements could remain sealed under attorney-client privelage, have become a focal point for supporters of the men known as the Fairbanks Four. Those supporters gathered beside the doors sealed against them and prayed.

secrethearing1“Our Creator,” Reverand Fisher said solemnly, “can pass through any door.”

No one there expected to be admitted to the courtroom. Instead, they came simply so the world could watch them linger. Watch them locked out of the court from which they have sought justice for seventeen long years. Stand there simply so that the human beings who together make up the justice system would have to walk through a gauntlet of humanity – so that all who were admitted into the room would see the faces of so many who are shut out. Those who feel abandoned and betrayed by what they have seen inside a system whose promise is blind justice, and equality for all. Those who live in limbo, those who are used to doors they cannot enter.

Do Not EnterBehind those closed doors, secrets stayed secret. Attorneys argued, witnesses were called, and under the cloak of anonymity and the protection of a seal, one side fought to keep a murder confession hidden for more than a decade a secret, and the other side argued for an end to the era of secrets in the Fairbanks Four case.

nodogsorindiansNo one likes the “race card,” which is a way of saying no one likes to talk about race. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear. Rarely is it harder to hear than it is to say. Always, it is important to do both. But for the first peoples of Alaska and those who live among them, doors have been built, locked, closed, and labeled in ways that change lives for generations. It is important to understand that in order to understand the depth of common pain that resides in those hallways, and the determination to not remain unseen. It was not long ago at all that children were stolen away and locked behind the doors of mission schools where they were tortured and altered. Many never walked out. It wasn’t long ago that the stores that line the downtown avenues just beside the courthouse had signs hung in the windows that said “No Dogs or Natives Allowed.” It was not many years ago that a sign in Tanana prohibited Natives from crossing the “mission line” that cut their ancestral home in two.

secrethearinghazelAnd it was seventeen years and one month ago exactly today that four young men were taken away for a crime that they didn’t commit and locked behind doors. Doors that they cannot walk out of. Doors their family cannot cross over. Doors that, deep down, everyone gathered in the hallway knows they may never walk out of. Behind locked doors are secrets, opportunities, histories, loved ones, strangers, stories, and in this case, the truth.

“It reminded me,” said supporter Misty Nickoli of the somber scene in the hallway, “of the gatherings at a person’s house, after they die. They way people hold onto dignity and do what they have to do even when it is a time of grief. It’s hard. Those times when you just know that the future isn’t always fair. But we have to keep going.:”

Do Not EnterIn this case, in the case of the Fairbanks Four and the case of equality in Alaska, it is time for doors to open. It is important to fill those hallways and linger outside the doors so that someday, some bright day, our children will not have to. Until then, the hallways will remain full if people who know there are forces that pass through man made doors and lines, and that they are part of that power.

Photo credit goes to the lovely and talented Carey, sister of George Frese.

You can and SHOULD read news on this hearing. Many times, the press does their job spreading information, and we do our job telling a story. Here are some articles and newscasts.

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/10/23/evidentiary-hearing-scheduled-november-10-fairbanks-four-case-157431

http://www.newsminer.com/fairbanks_four/hearing-opens-on-secret-file-in-john-hartman-murder-case/article_00538486-692f-11e4-b775-db35eafa7519.html

http://www.webcenter11.com/story/hearing-set-review-new-fairbanks-four-evidence

http://www.ktuu.com/news/news/group-claims-officials-knew-of-murder-confession-years-before-fairbanks-four-filing/25862168