Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Life is about time. Time is all we have, really. And time is what the State of Alaska has stolen from so many, and what they are always wanting more of.
In the last hours of the last day remaining of the six month extension the State of Alaska was granted to review the Alaska Innocence Project’s motion for post conviction relief based on actual innocence for the Fairbanks Four, the State of Alaska has finally responded.
In September the Alaska Innocence Project and attorney Colleen Libby filed motions claiming that George Frese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts, and Kevin Pease were innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. The state responded to that claim (which spanned some 131 pages) with a 23 page response which focuses largely on legal technicalities and little on the inherent accuracy of the claim that the Fairbanks Four are innocent, and that five other men are actually responsible for the violent beating death of John Hartman.
In general the response by the state reads like a typical attack by a prosecutor made on the arguments of opposing counsel. The response appears to be hastily written, with typos and a very conversational tone. It is not an thorough nor is it an independent review of the case and the claims of innocence by the Fairbanks Four, which is what the State of Alaska assured the Alaskan public is what they would receive at the end of the long extension (HERE).
In fact, the complexity of the case and the need to be thorough were cited as primary reasons for the long extension request. Senators Begich and Murkowski both wrote open letters to the governor (HERE and HERE) stating the importance of a thorough and independent review. Murkowski demanded that “no stone be left unturned.” In response, the State of Alaska overturned no stones. In fact, they only attempted to bury the stones. Begich asserted that “there can be no excuse for not having acted quickly in pursuit of justice and fairness for all involved.” In response, the State of Alaska acted slowly in pursuit of vague and poorly crafted arguments that this case should be kept out of court, with no indication that these arguments were in the interest of justice nor fairness.
We will highlight some of the most important and striking statements made by Alaska Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman on behalf of the State, and respond to them here. In this post we will focus on a few of her most important and central arguments. In the days to come we will continue to provide specific responses to the many statement made by the State. For tonight we will highlight the principle attacks on the Holmes confession. Quotes from the filing are in bold.
“As reported at the court’s last status hearing, investigation into the allegations made in the petitions is not complete.”
Let us begin by clarifying the roles of the State and Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a legal non-profit. They function as a neutral third party who conducts independent reviews and investigations of cases that are referred to them and pass the initial screening process, during which it is determined that there exists a credible indication that the case may be one of wrongful conviction. They then complete a review and investigation and produce findings. In the case of the Fairbanks Four there has only ever been one independent investigation. That investigation was done by the Innocence Project, and the findings of that investigation were made public through the filing of a post conviction relief motion.
The State of Alaska was tasked only with reviewing and verifying the information in the PCR filing made by Alaska Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is staffed by one attorney, run by a volunteer board, and funded through donations and grants alone. They investigated a case that originated in 1997, reviewed all original materials, investigated the assault of Hartman, procured at least one direct confession, and filed their findings in less than eighteen months. By contrast, the State of Alaska has scores of attorneys at their disposal, access to the use of Alaska State Troopers, police, Alaska Bureau of Investigation, and millions of dollars in their budget for this fiscal year alone. Yet, they were unable to thoroughly review the work of one attorney in an eight month period. This is cause for concern. Furthermore, they failed to even scratch the surface of the task given them, which was to complete a review of the Alaska Innocence Project findings and investigate the evidence contained within. Instead of investigating the information to verify its accuracy they simply crafted an argument to keep the information out of court.
Let us also clarify what exactly the Fairbanks Four are asking for. They have filed a motion for post conviction relief that asks the state to vacate their convictions. It does not ask for immediate exoneration and release. It asks for convictions that were obtained with incomplete information, fictional information, fabricated testimony, coached and bribed testimony, and junk science to be vacated. The state could comply with that request and proceed into a trial. If the State of Alaska could convict them today with all available information admitted into trial, they could vacate these convictions and return to court to have an honest and fair trial, kinda like the one promised to all Americans in the constitution. It is not the release of the Fairbanks Four the State of Alaska is arguing against, it is their right to have a jury of their peers determine their guilt or innocence in a court of law. For eight months the State of Alaska has, with its virtually limitless resources, produced a document that not only fails to fulfill its expressed purpose, but is by their own admission “not complete.”
Bachman makes numerous and vigorous assertions that the testimony of William Holmes (HERE) is not in fact a confession, but hearsay.
