Bloody Photos of the “Bloodless” Crime Scene Emerge

Aside

ImageWhen Calvin Moses and his passengers came upon a young John Hartman badly beaten, barely alive, and draped over a curb around 2:50am on that cold night in October 1997, the sight of his body was so frightening that the four adults did not get out of the car for fear the attackers were still nearby. They rushed to a nearby apartment complex and called 911. In fact, John Hartman was so bloody and badly beaten that they could not tell if he was a boy or girl, face up or face down. Only that if he was alive, he was barely alive.

One EMT who responded to the call was so badly shaken that he called home, woke his wife, and pleaded with her to lock the door. In the first newspaper article about the case (HERE) the lead detective described the crime scene as “horrific.”

Perhaps Detectives Aaron Ring and Jim Grier (who did the bulk of the police work on this case) believed that when the lab results came back from the car, the clothes, boots, shoes, hands, and feet of the four young men they had arrested in the hours immediately following the girssly discovery of the murdered boy, that the lab results would show what any reasonable person would expect to find on the people and car used to commit a violent stomping and beating death – DNA. And lots of it. But the lab results didn’t tie the Fairbanks Four to the victim. So, they tested, and retested. They took Marvin’s car apart to the point that it cannot be reassembled, searching for blood. And they found NONE.

NO DNA EVIDENCE HAS EVER LINKED THE FAIRBANKS FOUR TO THE CRIME THEY ARE CHARGED WITH COMMITTING.

When the police realized that there was no physical evidence linking Marvin Roberts, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, or George Frese to the murder of John Hartman, they did not begin looking for other leads. They did two things – they shopped for jailhouse snitches and “lost” a lot of evidence that would have supported claims of innocence by the four young men and pointed to the guilt of others.

So many things have been lost in the Fairbanks Four case. Life. Time. Freedom. Hope. Memory. Intangible things.

But a lot of other things were lost. Tangible things. Evidence. For example, the first interview police did with Chris Stone. That was “lost.” The transcript of the police interview with EJ Stevens simply directs the reader to the audio recording. Somehow, it was lost. Perhaps no coincidentally “lost” piece of evidence stands out more than the missing crime scene pictures. With no photographs of the crime scene, the public and juries had to rely on the word of the investigators who examined the crime scene (primarily Ring and Grier).

For many in the Native community the moment that the crime scene went from “horrific” to “virtually bloodless” was the moment when it became completely clear that something was extremely wrong with this case. These are, after all, a people who have many times seen a death on the first winter snows when they are blessed with a moose to feed their families. The idea that place where a boy was kicked and beaten to death would be bloodless has long seemed to be a deliberate lie. We can now confirm that anyone who saw the crime scene and later described it as bloodless was lying, and readers can confirm that for themselves by looking at the recently unearthed photograph above.

When KTUU Channel 2 Anchorage did their documentary The 49th Hour: The Fairbanks Four, they were granted access to the historical footage shot by KTVF. During this same KTUU documentary (which you can watch HERE) the CURRENT Fairbanks Police Department police chief applauds the exemplary work of the detectives who investigated the murder of John Hartman, even calling it “model” police work. In that film footage from KTVF that KTUU producers unearthed, buried in the long-forgotten reels of film shot the day that John Hartman died, were a series of images of the crime scene the police and DA described as bloodless. This photograph of the place John Hartman was killed looks exactly as we would have imagined.

Those of us that live with the land and feed our children with what we can gather and hunt know something about blood and snow. We have seen the warm blood of an animal hit snow and race across the surface, frozen. We have seen it seep, and spread slowly from a wound. The place where a life is taken, even when taken respectfully with one swift and cordial wound, is marked on the snow until spring washes it away. We know the way that snow makes blood sticky, how the course hair of moose cling to your hands and boots and resists any attempt to cast it away.

To take a life is to spill blood, and blood remains there where life poured out, and upon those who touched it. It tracks on boots and pants, fingers and hands. Life does not disappear without a trace. John Hartman did not lose his life without leaving a mark behind. Those who killed him did not leave the scene of the crime without the blood of John Hartman on their feet, in their car, on their clothes, their shoes, and hands.

