Day 19 – State Witness Stuns Courtroom, Backfires in Fairbanks Four Case

Day 19, October 30, 2015

Ellsworth, MattThe nineteenth day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four bid for exoneration opened with the jaw-dropping testimony of witness Matt Ellsworth.

In 2011, Scott Davison came forward to the Innocence Project with information that altered the outlook for the Fairbanks Four. He reluctantly told a story of how in 1997, as a high school student, he and friend Matt Ellsworth were heading out of the Lathrop High School parking lot to ditch school and smoke pot in the bowling alley parking lot nearby. Jason Wallace, and acquaintance to both boys, jumped in the car. Once parked at the bowling alley, Davison said, Wallace held up a newspaper detailing the Hartman murder and told Davison and Ellsworth that he had killed Hartman.

Records indicate that as Davison entered adulthood he led a life troubled by addiction and frequent arrests for petty crimes. When the Alaska Innocence Project filed their post conviction relief filing with his testimony in it, he became the target of attacks by the State of Alaska, aimed at discrediting him through character assassination. To make matters worse, when Ellsworth was contacted by investigators he denied knowing Wallace or Davison, and claimed the events described by Davison simply never happened. This strengthened the attack on Davison The State of Alaska called Ellsworth to the stand to discredit the testimony of Scott Davison and Matt Ellsworth’s denial of the Davison narrative was expected to be a serious blow to Davison’s credibility. But there under oath, facing Marvin Roberts, a man who spent the last eighteen years in prison because of a lie, Matt Ellsworth decided to tell the truth.

When questioning came to the critical point – whether or not anything of note had ever happened while ditching school and smoking pot by the bowling alley – Ellsworth took a long pause, then finally spoke,

hardtruth“There is one time that stands out. “There was a story that led up to an event. A past, recent crime. A recent murder. A young caucasian boy who was beaten to death by….by…” Ellsworth took a long pause before finishing, “By Jason Wallace. He made statements referring to this crime, that he was involved. And he stated, I remember, if I find out that anybody – and I am paraphrasing – tells anyone else, then I’ll end their life…I’ll kill you…I would make sure the person doesn’t live.”

The flabbergasted state prosecutors tried to land on their feet, but it was evident that the Ellsworth testimony came as a complete shock. The demanded to know, over and over, why Ellsworth was changing his story, as he had previously told investigators who called on the phone that he knew nothing about it. Ellsworth admitted that he lied to the investigator who called, out of a desire to stay away from the issue, but mostly because he was scared for his life.

“I felt the need to say something. I am under oath in a court,” Ellsworth said.

When it came time for the petitioner’s attorneys to cross-examine Ellsworth one simply rose and said, “no further questions, your honor.”

Real-life courtroom moments like the Ellsworth testimony are uncommon and his under oath turnaround certainly stunned the attorneys as well as observers. It took tremendous courage to speak out about what he heard back in 1997. Witness after witness has expressed fear for their life and safety for testifying against Jason Wallace. The witnesses who knew Wallace are unified in their belief that he will retaliate against them, and that the State of Alaska will not protect them. Sadly, they are right about the latter point. Instead of dismissing charges against the Fairbanks Four and pursuing the prosecution of serial killer Jason Wallace with vigor, the State of Alaska granted him immunity, bought him a few new suits, dressed him up, and paraded around their star witness with no regard whatsoever to the people who will be in danger when their truly dangerous pet is set free.

In a move which we predicted, but still find entirely disgusting, the State of Alaska brought child-killer Jason Wallace to court not to be prosecuted, but as their new lap dog. For the sake of brevity, we will condense all of Wallace’s testimony to its own post you can read HERE.  But in a nutshell, Wallace denied knowing anyone, knowing anything, ever hearing of the Hartman murder, and insisted that despite a long line of credible and diverse witnesses whose testimony implicated him, they were all lying, and he alone was telling the truth.

Matt Ellsworth’s courage shone brightly. His honesty was the perfect contrast to Wallace’s incredible dishonesty, and the state’s witness ultimately strengthened the case for innocence greatly. Wherever you are Matt Ellsworth, thank you. Please do not feel afraid. There is a power greater, wiser, bigger than men like Jason Wallace, and you are in the hearts of many who have prayed these eighteen years for men like you to find their voice, and they will continue to ask for your protection and reward. You did a hard thing. A beautiful and decent hard thing, and we are glad we were there to see it.

Newsminer Day 19 Coverage

Day 18 – State Calls the Mother of Marvin Roberts, Brother of John Hartman

Day 18 – October 29, 2015

The State of Alaska called Hazel Roberts, the mother of accused Marvin Roberts, as the first witness of the day. In disjointed and wandering videotaped testimony aired earlier in the week, former Roberts acquaintance Margaretta Hoffman claimed that on the night John Hartman was killed she was at the Roberts home doing cocaine, getting drunk, and was ultimately part of a conspiracy to throw away shoes. Hoffman, a self-confessed user of methamphetamine and cocaine since 1993, provided testimony which did not comply with any testimony given by any others in the case. Hazel Roberts was called to the witness stand in response to the Hoffman claims and reiterated her original testimony, which matches those of the other household members and has been consistent from her first contact with police in 1997 through today. She knew Hoffman, Roberts said, and did hang out with her a few times, but not the night in question. None of the things Hoffman testified to happened. When a 19-year-old Marvin Roberts came home the night in question everyone was in bed, there was no remarkable entrance, no shoes thrown out, nothing but a quiet return. Marvin Roberts turned off the light above the stove and went to bed.

