Race in the Case – The Hartman Murder was a Hate Crime

bookertwashingtonJohn Hartman was killed in the commission of a premeditated racial hate crime.

 “A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a ‘criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.’” – F.B.I.

According to William Holmes who confessed in detail to his role in killing John Hartman, he and four friends went out onto the streets of Fairbanks the night they attacked Hartman to physically assault Native Alaskans.

Holmes and his fellow conspirators “decided to go downtown and have some fun.” Their idea of “fun”?

Harassing “drunk natives by throwing eggs at them, or 2 or 3 guys from the car would jump out with the driver still in the running car and punch them. We’d laugh at them falling or a cigarette flying from their mouth upon impact. The thrill came from running away, speeding off and messing with these drunks barely able to walk.”

holmesletterOn the night that they killed John Hartman, Holmes describes patrolling downtown looking for Native victims. The group found at least one victim, but their attack was thwarted when others appeared on the scene. When they were unable to find the victim they were looking for – a vulnerable Native person walking alone – they decided to end their “fun.” Sadly, as they were driving out of the downtown area they spotted “a white boy” walking alone and decided he would have to do. The group fell on the young boy with no warning, knocked him to the ground, and kicked him into a coma that would prove fatal.

John Hartman was kicked and stomped to death with violence so callous it defies explanation. He was killed because five young men carried with them a racial hate so strong and dehumanizing that group beatings of vulnerable Natives was a form of recreation. John Hartman was killed by hate directed toward a race of people he did not belong to in life. But in death, he joined a long list of the persecuted. He is not the first boy to die at the hands of race-based violence, but he may be the only white child to die in the cross-hairs of racism against Alaska’s first people.

In the days after Hartman was killed, when his face and the faces of the young men wrongfully accused of his murder appeared on the front page of the local newspaper, someone bought that paper and brought it back to Midtown Apartments, where a group of people acquainted with the four accused gathered around to read in disbelief. An elderly woman looking over our shoulders said, “I bet they were looking for a Native boy, I wish they had found one.”

For the majority of Fairbanks residents the idea that a young person could be attacked at random and assaulted simply for walking alone was unfathomable. Yet, for another sector of the community, it was routine. The other side of the story in a community where violent beatings are a form of recreation, and a person’s ethnicity is what makes them a target, and in turn makes them invisible to the rest of the community, was that there was a legion of kids who were familiar with the attacks. Scores of boys who were on guard, who slipped into the bushes when a car approached, who ran like hell when they heard the sound of tires slowing down behind them because those kids knew it was the cops or the people who jumped Natives, and that both were dangerous. Kids who curled into a ball and protected their heads if they didn’t run fast enough. If they had found the victim they meant to find, maybe no one would have died.

Eugene. Eugene was walking alone that night. They wanted Eugene, but the timing was off.

George. George walked downtown the very same evening, and George was exactly who they were looking for.

Pick a name off the witness list. Pull a name from the wedding guest book. Nearly every person whose life would intersect with the wrongful arrest, trials, conviction, and decades long fight to overturn it was guilty of the crime of being Native that night, and it was hate directed at them that motivated the men who killed John Hartman. It was that same hate, woven into the fabric of the community and its institutions, which allowed for the immediate arrest and wrongful conviction of people who were guilty of nothing besides being Native.

This hate is alive and well, virtually unchanged since 1997. Ask any Native man if they have been physically attacked in the streets of Fairbanks at random, and you will hear the stories. Read the crime statistics, sexual assault statistics, human rights reports. Read. Open your eyes, look. Open any Alaskan Craigslist and word search the term “Natives,” and you will read the thoughts of the community members who carry this hate. The posts below are chosen at random, and simply some of the most recent posts on the topic in the local Craigslist. We include them simply as a reminder that this hate remains, and offer it as “proof” of racism to those readers who believe that racism does not exist, or that conversations about race undermine the credibility of our cause. We are not playing the race card. We are playing the had we were dealt.

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The newspapers continue to describe the assault as random, when in reality the assault that killed John Hartman was premeditated, and the motivation was racial hate. The fact that he was walking at that moment, at that intersection, that the men responsible had not been able to find their ideal victim, that the assault proved fatal – perhaps all of that can be considered the product of coincidence. But his murder was not random violence – it was very specific and intentional violence.

The two most common pieces of advice we receive in writing this blog are to avoid writing about race or John Hartman, because it makes people uncomfortable. But we are not here to make anyone comfortable, we are here to tell the truth. And the truth is, race was a huge factor in this case.CL6

Racial hate motivated the crime, it motivated the wrongful arrest and conviction of innocent young men, and it was the overtly stated factor used to dismiss the testimony of many witnesses.