That DNA evidence probably washed over time, as seasons changed. But blood is on the hands of many in the case of the Fairbanks Four: Those who really did kill John Hartman, those who chose to deliberately wrongfully convict the Fairbanks Four believing they had so little value that they would never be remembered and fought for, and those who “lost,” altered, hid, corrupted, and lied. Those people have blood on their hands that cannot be washed away with water or with time. For all those in our community and world who have blood on their hands through murder, corruption, conspiracy, or through the crime of silence, we have a prayer always on our lips and in our hearts for you – that someday you will be free from the prison you built for yourself. That you will choose to redeem yourself as best you can during your time on this earth. That you remember that every day that innocent men spend in prison for a crime they did not commit, you commit another crime, and your guilt grows.

You can try to bury the truth. You can try to outrun it, you can try to lose it by forcing it deep into the darkest theatres of the mind. But you cannot destroy it. You can take a lot from another human being – their life, their time, even their hope. But you cannot take their story, and you cannot take the truth. Truth has a power of its own, and someday, the truth will FREE THE FAIRBANKS FOUR.

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The Times They Are A Changin’ – Eugene Vent Granted an Appeal Today

“I praise the ones who persevere in seeking justice through the law. I caution there are those who felt abandoned and betrayed by what they saw. Some stood in halls of silence, with icy hints of violence, when they went to seek justice from the law.” – Dar Williams, from the song “Write This Number Down.”

This morning the State of Alaska Court of Appeals has ruled that Eugene Vent should receive a new hearing based on his claim of ineffective counsel. The ruling comes just two short days after Eugene was featured on KTUU’s 49th Report: The Fairbanks Four.

Eugene had argued in an appeal that his attorney was ineffective in arguing to allow an expert in false confessions and the Reid Method of interrogation to testify at trial. (Read about Eugene’s interrogation HERE and the Reid Method HERE) His appeal was denied when it was presented in Fairbanks Superior Court to Judge Ben Esch. The Alaska Court of Appeals ruled today that judge Esch erred in making that ruling, and cautioned that the denial created the “appearance of partiality.”

We agree. Big time. Judicial conduct in the cases of the Fairbanks Four has created the appearance of partiality. It has contained actual partiality toward the prosecution, and conduct which unbecoming of any public servant or person on God’s Earth, and sometimes conduct which reaches far beyond partiality into corruption. (Read about some concerning conduct HERE)

The ruling is welcome news, and a step in the right direction. We caution all that it is one small step, but in the right direction. It is also a reminder why we fight INSIDE the justice system even though we have seen it fail. The justice system is ours. It is as imperfect as we are, as vulnerable, as corrupt, as sinful. But it is also just as capable grace. Peppered amongst the worst and most biased rulings in this case have always been rulings that contained strength and independence of intellect.

We have said many times over, echoing Martin Luther King, that we know the moral arc of the universe to be long, but also that it bends toward justice. Someday, maybe in a series of events that begins with today’s ruling, and maybe not, our system will bend toward justice in the case of the Fairbanks Four. It will bend toward justice because of the goodness of people. People like all of you. Reporters like Brian O’Donoghue, Rhonda McBride, Steve MacDonald – members of the press who remember their calling as bearers of the truth. It bends because of people like you who have given time in prayer, work, donated a dollar, and hour, or a thousands of each. The list of names would be so long that I could never write it out. Long enough to change the moral direction of our community and court system. So, thank you, all of you, for today’s ruling.

At the conclusion of the ruling the court states that:

“We conclude that vacating the judgment in this case will promote justice in future cases: It will clarify the proper scope of judicial notice and encourage judges to avoid ex parte investigations that may create an appearance of partiality.“We also conclude that, when a judge reaches outside the record to marshal evidence that benefits one party, the unfairness of the resulting decision is apparent. A failure to act in these circumstances could undermine public confidence in the judicial process.”
We could not agree more.

Dear Silent Holders of the Truth – A letter from Eugene

One incredibly frustrating, heartbreaking, difficult reality about the murder of 1997 is that THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO KNOW WHO DID IT. One investigator after another has identified a small handful of people that have information about this case, and knows that there are others. There is a $35,000 reward for information. ANYONE with information can call Bill Oberly with the Innocence Project at 907-279-0454 and come forward anonymously or on the record, and PLEASE, PLEASE, if you or someone you know has information about the killing of John Hartman, DO come forward.