The testimony of Hazel Roberts was followed by Chris “Sean” Kelly, John Hartman’s brother. Although in earlier filings special prosecutor described Sean Kelly’s testimony as “words he could never forget,” and indicated some absolute proof would come from Kelly as to the guilt of the Fairbanks Four, his testimony was focused mostly on forgotten words, gaps, heartbreak, confusion.

KellyKelly took the stand dressed in gray, his clean-cut and angular face unmistakably similar to the pictures of victim John Hartman. Unlike Hartman, who has remained frozen at the entrance to adolescence in his death, the years were evident on Sean Kelly, who is no longer the lanky teen brother from the original case footage, but a middle-aged man.

Kelly testified that shortly after his brother’s death he was incarcerated at Fairbanks Correctional Center with the Fairbanks Four. According to Kelly, he approached Eugene Vent one night and confronted him. Kelly recalls Vent saying, “We didn’t know that was your little brother.” Kelly was unclear on any other words exchanged. To the clear frustration of Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman, he could not recall portions of earlier statements about the incident. Bachman alleged that Eugene Vent had made more incriminating confessional statements to Kelly.

“It didn’t go down like that, I wouldn’t…No, that’s….it’s not what I remember,” Kelly said.

“It would help that the truth comes out, no matter what. I would like some closure,” Kelly said in an interview after testimony.

After his testimony was complete Kelly discussed the process with reporter Stephanie Woodard. He said that testifying brings back the pain of his brother’s murder. He talked about his mother crying, this very specific and unforgettable cry, a bedside vigil for a beloved little brother who was so brutally attacked that footprints remained on his skin.

Chris “Sean” Kelly seems to still believe that the right men are in prison for his brother’s death. Petitioner’s attorney Whitney Glover attempted to open with condolences from her clients to Kelly, which he bristled at. After a long list evidence pointing toward the alternative suspects, Kelly countered, “well they’re not the ones sitting in jail for it.”

And if Kelly believes the right men are in prison, that is okay. None of us can possibly imagine what it would be like to live through what he has. He lost a baby brother at the hands of really horrible people who committed a disgusting awful unthinkable crime. The pain of losing a loved one to that kind of violence is beyond understanding. In his grief and pain he was assured by the people in power that his brother would get justice, that they had the right guys, and those guys would pay. It is only natural that he is attached to the story, it is how they made sense from something that does not make sense. There is a life path for him, he is on it, and if God sees fit to change Kelly’s mind he will. Until then, we hope advocates for the Fairbanks Four can see Kelly simply as a grieving man who suffered a serious loss, who is willing to face it down, remember his brother with honor, and a man who deserves our kindness.

For eighteen long years this case has never, despite the sincerest desires of the State of Alaska, “gone away.” For John Hartman’s family the violence that took their loved one remains splashed across headlines, a hot topic on social media, the subject of films. It must be extremely painful.

Injustice reaches across many lives and leaves much pain in its wake. It is time for the story of this injustice to end.

Day 17 – Former District Attorney Comes Under Fire

addupIn the seventeenth day of the proceedings we saw a few more state witnesses backfire and support claims of innocence, and another tape of an unavailable and clearly mentally ill person. The state’s case is a litany of witnesses who are mentally ill, testifying to unrelated issues, or there to defend their own reputation.

The State of Alaska began day seventeen with the completion of the Margaretta Hoffman testimony (read HERE) and then moved on to a series of former DA’s and a police officer. All were called in relation to how the handled the 2011 Holmes confession in the case.

Former district Attorney Scott Mattern was methodically and relentlessly questioned during cross-examination by Kate Demarest, one of the attorneys comprising the pro bono team from the international Dorsey and Whitney firm. In his initial testimony Mattern stated that he did not investigate or pursue the 2011 confession to John Hartman’s killing by William Holmes because he did not find it credible.

“That’s because, if I’m understanding you correctly, you found it not credible that the two guys, Holmes and Wallace, who had murdered three people together in 2002 could have also murdered someone else in 1997?” Demarest asked.

Mattern’s testimony was characterized by repeated angry outbursts. He stammered under continued questioning and presentation of exhibit after exhibit, including an email from a police officer directly asking Mattern if the evidence should be disclosed, that contradicted his testimony. Mattern was followed by fellow former DA and his supervisor at the time, Michael Gray, who testified that Mattern was exclusively responsible for handling the question. Under cross-examination Gray stated that Mattern should have “done something about” the confession.