“What the petitioners present amounts only to hearsay allegations that a third person, Jason Wallace, made incriminating statements about assaulting John Hartman…and hearsay is not admissible evidence.”
Webster Dictionary defines the two words in question here as:
Hearsay. noun. information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate; rumor.
Confession. noun. a written or spoken statement in which you say that you have done something wrong or committed a crime.
The confession by William Holmes is a firsthand account of his actions, motivations, intentions, movements, and observations the night John Hartman was killed. He confesses to driving into downtown Fairbanks that night with a group of friends for the express purpose of assaulting someone. He expresses that he intended to harm someone, and to drive the car necessary for all parties to flee the scene of these assaults. He further states that after learning John Hartman had died from the assault that he told his accomplices to not talk about the assault.
William Holmes confesses his crime. He confesses his sins. In fact, Holmes first attempted to provide this confession to the Fairbanks Police and through them, the District Attorney and state. They then hid the information and did nothing with it. Read about that HERE.
When the State of Alaska interviewed William Holmes about his involvement with the Hartman murder he maintained his guilt and the guilt of the other parties named. Without the ability to disprove his claim it appears that Adrienne Bachman chose the only method left to her in attempting to uphold the Fairbanks Four conviction, which was not to address whether or not the confession was true, but simply to craft an argument that it was technically not a confession.
The legal definition of hearsay is more complex, but in essence the same in spirit and application. Bachman’s assertion that the Holmes statement is purely hearsay is absurd. If her version of hearsay were to be applied that would mean that essentially a person could agree to drive their friend to go stab someone. They could wait outside until the friend came back out, bloody with a knife in hand, and said “I just finished stabbing so-and-so, let’s get out of here,” and that person’s testimony would not be allowable in court. I am not attorney, but I don’t need a legal degree to tell you, that is stupid. And if it is the best that the combined brainpower, money, resources, and attorneys at the department of law can produce in eight months, we should all be very concerned.
Bachman goes on to poke holes in the credibility of Holmes and Davison’s statements by explaining that they should not be believed because they did not come forward to get any leniency for themselves. As in, they had nothing to gain by coming forward, so we should not believe them.
Um…….okay, I officially have a headache.
In reality, the fact that neither Holmes nor Davison had anything to gain in coming forward lends credibility to their statements. If they had been offered some kind of leniency or reward or personal gain their statements would be less credible. But apparently at the department of law doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do is unheard of. Somehow, I am not surprised. They themselves seem much more interested in taking action for personal gain or to avoid responsibility for their actions than in doing the right thing. Which is disturbing. Because that means that the State of Alaska is apparently less ethical than a petty criminal and a triple murderer.
Perhaps the most interesting element of this filing is not what is in it, but what is NOT in it.
Bachman makes many personal attacks on Davison. Apparently when she was unable to dismantle the factual nature of his statements she opted to take a stab at intimidating and humiliating him to weaken his will. Remember, this young man had nothing to gain and everything to lose. She attacks him over and over as a person, yet does not bother to attach evidence that her claims are factual.
Bachman makes many comments about interviews and evidence that she does not introduce or include.
Bachman insinuates that she has ‘many’ witnesses, yet does not name even one.
What this filing fundamentally contains is a lot of grasping at straws, and very few facts. It is heavy on attempts to attack the truth through technicalities and light on any actual truth of its own.
Funny thing about the truth – it outlasts us all. Time reveals it. Funny thing about darkness – light banishes it.
The State of Alaska had an opportunity to seek justice instead of ego. Fundamentally, it is disappointing that they did not take that opportunity. No matter how hard they try to make this case go away, it will remain. No matter how hard they try to bury the truth, it will emerge. It is not disappointing because their approach will destroy the truth – it won’t. This battle will be long, but truth will prevail. It is disappointing because life gives human beings opportunities to choose between what is status quo and what is right. Those opportunities are gifts, and they failed to receive it. And at the end of the day, that is sad, because there is nothing so rewarding in life as to listen to your better angels and take a stand for good.
Adrienne Bachman is only a person. In all reality she is just a person with a job, following rules, and taking orders from department heads and bosses. Orders from above.
We are taking orders from above, too. Perhaps it is time that she seeks a power higher than the one whose orders she followed today.