What the investigators continually hear from people with information is that they are afraid of retaliation or being labeled as snitches, most especially afraid of retaliation or hardship if they themselves end up in prison. Although their choice to remain silent is their choice to make, it is heartbreaking. In order for the Fairbanks Four to get a new trial, these people would HAVE to come forward.

Below, Eugene speaks to THEM. To people that have information in this case but choose to stay silent.  Spread this letter everywhere you can, most especially to anyone you think it might apply to. Hopefully their heart is softened by Eugene’s plea and they are encouraged by his words of support.

Endess Graditude – An Interview with Eugene Vent

When reporter Dan Bross of KUAC did his short radio story on the reward in the Hartman Murder being increased to $35,000 he provided us with the unedited audio so that we could share it here on the blog.

We are pleased to bring you a longer conversation with Eugene Vent, who talks at length about how much the movement to free the Fairbanks Four has lifted his spirits, and of his gratitude for all of you!

A conversation with Eugene will always leave a smile on your face – his optimism is heartening, his laugh is contagious, and we are lucky to have one friend who can do that for is. It is a wonder that Eugene can be such a beacon of light from such a dark place.

Below, Eugene speaks from prison, where he has grown up. Where he was sent at an age that most young men are looking forward to getting their first car, to summer, to moving out of their parents house. Where he has pondered for a decade and a half the nature of injustice, of social segregation, the nature of racism, and the corruption of power, in the years where most young men are able to ponder such things on college campuses, or over dinner with friends. Where he was waited for the arc of justice to bend in his favor. All of this in prison – where he could grow into an old man unless this injustice is corrected.

Didn’t Do It – Poem by Eugene Vent

Eugene Vent, a short time before he was wrongfully convicted of murder.

Below is a poem by Eugene Vent. We included a picture of both handwritten pages and typed it for easier reading as well. Imagine the incredible grief and pain that would come from being wrongfully accused and incarcerated. All of the things you cannot do – hug someone, stand out in the snow and see the lights, eat a meal, run into a friend, hold a hand, see you home, your family, stand on the banks of the river. For Eugene that river would be the Koyukon. A few days ago I found myself heartsick for that sight – I haven’t seen it in a few years, and then it dawned on me that Eugene has not seen the places he yearns for in over 14 years. Freedom is everything….freedom is the foundation on which nearly all things in life are built upon. All things except, perhaps, faith. These four young men have seen nothing but injustice, have been the victims of the worst in people. Yet, there they sit, with absolute faith. Faith in destiny, in love, faith in the goodness of people, faith in their friends, family, supporters, faith in prayer, FAITH IN JUSTICE. So much of their strength comes from all of you. We were blessed with two successful fundraisers this week, and are blessed with incredible generosity from so many people. To hear their story would cause anyone to lose faith, but to see the legions of people band together and fight for them restores it. Thank every one of you who reads, donates, hopes, and prays for these men. It keeps their hopes high, their faith strong, and someday soon we hope it WILL bring them home where they belong.

                                           “DIDN’T DO IT”

                                            by Eugene Vent

“Didn’t do it,” that’s what I told the detective, but still he chose to put me through it.

“Didn’t do it,” told my mother and she believed me – continued to have my back like countless others.

“Didn’t do it,” I told my first lawyers. “Take a deal,” they’d plead, instead of fighting like warriors.

“Didn’t do it,” what I told the judge, NOT GUILTY what I pled…..and on that I’ll never budge.

“Didn’t do it,” I told my trial attorney and he told me it could end up being a very long journey.

“Didn’t do it,” I told the D.A., and also the jury…..when found guilty I felt so much fury.

“Didn’t do it,” I told the judge that was going to sentence me…ultimately got 48 years in the penitentiary.

“Didn’t do it,” what I told some antisocial human beings, they didn’t care because they’re heartless machines.

“Didn’t do it,” I told the Parole Board that continued me to 2014; just another chapter in the saga that I know will end in the freeing of the Fairbanks Four!

“Didn’t do it,” what I tell anybody who will listen and do something with it.

“Didn’t do it,” that is our story and we will forever continue sticking to it because the Truth always comes out in the wash.

Thank you so much for reading this, I always loved poetry and being able to create my own style in writing it. Thank you to everyone for cooperating in this battle and never quitting, even in the hardest times.