Through cross-examination, while Mattern attempted to redirect and redirect into conversation about why he did not launch an in-depth investigation into the Holmes confession when he received it, it was revealed repeatedly that whether Mattern felt like investigating the information was beside the point. He had no responsibility to investigate it, but had a legal and ethical obligation to hand it over to the Fairbanks Four’s attorneys. His thoughts on the exculpatory evidence were not important in the least, the fact that it was clearly exculpatory evidence mattered, and after enough questioning the flustered DA simply could not rationalize the failure to act.

Mattern and Gray, whose testimony underscored the systematic failure and incredible denial in the case, were followed by Detective Nolan of the Fairbanks Police Department. Nolan, unlike the prosecutors, testified that he should have investigated the confession and simply did not. He acknowledged that it was a failure, and essentially admitted to having made a mistake. Nolan’s honesty and candid testimony were refreshing because although he did not take action he did not bother with the DA’s approach of pretending that was okay.

The attorneys and detective were followed by Paul Solomon, a man who claimed the petitioners assaulted him early in the day that Hartman was eventually killed. He knew none of the men and came forward while drunk during an arrest in 2013. Solomon’s testimony was videotaped as he was not willing or available to testify in court, as has been the case with the other witnesses for the state who offer similar statements. Solomon contradicted himself repeatedly even in the brief videotape.In a nutshell, however, he testified that early in the day of October 10, 1997 (he later said he could not remember the day) he came out of the Cabaret bar with a blonde woman whom he cannot identify. He said that when he came out the Fairbanks Four were standing there and asked him for a cigarette. He replied that he did not smoke. According to Solomon, the four then attacked him, but he was able to land punches on at least three. He says he filed a police report (no record) and that the other bar patrons saw it (no one has ever come forward).

Once again, when the Solomon testimony was finished, we were flooded with messages from people who know him, including is own family members, who reported that he is mentally ill and a chronic alcoholic. He is also a relative of Veronica Solomon, who provided equally strange testimony in the case. Both of the Solomon witnesses provided testimony which essentially nullified itself through many inconsistencies and credibility issues with the speaker.

In all, the day did little to move the state’s case against exoneration forward.

Day 16 – State of Alaska Calls Margaretta Hoffman, Others

Day 16, October 27 2015

collage2The third day of the State of Alaska’s case against the exoneration of the Fairbanks Four featured the completion of the videotaped Veronica Solomon testimony, Margaretta Hoffman, Jason Wallace’s wife Michone Wallace, Harold Lundeen, and Brent Ledford. The testimony generally brief. The only witnesses thus far who have incriminated the Fairbanks Four – Veronica Solomon and Margaretta Hoffman – did not testify in person and were therefore not available for potentially impeaching cross-examination on the stand.

The remaining half of Veronica Solomon was played, during which Solomon contradicted much of her earlier testimony, acknowledged that she had no information regarding the guilt or innocence of the Fairbanks Four, but insisted, “I saw something, and that something meant something.” Solomon acknowledged a summary of what she saw was a tan four-door car at the corner of 9th or 10th and Barnette on a day she thought could be October 11, 1997. Precisely what Solomon saw was difficult to discern, and discussed in detail in our previous post.

The State of Alaska has sought throughout the proceedings to undermine the credibility of the Holmes and Wallace confessions by arguing that the fact that they did not confess during other specific windows of opportunity somehow casts doubt on the current confessions. Wallace, Lundeen, and Ledford, appear to have been called simply to say that Holmes and Wallace had not confessed to them.

Jason Wallace’s wife testified that Wallace never mentioned killing John Hartman. She further testified that neither Jason Wallace nor William Holmes ever divulged their longstanding plans to commit the murders that ultimately landed them in jail. If the goal of the testimony was to establish probable innocence based on Jason Wallace not confessing to some people closer in his life than the friend, attorney, and public defender’s investigator he did confess to, it certainly fell short. Michone Wallace’s testimony only established the men in fact have a history of committing murders without discussing it with many people.

Harold Lundeen testified that he saw Scott Wallace and Davison enter the car named in the Davison testimony. It was inside that car, Davison previously testified, that Wallace confessed to killing John Hartman. However, it was clear that the State did not call Lundeen for the corroboration, but to demonstrate another person they believe Wallace would have told. Lundeen testified that he also didn’t have any knowledge of the his high school friend, Jason Wallace’s, involvement in the Hartman murder. In what earlier witness Scott Davison claimed was simply a typo, “Holmes” was referred to as “Harold” in the account of a confession Davison heard from Jason Wallace in 1997. Harold Lundeen, who knew Holmes, Wallace, and Davis in high school, simply testified that he did not know anything of significance.