John Hartman deserves justice. He was killed in hate and denied justice in hate, and that is not an acceptable legacy for a loved and innocent child. Nearly every person who speaks of this young man in life emphasizes his kindness and open-mindedness. He deserves better than this. His family deserves the truth. The community that rallied around his memory and his family to demand justice deserve the truth.

The answer to hate is not silence. The answer to hate is not fear. The answer to hate is not regret, grief, shame, and it certainly is not hate. The only counter to hate is love. So with love, we think it is time to start an honest conversation about race in this case, race in our community, and what we can do to change the future for the better.

Readers, we want to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment, tell your story, share your thoughts.

We heard the advice loud and clear to stay away from the topic of race so that people feel comfortable, and it reminded us how very important it is to make people uncomfortable. This post will mark the first in a series about race in this case, because if we can’t even say the words, we will never be able to change the story. We welcome contributors.

Jason Wallace Confession Leaked by Jason Wallace’s Attorney

Do Not EnterThe Fairbanks Daily Newsminer briefly published an article on August 20, 2015 which revealed the detailed statements of Jason Wallace regarding his participation in the murder of John Hartman. The revelation was significant in the case because the statements have remained under a seemingly impenetrable court seal since they were first referenced in a September 2013 filing by the Alaska Innocence Project for post-conviction relief base on actual innocence.. All that was previously known about the Wallace confession was that his statements corroborated those of William Holmes.

The article revealed that the local newspaper had come into possession of the documents when they were inadvertently sent to a reporter by someone who lawfully possessed them.

The article remained online for only a few hours before it disappeared. A court hearing held August 21 provided significant insight into the series of events that lead to the document leak and its temporary removal from the Newsminer website.

Judge Paul Lyle, the presiding judge over the Fairbanks Four case, called an emergency hearing to discuss the leak of the confidential documents. In that hearing, it was revealed that the documents were leaked by Jason Gazewood’s firm. Gazewood is Jason Wallace’s attorney, who recently took his request to keep the statements of his client confidential to the Alaska Supreme Court. Mr. Gazewood has been tasked with helping Wallace to prevent his statements about the Hartman murder from every becoming public. Ironically, or perhaps karmically, it was Gazewood’s office who inadvertently emailed the sealed document to reporter Sam Friedman.

At the hearing, Gazewood sought a gag order from Judge Lyle, hoping to stall or prevent the newspaper’s republication of the story. The Newsminer, represented by Anchorage attorney John McKay, emphasized their respect for the court but argued that any order blocking their right to publish would be unconstitutional. The Newsminer further expressed that they possessed the information for an entire week before making the decision to publish, and described the process of deciding whether to proceed as “soul searching.” The Newsminer ultimately decided to publish the article on August 20th, then took it down a few hours later in response to communications from Jason Gazewood. Attorneys for the newspaper noted that although the Newsminer had only had the article online for a few hours, it had since been republished on at least one blog and had been read there more than 18,000 times.

Indeed, the article attracted rapid attention, as did its removal from the Newsminer’s website. We republished the article here, and PDF and photographic versions of the text dominated local social media feeds. This case has a long and troubled history of exculpatory information disappearing. The speed at which the article traveled following its removal is a testimony both to the level of interest in the case as well as the role that social media has come to play in its furtherance.

In explaining the leak, Gazewood along with his partner and counsel Weiner addressed the court and essentially blamed a paralegal for the slip. According to Gazewood, reporter Sam Friedman called and asked him to relay a decision on the case, and Gazewood in turn instructed a paralegal to forward the information. She did, unaware that the file contained the decision of Judge Lyle and his summary of the Jason Wallace confession.

Judge Lyle did not mince words in responding to the request by Gazewood to suppress the story. “You want a stay? You want an order telling the Newsminer what they can publish? Take it to the Supreme Court,” Lyle said. “Because of your firm’s negligence more than 18,000 people have read this sealed document and for all I know every one of them dowloaded it. You want an order? Take it to the Supreme Court. Motion denied.”

truthIn the end, the hearing revealed the exact nature of the leak, the court’s extreme disappointment at reading a court-sealed document in the newspaper, the struggle of a local newspaper who ultimately made a great decision to publish and then republish information which is certainly of public interest, and underscored something we have said for a long time – the truth will find a way.