I believe in the efforts of all of you, I feel extremely confident it will pay off soon and we can finally get what we truly deserve……Freedom.

Baase’

Your Friend,

Eugene Vent

"Didn't Do It" by Eugene Vent, p. 1

Dead Man Walking – A Witness and Song Come Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eugene’s Last Night – Timeline

Below is a detailed timeline of Eugene’s motions on the evening of October 10th and early morning hours of October 11th. John Hartman was assaulted at 1:30am. Through a series of bizarre events, Eugene becomes a suspect at about 4:30am. You can read a timeline of John Hartman’s night HERE.

Eugene Spent the evening getting drunk with friends of his from school at a house party. He made his way from the house party to the last bit of a wedding reception at the Eagle’s Hall, and eventually continued partying into the early morning hours at the Alaska Motor Inn.

10:00 pm – Eugene gets a ride with Christy Moses, who drives Eugene, Kevin Pease, and several others to Kevin Bradley’s house off of Chena Small Tracts. Since the van was full, he left his friend Daniel behind at his house. A very small decision, but one Eugene says still haunts him. Of course at he has no idea as he heads to the party that this night will change his life. Kevin Bradley’s parents are out of town, and he is throwing a house party. The drive from downtown to the Chena Small Tracts home takes them 20 minutes or so.

10:30 pm -  The group arrives at the house party. There are a dozen or so people drinking and partying at Kevin Bradley’s house, including Joey Shank. They listen to music, drink, drink, and drink for the next several hours.

1:30 am – Joey Shank, who was the only person not drinking at the house party and was the designated driver, says he left Kevin Bradley’s house at about this time with Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease, and a group of other friends (Shawna, Allen, Dana, and Nathan). He is driving a blue Nissan owned by Kevin Bradley’s parents. He takes the Johansen to the College Road Exit, then takes the Wendell Street Bridge toward the Eagles’s Hall.

1:50 am – Joey Shank arrives at the Eagles Hall. Joey Shank says he remembers the timeframes because he was nervous, sober, and conscious of the time. He was driving a car packed like sardines full of drunk teenagers, and the car belonged to Kevin Bradley’s mother, who was out of town. Once there they only stay for a few minutes – long enough to figure out that Conan, who they had hoped to meet there, was not at the reception.

1:55 am – After Dana determines that Conan isn’t at the reception, the group all jumps back in the car. Eugene hopped in the front seat even though Kevin had called shotgun, so Kevin got Eugene to move and Kevin rode in the front, Eugene squeezed in with the rest in the back. They left to drive  to Conan Goebel’s house.

2:05 am – The group arrives at the Goebel Residence, but Conan isn’t home. Shawna Goebel, Kevin Pease, Eddie, and Nathan get out at the Goebel house. Joey Shank drives the rest of his passengers (Eugene Vent, Shara, and Allen) back to the Eagle’s Hall.

2:15 am (approx) – Eugene attends the reception. The band at the wedding reception was supposed to stop playing at 2 but the audience takes a collection and pays the band to keep going. Eugene spends some time dancing and mingling with the crowd at the reception.

2:50-3:00 am (approximately) Eugene and others leave the wedding reception sometime near 3 am and head to the Alaska Motor Inn to continue partying in room 107. There is a small group of core people there, and others are trickling in and out. The party is making a lot of noise, and the frustrated hotel clerk Mike Baca tries unsuccessfully to break it up. He calls the police to report the loud underage drinkers, but they do not respond. They are, of course, very busy with a rash of crimes, including the recently discovered assault victim John Hartman.

4:19 am -  Alaska Motor Inn Clerk Mike Baca calls 911 and reports that he has had a confrontation with the young partiers, who refused to quiet down or leave. Eventually, he says that he maced a few of them after one pulled a gun on him. In reality, he did mace at least one of the kids, but no one had a gun. He made that up, hoping the police would respond immediately and break up the loud party. The police do respond within minutes, and the kids from the party scatter, running off to avoid getting in trouble for underage consumption of alcohol. Among those running are Conan Goebel, Gilbert Frank, Harley Semekan, and others.