Retired California Shasta County district attorney who prosecuted William Holmes in the murders and conspiracy that sent him to prison, Brent Ledford, provided conjecture and essentially a cost-benefit analysis on whether or not William Holmes should have disclosed the Hartman killing and turned informant on Jason Wallace at the time Holmes was arrested in 2002.  He described how it may or may not have been advantageous for Holmes to confess to the Hartman killing and implicated Wallace. Mr. Ledford ultimately implied it would not have proved advantageous Holmes to confess at that time. In his testimony, Holmes simply said he did not believe that confessing to another murder would be of any benefit to him while being prosecuted for another murder.

devildealWhen Mr. Ledford was asked about negotiating leniency for Jason Wallace in exchange for his testimony against Holmes he stated, “Sometimes we have to make a deal with the devil,” referencing Wallace.

Ledford’s also testified that from 2002-2006, a time period during which he worked on prosecuting William Holmes, no one to include public defender Jeff Wildridge and investigator Tom Bole, brought up allegations of Jason Wallace’s involvement in the beating death of John Hartman.  So far the “devil” has received leniency on murder, arson, and attempted murder charges from his 2002 arrest. He was most recently granted immunity in the beating death of John Hartman in exchange for his testimony for the State of Alaska.  The “devil” knows how to work the judicial system to his benefit – he’s only honest when he can benefit from doing so.

State prosecutor Bachman  built on her consistent assertion that no one tells the truth without benefit to themselves.  Holmes did not receive any leniency or personal gain for telling the truth. Coming forward without incentive has consistently been cited by the state as a reason to doubt Holmes’ credibility.  Holmes testified earlier in the proceedings that the decision to come forward was about his own spiritual journey.

After a string of witnesses who were largely forgettable or did not testify to any substance, the most outrageous testimony of the day was given by Margareta Hoffman aka ‘Crystal’  – an ex-girlfriend of Kenny Mayo. Hoffman’s testimony contradicted all police interviews from the original investigation and previous trial testimony regarding the time or circumstances when Marvin Roberts returned to his home the night of the Hartman murder. The testimony of the occupants of the home and Marvin Roberts himself has consistently been that no one was awake when Roberts returned home. Kenny Mayo is Marvin Robert’s step father’s brother. Hoffman claimed that the night Hartman was killed she was at Marvin Robert’s home with her then-boyfriend and contrary to all previous testimony, that there was a wild party afoot at the home. Hoffman provided a hearsay account of a conversation allegedly had between Roberts and Mayo. Petitioners attorneys countered that Kenny Mayo, whom the state was reluctant to call, must be called and was expected to testify that none of the events described by Hoffman took place.

Hoffman has a long history of drug an alcohol abuse and a significant criminal record. She went by “Crystal,” a nod to her significant crystal meth use, for years. Hoffman testified that she did not come forward until 2013 after seeing coverage of the Fairbanks Four exoneration efforts on television.  She expressed extreme difficulty remembering even general times of significant events in her life stating, “I have a hard time remembering years.”  When asked how long she dated Mr. Mayo she replied, “Six to eight years, give or take a year.”  Mrs. Hoffman isn’t sure if she dated Mr. Mayo five to nine years, which exhibits the kind of extreme memory loss associated with heavy drug use. Yet, testimony that Hoffman could provide details of a specific date in 1997 were submitted by the state as reliable.

Mrs. Hoffman testified that on the night in question she was drinking alcohol and using cocaine at the home of Art and Hazel Mayo, whom she said she had only met a handful of times, while her boyfriend Kenny went out to a dance.  She testified that Kenny Mayo returned some time between 12-2am and that Marvin Roberts returned an hour or two after Kenny Mayo.  Hoffman’s testimony claims that Marvin Roberts returned home between 1-4am.  Hoffman testified that when Roberts came in, he and Kenny Mayo went into a back room to talk.

Mrs. Hoffman asserts that Kenny exited Marvin Roberts’s room with some black leather “professional-looking” shoes and told Hoffman they had to go.

“It was daylight/twilight when we left.”  According to Mrs. Hoffman’s time line the very latest she would have left the Mayo house was at 4:30am. National weather records indicate that sunrise would have been after 9:00am. Hoffman further testified that Kenny Mayo told her they had to get rid of the shoes because Mr. Roberts and some friends had beat up some kid.  She reported seeing dried orange brown blood on the black leather shoes. This piece of testimony elicited immediate public skepticism, as it is impossible for a person to see an orange stain on a black shoe.

In addition to impossible visual descriptions, memory issues, and time frame inaccuracies, the questioning directed to Hoffman by the State often seemed leading.

Bachman asked, “How long was this before Mr. Roberts was arrested?”

Hoffman answered, “It was the morning before.”

Bachman quickly corrected her, “It was a day or two before.”

Without pause for thought Hoffman immediately replied, “Yes.”

Bachman routinely uses behavioral and linguistic manipulations in her questioning. This was particularly apparent in the videotaped deposition of Hoffman.