The article in questions is viewable again at http://www.newsminer.com/news/local_news/document-corroborates-challenges-new-claim-in-fairbanks-four-case/article_454ef902-4792-11e5-abef-1b7725d19e89.html

Jason Wallace’s Confession Leaked to a Reporter

Jason Wallace, 2004

Jason Wallace, 2004

The exact nature of the statements made by Jason Wallace regarding his participation in the Hartman murder have long been veiled in secrecy and the source of much speculation. The statements of Wallace, as summarized by Judge Paul Lyle in a document that was intended to remain confidential, were briefly published by the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer.

An article posted by the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer on August 20, 2015 to the newspaper’s website revealed the specifics of the confession, apparently made in 2003 to an attorney and investigator employed with the Fairbanks Public Defender’s Office. The Newsminer reported the details of Jason Wallace’s statements were leaked “inadvertently” by a party who was in lawful possession of the material. The article then goes on to detail the confession of Jason Wallace in the murder of John Hartman.

KEY POINTS IN THE WALLACE STATEMENT

  • Wallace confessed in 2003 while awaiting trial on an unrelated murder to public defender Geoffry Wildridge.
  • Wildridge then sent public defender investigator Tom Boles to speak to Wallace, presumably to investigate the veracity of his claim.
  • Wallace, like Holmes, describes leaving a party in a car with the intention to assault people. He describes first assaulting a man on First Avenue and robbing him. Holmes also describes an assault that preceded the Hartman beating, but in less detail. Wallace’s description of the assault closely matches the facts known about the Dayton assault, which figured predominantly into the case.
  • Wallace names three people as participants in the Hartman murder – himself, William Holmes, and a third person, whom the article only clarifies as a man also named in the 2011 Holmes confession. We feel it is safe to assume that Jason Wallace named himself, Holmes, and Rashan Brown, as both Brown and Holmes were both incarcerated in maximum security facilities in others states, had less to lose, and posed no threat to Wallace. Holmes names the same three participants as Wallace, plus Marquez Pennington and Shelmar Johnson.
  • Wallace denies sexually assaulting Hartman, and states that he does not think his group would have sexually assaulted Hartman. He speculates that the Fairbanks Four could have found and sexually assaulted Hartman later. In reality, there has never been any forensic indication of sexual assault. The charges were based entirely upon the observations of one nurse, not qualified to take an exam, and whose belief Hartman was sexually assaulted contradicted the autopsy and medical examiner’s conclusion.
  • Wallace claims he, not Holmes, was driving the car. Holmes and Wallace essentially finger the other as the major aggressor, although both confess to participating in the planned hate crime assault which killed Hartman.
  • For over fifteen years, public employees sworn to act as agents for justice have kept the confession of Jason Wallace secret under the auspices of privilege, despite the fact that failure to reveal the information has contributed to the unlawful detainment of four citizens, and that disclosing the information is clearly allowed.

The article was live for a very short period of time before the link was removed and all traces of reporter Sam Friedman’s revelation in the Fairbanks Four case were rapidly erased from the Newsminer site. The printed paper in circulation throughout the city today shows no sign of the report. we can only speculate that the newspaper removed the article after experiencing backlash from some local or state player – and likely from the source of the information leak.

Prior to the removal of the article, several members of the “Free the Fairbanks Four” Facebook page copied and preserved the text. We are opting to republish the article in its entirety, along with a series of images which confirm that it was indeed posted by the newspaper. It is supposed to be the job of the press to report newsworthy and credible stories without attention to political pressure or consideration for the reputations of the players. Certainly, the Newsminer showed no hesitation when running the first articles in this case which contained incredible inaccuracies, unchecked information, astounding bias, and fed the community frenzy which contributed to the hasty and wrongful convictions of George Frese, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, and Marvin Roberts. When the players are have more social capital the rules of reporting apparently swing as far in the other direction. According to their own article, the Newsminer has factual and credible information on the confession of Jason Wallace and has opted to rescind an article which fulfills the most important duty and responsibility of the free press – to report the news. It appears the press is not nearly as free as it ought to be here in the Golden Heart City. In a world where journalists are beheaded for speaking the truth and jailed for protecting their sources, the cowardice it takes to remove the article stands out all the more.

We applaud Sam Friedman for writing the article. The full text is below:

FAIRBANKS—A sealed court document obtained by the Daily News-Miner corroborates some details of an alternate account of the 1997 John Hartman murder but also clashes with key aspects of the 2012 statement that is being presented as a confession by one of the teen’s true killers.

Since their convictions in the late 1990s, the four men convicted of murdering 15-year-old Hartman have maintained their innocence and tried to win exoneration. Three of these men — Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease and George Frese — remain in jail. The fourth, Marvin Roberts, was paroled this year.