4:30 am – Police catch one of the kids that fled the Alaska Motor Inn Party – Eugene Vent. They find him at the intersection of 5th Avenue and Barnette. They tackle him violently and arrest him for minor consuming. Although he is unarmed and shows no signs of having been maced, they think he may be the gunman from the hotel clerk’s report.

4:40 am -  (approximately) The police drive Eugene to the Alaska Motor Inn and have clerk Mike Baca look into the back of the squad car at Eugene Vent, and ask him if Eugene is the gunman. Baca identifies Eugene as the gunman (although it was soon learned that there was no gunman). While they are there, they show Mike Baca a picture of John Hartman’s clothing and ask the clerk  if John Hartman had also been at the party in room 107. Mike Baca says he is “sure” that there was a kid there in those clothes (it is determined within a day that John Hartman was not there, and that Mike Baca once again was falsely reporting).

5:00 am – Eugene’s questioning begins as soon as he was arrested, but begins in earnest sometime around 5:00 am. He is processed at Fairbanks Youth Facility, where he registers a blood alcohol level of .168, a level known to indicate extreme intoxication and blackouts, confusion, disorientation, difficulty walking, slurred speech, and a myriad of other symptoms. He is interrogated into the late afternoon.

Eugene’s interrogation lasts, with a few breaks, approximately eleven hours. You can read about the interrogation and read transcripts of the interrogation HERE

“Time” – A Letter from Eugene

Human beings can feel honesty. Which is why this post is so important. There is much information about this case available. Transcripts, trials, interrogations, articles, and the like. And in those, you have to search for the truth. But in Eugene’s own words you can feel the truth. Not because he is the next great American novelist, not because he reaveals shocking new information, but simply because he is telling his story and you can sense that it is honest.

This case is complex and the details can be overwhelming. Because Eugene’s letter is specific to his night, here is some background for reference:

Eugene Vent left a a party at the Alaska Motor Inn on foot when the police were called by the hotel clerk. The hotel clerk had called repeatedly to ask police to break up a loud party in one of the rooms. They were slow to respond. So slow, in fact, that the clerk was eventually so frustrated that he called and falsely reported that one of the party goers had pulled a gun on him. The police responded immediately, and the kids at the party took off on foot. They caught one of them several blocks away – Eugene Vent. They then drove Eugene to the hotel clerk and asked him if he could identify Eugene as the gunman. He did. They also showed him a photograph of the clothes that John Hartman, now fading in ICU, had been found wearing a earlier in the night and asked the clerk if he recognized the clothes. He said that he did, and that the kid wearing them had been one of the partiers at the hotel.

Ultimately, all of those things were false. John  Hartman had not been at the Alaska Motor Inn that night (Read about his last night HERE). No one pulled a gun on the clerk, that story was a lie. The clerk did recant his statements about the gun reasonably quickly, but it was too late. His identification of Eugene as a gunman created suspicion in the police that Eugene may have been involved with the assault on John Hartman, and over the course of eleven hours police aggressively interrogated Eugene until he eventually made incriminating statements about himself and the three others. (Read Eugene’s Interrogation HERE).

There is a lot of information about this case out there. Transcripts, articles, news stories, interrogations, interviews, timelines, blogs, websites, and the like. But sadly absent from all of that information is the voice of the four young men to whom the cost of this case has been so real. Anyone can take many things from you against your will, including your freedom. But they cannot take your voice and they cannot take the away the truth.          No one can take your story. Below is Eugene’s story, written this October from the Hudson Correctional Facility:

“Time is what I took for granted early on in my life. I made decisions based on the fact that I would have plenty of time. On the October 10, 1997 I left my family to go drink alcohol with my friends from school. I drank beer, drank hard liquor, and even smoked marijuana. I attended a house party, a wedding reception, and last but not least… an Alaska Motor Inn party.

At this party there was a lot of noise and the clerk did his job by telling us to leave. We refused, and this clerk called the police before an altercation eventually developed in which this clerk sprayed my friend with mace.Immediately following this the police showed up; I chose to run…as did everybody else. My thoughts were I cannot get caught drinking again and that I could make it home without getting caught. Boy, was I wrong.