Hoffman asserted that Kenny Mayo made mention of John Hartman being sodomized with a lightbulb or a flashbulb, testimony that does not comply with the forensic findings of the case.

addupHoffman was asked on cross-examination about her drug use and testified that she started using cocaine in 1994 or 1995 and began using methamphetamines in 2004-2005.  Mrs. Hoffman reported recent sobriety on a timeline discredited by arrest records.“I’ve been sober a couple of years – yeah, two years.”  Petitioner’s attorneys also cross-examined Hoffman about her criminal record, which included three DUI’s, harboring, aiding, and abetting two individuals in escaping Fairbanks Youth Facility, an assault against Kenny Mayo in 2001, and theft. It was ultimately revealed that Hoffman has an extensive history of drug and alcohol abuse, was most recently charged with a probation violation in May of 2014 (which the prosecutors declined to prosecute), and exhibits memory issues. The most significant factual issues with her testimony were:

  • Hoffman testified that the latest they could have left the Mayo’s home was at 4:30am, and that it was daylight out when they left. This is factually impossible, as sunrise was many hours later.
  • Hoffman testified that she was at the Mayo residence, but the statements of all others in and around the home state Hoffman was not at the Roberts/Mayo residence during the time frame she describes.
  • Hoffman had a volatile relationship with Kenny Mayo, which ended for the last time when she was arrested for assaulting him. There was the undeniable “scorned woman” element to her testimony. Her testimony would, it is important to remember, implicate ex boyfriend Kenny Mayo in a serious crime and therefore is a vehicle for both public condemnation and accusation.
  • Hoffman testified that she has been sober for “two years” when in fact she has been arrested for crimes related to alcohol or drug use as recently as May 2014.
  • Hoffman claimed that the night in question she was using cocaine and alcohol, and that she was a regular user of cocaine and crystal meth from 1994 to 2013. Both substances alter brain chemistry, amnesia, psychosis, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, mood disturbances, changes in brain structure, and more, casting doubt on the general cognitive functioning of Hoffman given her prolonged use.
  • Hoffman has a history of crimes of dishonesty and abuses of the justice system for personal gain.
  • Hoffman testified that she saw orange stains, presumed to be blood, on black shoes. As readers can extrapolate themselves, it is not possible to see a colored stain on black leather.

In the end, it was clear that the State of Alaska strategy is to muddy the waters at any cost, including on the backs of those with altered functioning, ulterior motives, and the trick not yet seen but as common and likely, the bargained-for testimony of criminals.

The proceedings should have citizens asking big questions. Why do we “have to make a deal with the devil?” Is using the testimony of the incapacitated a form of institutional abuse? Does our justice system seek justice? And most importantly, what can we do to change it?

Day 15 – The State of Alaska Begins Their Case Against Exoneration

October  26, 2015

Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman

Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman

After a brief continued cross-examination of Marvin Roberts and yet another sealed hearing, the petitioners rested their case and asked the judge for an expedited verdict. This is standard legal practice, and essentially says, our case is so strong the court should just make a ruling right now. Judge Lyle denied the motion. The State of Alaska then asked the same – that the judge make a ruling before even hearing their case – and he denied their motion as well. Apparently the intention behind the state making such a move is essentially the state saying, their case was so weak just go ahead and rule in our favor. That said, the idea of asking for a ruling before even presenting your case, particularly the serial killer whose testimony they deemed so critical that they fought for him to receive immunity from prosecution in this murder, seems really strange. All motions were denied, and the State of Alaska began their case.

For those not in a reading mood, here is a quick summary: The State of Alaska called a former bar owner who is very buddy-buddy with the cops responsible for this wrongful conviction to testify that Eugene’s mom told him that Eugene told her he never got out of a car, then they called Eugene’s mom Ida who said that never happened, and then they played video tape of a crazy woman who wouldn’t testify in person telling a really long and incredibly strange story about seeing some Asian/dark-skinned/ light-skinned/ running/ sitting/ yelling/ tire-changing/ men maybe on October 10 while God spoke to her, she changed lanes, rolled a window down, and all in the dark.

For those of you who want all the details, here they are:


Ida Hogue

The first witness called to the stand was Eugene Vent’s mother, Ida Hogue. Ms. Hogue took the stand and testified that she had not had any conversation about Eugene with the next scheduled witness, Steve Paskvan, that she did not know him, and that she did not get a ride to the airport from him in 1997. Her testimony was brief.

Ida Hogue was followed by witness Steve Paskvan. Paskvan is a former bar owner in Fairbanks, Alaska. He testified that within days of Eugene Vent’s arrest he drove Ida to the airport, and that on the way she told him that Eugene had told her he “didn’t get out of the car.”

paskavan, steve

Steve Paskavan

On cross it was revealed that Paskvan owned a bar which Detective Aaron Ring frequented and that the two were friends. Paskvan admitted to having a history of criticizing the case with his detective friends. It was further revealed that Paskvan came forward with this testimony quite recently after having Fairbanks officer Peyton Meredith, whom has served as the Fairbanks Police spokesperson on this case in media during recent years, as a guest speaker in his class. While Officer Meredith was there speaking to the high school students, Paskvan told the class about his alleged conversation with Ida Hogue, and Peyton Meredith asked Paskvan to come forward. It was also pointed out in cross that Paskvan did not appear to know who Ida was in relation to Eugene Vent, sometimes calling her his mother and at other times his stepmother.