I got apprehended a few blocks away. But then things took a turn for the worst. The clerk accused me of pulling a gun on him and I was charged with assault in the third degree. I never had a gun on me and I didn’t pull a gun on this man. Of course this man was caught on tape telling a coworker that he lied about the whole story to the police, resulting in a not-guilty verdict. Needless to say, the damage was done and it changed the course of not only my life but of countless others…

I was seventeen at the time. I registered a .168 blood alcohol level and I was taken to the youth facility. Police had a busy night with assaults, robberies, and a kid was in the hospital on life support. The police had a hunch that maybe I was involved in some of these crimes so they came to question me, especially since the clerk said I had a gun on me and he also identified the clothes of the kid on life support as having been at the hotel party with us. Of course, I made things worse for myself by being defiant and even lying to the detective. The Detective exercised tactics of interrogation on me including lies, lies, and more lies. After a few hours I was confused, not sure of myself and even afraid of these accusations.

I ultimately (falsely) admitted to participating in the assault of the kid, who I later learned was named John Hartman. I also implicated my three co-defendents Kevin, Marvin, and George during these interviews. I feel ashamed to this day for letting this happen, but I am the one it happened to so I am responsible for my actions.


The next few days were a nightmare, but I knew that in no possible way was I responsible for these terrible crimes……No possible way!!!! I pled not guilty to all charges and even the judge dismissed the charges only to see them reinstated by the Alaska Court of Appeals.

I refused a deal offered by the State Involuntary Manslaughter and robbery in which the State wanted me to lie against the other boys. I had no hesitation in saying “No”  and I went to trial July 1999.

The trial lasted almost a month, witness after witness, no DNA evidence, alibi witnesses…my expert in false confessions was not allowed to testify… I believe that ruling changed the whole Trial.

I was convicted of Murder, RobberyX2, and Sexual Assault…all this with no physical evidence. My admission hurt, and eyewitness testimony from 550 feet away sealed my fate.  I was sentenced to 38 years, and at my recent parole board hearing I maintained my innocence in front of a Board that had the power to release me. I received a continuance until 2014.

Through all this, I still believe that time will reveal the Truth and that the four of us will be cleared of these convictions. I will say this, I’ve heard many names over the last fourteen years; so I strongly believe that the efforts of our supporters will bring the real perpetrators to light. I am so blessed to have so many people on our side, I cannot say Thanks enough. So many names, thank you for never giving up on us and believing in our innocence. Time will tell all the Truth. Thanks so much!!!

Thank You,

Eugene Vent

10/17/2011″

The Truth About Deception – Eugene’s Interrogation

The true definition of con·fes·sion is: Noun. A formal statement admitting that one is guilty of a crime.

The truth is Eugene did not confess. But he did make incriminating statements after many hours of interrogation.

The truth us that the police, media, and prosecuters led all of Alaska to believe in those first days that he had confessed.

The truth is that the issue of false confessions is one of the hardest elements of this case for most people to understand, but we are not going to avoid it. We are going to address it right away.

The truth is, police can lie to a person they are interrogating. Period. It is legal, and it is common practice.  Their right to do so has long been protected and upheld in the highest courts of this country.

The truth is, the average Native kid from Interior Alaska, especially before this case, had no idea that the police can lie to you.  We were raised to believe that police should be honest.

The truth is, the police can tell some pretty compelling lies. They can, for example, tell a drunk seventeen year old who was blacked-out drunk for half the night that there is blood on his shoes. That his friends say he kicked someone. Lies that are hard to imagine. The truth is that they can use lies like weapons, to take someone’s mind apart.

The truth is, they did that to Eugene. It took over eleven hours.

The truth is, eventually, he fell for it.

The truth is, the interrogation technique the FPD used on Eugene is not used anymore, because it turns out it is a good way to trick someone, but not a good way to find out the truth.

The truth is, false confessions may be the single leading cause of wrongful convictions in homicide cases.

The truth is that more than two-thirds of the DNA-cleared homicide cases documented by the National Innocence Project were caused by false confessions.

The truth is that 93% of false confessors are men. 65% are under 25 years of age.

The truth is, multiple false confessions to the same crime were obtained in 30% of the cases, wherein one false confession was used to prompt others.

The truth is, the majority of people polled believe that a person would “never” or “almost never” confess to a crime they had not committed.

The truth is, most of us are blessed enough to have never had our psyche tested to that point. We are lucky that we do not know firsthand what it feels like to be interrogated for murder, and in reality we do not know how we would respond.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE, JUST LOOK FOR IT.

READ EUGENE’S INTERROGATION HERE. For most of the interview, Eugene thinks they are trying to bust him for hooking a friend with weed, and doesn’t actually know what they are questioning him about. Remember that the “evidence” the police are citing is fictional, that Eugene is extremely intoxicated, and scared. Do your best to put yourself in HIS shoes.

READ WHAT EXPERTS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT FALSE CONFESSIONS HERE, HERE, and HERE, in their sites dedicated to the topic. Also, read HERE in Scientific American, HERE in the Economist, or HERE in the Huffington Post.

If that is not enough, Google it. Look it up on Wikipedia. Look anywhere – what you will find is the suprising truth about lies. Stay tuned to hear what Eugene himself has to say about the experience.

Introducing the Fairbanks Four

On the same evening that John Hartman lived his last night on Earth, four other young men also spent a normal day with their friends and families, with no idea as evening fell that October 10, 1997  would be the last normal day. No premonition that the night and early morning hours of October 11, 1997 would contain the moments that changed their lives forever; the line that now divides their lives into two parts -  before and after.

None could have possibly predicted that each movement they made would be scrutinized for a decade and more. Not one of the looked into the faces of those around them knowing that these friends, family members, acquaintances, and strangers were about to become alibis. That some of them would be threatened, that some of them would be courageous, that some would be afraid, that some would become activists, that some would sink into their sorrow. No. It was an ordinary night.

 The four boys knew each other. They were not close friends, but had all played on the same basketball team for Howard Luke, a predominantly Native high school. They did not spend the evening together, but each saw the others at least for a moment at some point that evening. The  times their paths crossed that evening they would not have known that soon they were to be each others only friends – the only familiar faces in a foreign place, and an all encompassing nightmare.

 The Four Were:

                                                          

                                                           

Marvin Roberts. Marvin was 19, had been valedictorian of his class that spring, a basketball enthusiast, a doting older brother to his toddler brother, and best friends with his sister. A gentle person. He was not a drinker, and unlike most of his classmates and friends, had a car.

Eugene Vent. Eugene was 17 that fall and a basketball enthusiast. He was funny guy, always smiling, and kind. He was young, and like many young men he drank too much and too often. He had, just days prior, revived a ticket for drinking underage. Like so many other teenage boys Eugene was finding his way from boyhood to manhood, a road not without challenges, but on the whole was a good guy.

                                           

                                                                                          

 

George Frese. George was 20 at the time, and the oldest of the four. He was a doting father to his three year old daughter Tiliisia, and most who knew him at this time will talk first of his dedication to his daughter. George and his partner faced challenges common for teenage parents, but met most of them with grace. George did not drink often, but when he did he drank to great excess

 

 

Kevin Pease. Kevin was 19, smart, an athlete, and a kid who was doing his best to transcend hardships at home. His father had been murdered just a short time before this pivotal night. One friend, asked to describe Kevin, said “Fun. Brave. But if I had one word I would say fun. It was hard not to smile when Kevin smiled.” Kevin had had a series of small run-ins with the police. He was the baby of his family.

How they spent that fateful night:

Marvin spent the bulk of the night at a wedding reception, where many tens of people saw him throughout the evening. He was the only one of the four that did not get drunk that night. Earlier in the evening he cruised around aimlessly with a few friends, looking for girls. He gave a few people rides. No less that 10 people insist that they saw him dancing and mingling between the hours of 1 am and 2am.

That night, Kevin and Eugene went to a house party in the hills above Fairbanks. Their friend had the house to himself with his parents out if town, and the predictable party and mayhem followed. A house party full of people of course saw them at the party, drinking and mingling. Both Kevin and Eugene drank heavily; Eugene drank to the point that he blacked out much of the night. A sober driver eventually drove a car packed with teenagers like sardines back toward town. He remembers looking at the clock frequently he says, because he was nervous about getting pulled over with a car full of drunk teenagers out past legal curfew. He says that the arrived in town at about 2am. This is notable because it is a full half hour after John Hartman was attacked.

Once in town, they stopped by the wedding reception, and ultimately went their separate ways, with Eugene heading to a part in a room at the Alaska Motor Inn and Kevin heading home.