The next witness was Veronica Solomon who appeared in videotaped deposition, not because she lives out of the area as with some previous witnesses, but because she has been avoiding subpoena and therefore in-person testimony.

In the video Solomon gave a disjointed and wandering account of what she says she saw while driving by the intersection of 9th and Barnette a night she is pretty sure was October 10, 1997 around the time Hartman was killed. Solomon said she rode by the intersection while driving a cab, and saw two men who she believed were Kevin Pease and Marvin Roberts, who looked light-skinned, or dark-skinned, like Asians, “half-breeds,” white, and Native. She says the men were in a brown four door car (Marvin drove a bright blue two door car) and that there were others inside the car. She said the men were getting a tire from the trunk, getting in the car, out of the car, running around the car, ducking, and shouting “freeze.” She says she considered stopping but didn’t because she felt what she calls a “check” – her word for a message from God instructing her not to do something.

“They were both coming around the car, going toward the trunk,” she said. “The one on the right side went back to the right side. The one on the left side went to the left, came back to the back of the car, ran to the left again like he didn’t know where to go, like they were scattering. And then he jumped inside the car and I don’t know if he came out the other side or if he ducked. I don’t know what he did,” Solomon said.

All of this, Solomon testified, happened while she was changing lanes on a one way street, rolling down her window, and driving by an intersection in the dark. It was, to say the least, not very credible because it is impossible for her to have seen what she claims to have seen. Solomon testified, in explaining why she had not come forward, that she did not see any news coverage of the Hartman case until 2005. She testified that she was so sure of what she had seen in 1997 that she wanted to keep the images in her mind pure. However, in 2005 she apparently sought news coverage and was then able to identify that the ducking, running, sitting, standing, tire-changing, light-skinned, dark-skinned, Asian, half-breed, white, Native men she saw in a brown four door car probably in 1997 in the dark were Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease. She returned to the scene at 3:30 and 6:30 in the morning, per her testimony, and did not see any police cars or crime scene tape. Solomon also provided criticism of the supporters of the Fairbanks Four’s innocence, saying “They think those boys are innocent and they’re fighting for that, without knowing whether they are innocent or not.”

The nature of her testimony was such that it left a listener wondering if she was in sound mind. The other half of her videotaped deposition is expected to begin the 16th day of proceedings.

Following the State’s first day of arguments social media and newspaper comments in the small town were ablaze with commentary about the individuals called.

Ida Hogue, commenters said over and over, lived in Fairbanks and had three small children, including her twins who were babies in 1997. She lived in a busy public housing complex and her neighbors remember the days and months following her son Eugene Vent’s arrest. “This doesn’t make any damn sense,” one commenter said, “everyone knows Ida was in Birch Park staying right by my mom, and at that time she didn’t go anywhere. This is something you remember. This was a difficult time.” Other commenters indicated the same.

As to Steve Paskvan, comments focused on his political aspirations, the clear hearsay nature of the testimony, and the improbability that the circumstances it was described to have taken place in could have existed. His close relationship with the detectives who investigated the original case was discussed as well.

Veronica Solomon

It was, however, the testimony of Veronica Solomon that elicited the most public discussion. We received multiple messages within the first hour after her taped deposition was played from people who knew her alerting us to her mental illness and brain injuries. Two relatives also indicated that they were not sure if she was driving a cab then, but did not think so. A friend said quite kindly that Solomon “thinks differently” and that she found it concerning that anyone would take her testimony in such a serious situation.

The impossibility of the testimony is perhaps of more interest. Solomon testified that she was traveling at five miles per hour (one fifth the speed limit) when she drove by the intersection. The average two lane road is 9-15 feet wide, and a car driving 5 miles per hour travels 7.5 feet per second, which means that she would have had about 2 seconds in which to make all of her observations. Given expert testimony in the case regarding the limitations of human sight, especially eye-witness identification, it seems unlikely that she could have identified anyone in the circumstances described. Her testimony sounds impossible because it is clearly made up, which leaves the question of why someone would make it up. The most plausible explanation for motivation would be mental illness.

It is tempting to be angry with Solomon for what seems to be some really wild and  fabricated testimony. The idea that someone would fabricate such absurd testimony ostensibly for attention or the gratification of some small power with other human beings lives at stake is hard to stomach. However, we urge readers to look a bit deeper than the surface. If the accounts of those who know her are true, she may be mentally unwell. When people who are not well engage in behaviors that are attention-seeking or harmful to others it is not okay, but it is often a manifestation of their imbalance. The real travesty is that such testimony would even be entered into consideration by the State of Alaska. Even though it is utterly ridiculous, testimony like that of Solomon’s can absolutely impact the outcome of criminal cases. One has to look no further than Arlo Olson, a man who struggles with mental illness and whose impossible testimony was the cornerstone of the original convictions. Olson has since recanted, but his original testimony was pivotal. Nothing is as powerful as an eyewitness. It is a sad testament to the condition of our justice system that prosecutors will use the same unethical tactics in 2015 to keep innocent men in jail as they used in 1997 to put them there. It is evidence of a disturbing lack of progress. We hope to see these convictions overturned, and through them, forced progress in a sick system.

NPR Story on Day 15

channel 11 Day 15

Newsminer Article day 15

Day 14 – Another Beating Victim, Marvin Roberts, State of Alaska’s Attack on the Press

October 23, 2015

The fourteenth day of proceedings opened with the testimony of Joshua Sorenson who testified on a videotaped deposition about watching Wallace assault his now deceased brother just a few months prior to the Hartman murder.

Sorenson’s brother was assaulted in a fashion disturbingly similar to the assault that took Hartman’s life. Sorenson described how, after a verbal altercation over Wallace accosting someone else at the Tanana Valley State Fair, his brother and Wallace went outside the fairgrounds to settle the argument with a fight. But, according to the testimony, Wallace sucker punched Sorenson, got him on the ground, and was kicking him “as hard as a person can hit another person” until Sorenson lost consciousness.

Sorenson testified, “This isn’t like a normal fist fight, he hurt my brother really bad…broke his nose, smashed a bunch of sinuses in his face, I mean he beat him. You couldn’t even recognize him on one side of his face.”

Sorenson’s brother was hospitalized. The assault was reported to police who took no action. “The (officer) literally told me my brother got what he deserved for going out there.”

Another notable element of the Sorenson testimony was the repetition of unusual slang, which was also heard from witnesses who described the Hartman assault. Sorenson testified that during the altercation Wallace kept saying, ‘I’ll stole on you, nigga, I’ll stole on you,’ whatever that means. That one statement because he said it over and over stands out.”

MArvinMarvin Roberts also took the stand, and is the last of the four men seeking exoneration to take the stand. Despite an aggressive and manipulative line of questioning throughout cross-examination, Roberts stood his ground and testified to the same events he described at 19 years old the day he was first contacted and has repeated over and over in the last 18 years. Roberts described attending a wedding reception. Scores of guests came forward after is arrest to affirm he indeed spent the night at the wedding reception. Roberts described dancing through the night, giving friends a few quick rides to the Mapco gas station a couple blocks down the road to buy pop, and leaving the reception well after the Hartman assault time frame, stopping briefly by a teenage party, then heading home. Roberts testified that he was not drinking, that he did not hang out with the other accused men that night, that they were not in his car, that he did not assault John Hartman or anyone else, and that as he has maintained for an unbroken 18 years, he is innocent of the charges he was convicted of.
marvinletterDuring cross-examination special prosecutor Adrienne Bachman revealed that Marvin Roberts had, on her request, supplied her with every single piece of documentation from letters to prison records that he had saved through the last 18 years of incarceration. The incredible irony here is that according to the Alaska State Troopers who provided testimony damning to the state’s case and the conduct of its prosecutors, when Bachman was asked for emails as part of the investigation in the case she refused to turn them over. Roberts, on the other hand, apparently complied and provided Bachman with all of his written records and communications. With the letters and records in hand, Bachman proceeded to launch one accusation after another at Roberts, all based on far-flung and unsourced conspiracy theories. Bachman used a series of letters that did not contain any mention of Arlo Olson of any kind, that did not mention any gangs or gang activity of any kind, including letters between he and his pastor, in a vague and baffling attempt to accuse Roberts of witness intimidation. Bachman openly admitted to the court that the four men have had no contact with Arlo Olson and have not had any altercations with him. Arlo Olson testified that he has not been intimidated by the men, their supporters, or anyone claiming to represent them. “But,” Adrienne Bachman said, Mr. Olson was nonetheless intimidated, nonetheless assaulted, nonetheless spit on.”

Arlo Olson testified that he has never directly or indirectly been harassed by the four men. One by one, under cross examination questions about how the four men felt about Arlo Olson, each of the Fairbanks Four testified that they forgive him. When Bachman said to George Frese, “You hate Arlo Olson, don’t you?”

Frese replied, “No. He’s a victim, just like us.”

Olson, however, did indicate that he had been subjected to poor treatment in jail, and that the poor treatment escalated when the 2008 “Decade of Doubt” Newsminer series by investigative journalist Brian O’Donoghue was published. The series revealed Olson’s improbable testimony could have been influenced by grants of leniency in his own court cases, that it was likely scientifically impossible for the testimony to be true, outlined his back and forth attempts at recanting and unrecanting his testimony, and widely identified Olson as an informant.

Arlo Olson has some things going against him in prison – things which only he is responsible for. He is a snitch, and on the prison scale of snitches it is hard to imagine that fabricating testimony is even as acceptable as providing factual testimony. He has essentially made a criminal career of committing crimes against women and children. It does not seem outside the scope of reason that in the facilities where he as served time prisoners may have been unkind to him, but it also does not seem reasonable to ascribe responsibility for the quality of his life in prison to any of the petitioners.