George spent the first part of the night at home drinking with some friends and his girlfriend Crystal. Three sober babysitters watched George and Crystal’s daughter while they visited with their company. Another sober friend, the late Patrick Henry, older brother of Edgar Henry, said he was with George and his little brother all night. He says that they left George’s apartment as a group at about 1:30am, and walked as a group first to a friend’ s house, and then to the large wedding reception downtown. He said his brother and George were so drunk he had to “babysit” them, and consequently remembers their actions that night well. He says they arrived a the reception at 2am, and were together until after 3am.

How did they become suspects?

Eugene was arrested first, walking home from the part at Alaska Motor Inn. He ran when the police car pulled up on him, which they considered the first indication of his guilt. In reality, he ran because he was a young drunk kid, and the police were behind him. Clearly, his whole life would be different if he had run faster.

Kevin was brought in next.  When he got home to is mother’s house, they had a huge fight, and he smashed up the house – punched Sheetrock, broke a few things. His mother called the police, a decision that she went to her death-bed regretting. He was a teenage troublemaker, already known to the police. When they realized he knew Eugene, a theory began to develop.

George was the third one taken. He woke up the next day still drunk and with a hurt foot. He was limping around in it complaining, and went to the E.R. to have it looked at. An ER nurse who had treated both the white boy dying upstairs and the Native boy with a hurt foot downstairs decided that the two patients were linked and alerted police. At some point the police did enough research to determine that George had played on the same high school basketball team as Eugene and Kevin. They came to the hospital for him.

Marvin was last. They showed up at his home, where he was sitting with an uncle, and took him in for questioning. During his interrogation he said he was innocent dozens of times, apologizing when an officer accused him of being disrespectful for saying it, and calling both officers “sir” through the entire interview, but never wavered for a moment in his insistence that they had the wrong person. Marvin was in that same yearbook photo, and probably the only one who had managed to get a car since graduation, and for the scenario that the police were building there had to be a driver.

A child was murdered at 1:30am, at which time four Indian boys were dancing at a wedding, walking to a friend’s house, and driving in a car packed like a sardine can. Yet, by the next morning the police are taking a victory lap for the local press, theorizing that these Indians probably killed the kid because he was white, or else that it is simply in their savage nature.

If you have read this far, you are likely left with nothing but questions, most of which boil down to why and how. If what we wrote above is true, and it is, why did they arrest these four men? Why were these alibis discounted? How were they convicted?

The answers can be long, or they can be short. The short answers are that they were arrested by chance, and guilty of being Native before the first question came. That they were drunk, terrified, with no idea what their actual legal rights were since they were not raised in the Law and Order culture, but the culture of Interior Alaska, where in the late 90′s most Native kids understood that once the cops picked you up whatever came next was up to the cops, and that resistance made things worse.

Their alibis were dismissed as not reliable, because their alibis were Indians. The D.A.’s closing argument was that, much like in the “I am Spartacus” scene, that Natives will lie for Natives, take care of their own kind, and can’t be trusted. Similar to the decrees long issued in this country that the savage is different.

They were convicted in puppet show trials by juries not made of their peers, with no physical evidence, and plenty of corruption. And the trials didn’t matter. Despite the fact that no one here had ever seen any prisoner from Fairbanks Correctional costumed that way before, they marched them out chained together and dressed in orange for their arraignment. The public defender of course voiced his shock and called it grandstanding, but it was too late. The picture was snapped of the four chained together in orange, and it would run beside the smiling school picture of a victim that could be anyone’s child in every early article and news story run in Alaska and was the stock image for years to come. And the story, see, made sense. It didn’t have to make factual sense to make sense in the hearts of many. The official statement may as well have been, “Four Indians savagely killed a child, because he was white. No one’s children were safe, but now they are. We are protecting you from a fear you felt but could never substantiate. There will be no further questions.” They didn’t come up with any motivation beyond hoping that the public would assume these four were just senselessly violent people.

The LONG answers? Will be here, in this blog, and are partially addressed in the links below. You do not have to take our word for it, because we wouldn’t expect you to, and because we don’t need you to. All we ask is that you remain, hear this story, and take from it what you will.

If you want to do further reading, please take  a moment to look at the work of journalist Brian O’Donoghue and the UAF Journalism Department Students via their website, or the “Decade of Doubt” series that ran in the local paper.