If Arlo Olson, like any person, was treated inhumanely, that is sad. None of his life choices excuse violence or intimidation or threats or harm. Yet, the only people whom Arlo Olson is on record saying intimidated him, threatened him, or attempted to coerce his testimony are Detective Aaron Ring and Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant, who did so on behalf of the State of Alaska. In fact, the proceedings have been rife with substantiated claims of witness intimidation in the original case done by the state, and those can be read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Are you not tired of links pertaining to claims by witnesses that they were threatened and intimidated in this case by the state of Alaska? Good! Because we have plenty to go around. You can also read these accounts here, here, here, here, here,here, here, here, and here. Still not enough? Sadly, yes, we have more. How about reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here? Are we out of links? No! But we are tired of typing the word here. So use Google if we have somehow failed to satisfy you.

In the end, it does matter that eighteen years after this injustice began the State of Alaska is still employing lies, threats, intimidation, and behavior so poor that it violates ethics guidelines and rules of conduct, and the law. That matters. It matters that they are slandering citizens, attacking the press, and trying their best to keep four innocent men in prison with a web of deliberately crafted falsehoods. It matters that they are muddying the water not in the interest of justice but in the interest of preventing people from seeing clearly. It all matters because justice matters. Be outraged because this is not okay and what you have to say about it matters a great deal as well. It matters that the state granted immunity to the man that killed Hartman in what appears to be yet another attempt to uphold the convictions with influenced testimony. It matters that the leader of our state has sat idly by, endorsing this conduct with his silence, because injustice of this type is an indictment of the justice system, and we are all beholden to it. Its corruption can touch us all.

antone42But do not be discouraged, because here is the beautiful truth: in this same community, weary and with every entitlement to bitterness after eighteen long years of fighting, where agents of the State of Alaska rallied against justice, fought to keep the innocent imprisoned, fought to set the guilty free, fought to humiliate and degrade those who would speak out, where all week-long the onslaught of injustice exhausted and baffled those who used to believe in the system, the sun set Friday on a week of outrage and hurt. Yet, on Saturday, these same people gathered. They laughed, they prayed, they dug into their pockets and contributed to fund the fight against their own government for justice and freedom. And they were good, and happy, and they chose to create light rather than dwell on the darkness. Young men from other tribes joined them with messages of strength. They sang the songs of their language and the dances far older than the injustice brought upon them these hundreds of years ago. They sang fight songs. Warriors, they said to the people, don’t go backward. They do not go in circles. They do not give up. And there beside the river, laughing and dancing and remembering, the injustice was triumphed again as it has been many times before and will be many times again. The State of Alaska has deep pockets, the have the keys, the have the guns, they have the courthouses, they have the police, they have the attorneys, they have all this worldly power. But the don’t have the kind of power that was alive and well inside the people, and they can’t put that light out no matter how hard they try.

HERE is the one link you should definitely take a look at. Pictures of people responding to this injustice by being amazing and kind and brave and so good it will make you believe in people completely.

LOVE Gonna Bust Me Out – Alaskans Fight Back in Fairbanks Four Case

People always ask us how it is we can do work around this case and wrongful conviction without becoming bitter. And the answer is really simple – this case has given us the gift of seeing this world as it truly is – and it is so much more decent than you could ever guess. To have witnessed that is a beautiful gift.

IMG_7092It is discouraging to watch a few people with a lot of power fight for injustice. But it will bring you to your knees in admiration of the grace in this world to see the legions of ordinary people fight back.

LETTERPHOTOPeople send us hate mail once in a while. But people send us messages of encouragement nearly every day.


We have seen some powerful and scary people wield that power as weapon. And then we have seen strength so much greater than that we are reminded the battle is already won.

billfairbanksofurWe have seen people perpetrate injustice for personal career gain and we were disappointed. But we have also seen one man turn from more profitable practices to run a one man nonprofit Innocence Project not because it is profitable or safe but because it is scary and still the right thing to do. And then we have seen people risk their jobs, even lose them, to answer to a higher power and we were brought to tears at their bravery and goodness.

We have seen people cry and break under the weight of persecution. And then we have seen them speak the truth through their tears.

Scott Davison, Newsminer Photo

Scott Davison, Newsminer Photo

We have a person or two who would rather injustice prevail and lives end rather than they be embarrassed. We have seen people set things right. We have seen people confess their sins and humble themselves. We have seen others forgive them.

f42007We have watched as most politicians ignore their people. But we have watched a few do the right thing, and more importantly we have watched the people keep speaking up even against that silence.

We have seen four young men who have the right to be bitter choose to forgive. Who have dwelt in the dark and still seen the light. One of them sent a letter to this blog some years ago and quoted Reuben Carter. “Hate put me in prison, but love gonna bust me out.”

Look at the pictures in this post. See what we see. The world is a beautiful place! Let the shadows you see be ever a reminder of the sun. Love wins.







Fairbnaks Four protesters at the Capitol, Oct. 24, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Fairbnaks Four protesters at the Capitol, Oct. 24, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)





Franklin Harvey James Jr. shows off his protest sign in support of the Fairbanks Four, Oct. 24, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)


Koyukuk4 Nikolai4