Nearly two years ago, the Alaska Innocence Project, which had taken up the case of the men who have come to be known as the Fairbanks Four, filed court papers claiming the men are innocent and that Hartman was killed nearly 18 years ago by a group of five other teenagers in a maroon Ford Tempo driven by William Z. Holmes, a man later convicted of two other killings.

Advocates for the four men backed their claims with three documents — a handwritten statement from Holmes and two indirect accounts about another convicted killer, Jason Wallace, whom Holmes says stomped Hartman to death.

One of the indirect accounts, containing statements reportedly made by Wallace, has remained under a court seal. It is awaiting a court determination on whether a statement Wallace made to a Public Defender Agency employee can be used as evidence.

The News-Miner obtained a sealed court document that contains a summary of Wallace’s purported confession after an individual with lawful access to the document inadvertently provided it to the newspaper.

Similarities, differences

Holmes and Wallace were Lathrop classmates who went into the cocaine-trafficking business. Holmes is serving a double life sentence and Wallace a 70-year sentence for murders committed in a failed 2002 takeover of a drug business. Wallace beat an Ester woman with a hammer while Holmes shot two men en route from Tacoma, Washington, to California, according to the cases against them.

Holmes told a California prison chaplain in December 2011 that he was involved in the Hartman murder. He repeated the assertion in a sworn statement in August 2012 for the Innocence Project.

Holmes wrote in his affidavit that he was driving around downtown Fairbanks on Oct. 10, 1997, with four others looking for an intoxicated Alaska Native to beat up, something he used to do for entertainment at the time. During their drive, they came across a “white boy” walking alone, he wrote. Holmes said Wallace and the three other young men in his car got out to beat up the boy.

Holmes said he remained in the car and that he couldn’t see the beating because bushes blocked his view.

The group later realized from newspaper accounts that the boy they had beaten was John Hartman and that he had died from his injuries.

Wallace’s account shows some similarity to Holmes’ account but also has some key differences.

Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle described Wallace’s narrative in a sealed November 2014 ruling related to the Alaska Innocence Project’s exoneration case. The ruling is under seal pending a court ruling on its status because it relates to a statement Wallace reportedly made to a Public Defender Agency employee, information that is supposed to remain confidential.

Wallace’s statement reportedly originated from a visit he had from Thomas Bole, then an investigator for the Public Defender Agency, which was representing Wallace in the unrelated 2002 murder case.

Lyle’s ruling says Bole went to Fairbanks Correctional Center to interview Wallace in January 2003 after Wallace told court-appointed attorney Geoffry Wildridge he had information about the Hartman case.

Wallace reportedly told Bole that he — not Holmes — was driving the car. And he says it was Holmes and another of the people named by Holmes who beat Hartman. Wallace says he remained in the car while Hartman was assaulted.

Wallace also reportedly mentions a total of three young men in the car, including himself, differing from the five mentioned by Holmes.

“Wallace said that Holmes and [the third person] jumped out of the car while he waited in the car. He did not witness the assault, but, when they came back to the car Holmes and [the third person] had a couple of dollars,” Lyle wrote in his summary.

“Wallace told Bole that he thought the petitioners found and killed Hartman because Hartman had been sexually assaulted and he apparently did not think Holmes or [the other person] would have done that,” Lyle wrote.

Lyle clearly mentions, in a footnote, that he is not passing judgment on what Wallace is alleged to have said: “The statements of Wallace summarized in this paragraph are not considered for the truth of the matters asserted.” His note says they are included because they are relevant to the question of whether Wallace was seeking advice from his attorney.

Wallace, in the judge’s summary, also references an incident that preceded the attack on Hartman, one not mentioned by Holmes.

The evening began, Wallace said, at a party attended by Holmes and another of the men alleged to later be involved in Hartman’s death. He says the three left and drove through downtown and assaulted — “knocked over” — an individual on First Avenue and stole money from him. The group then drove to the Foodland grocery store — now home to the Co-op Market Grocery &

Deli — and, after a while, returned to their car and drove down Barnette Street, where they encountered Hartman, who was walking.

Lyle’s summary of Wallace’s purported statement doesn’t mention what car they were in.

Holmes makes no mention of the First Avenue assault in his five-page affidavit. He says the group of five — not three — left a girl’s apartment to go downtown, with Holmes driving. Holmes said the other four men jumped out of the car and chased two Alaska Natives but returned to the Ford Tempo when the men ran into an alley. He said there were 10 other grown men in the alley. There is no mention of an assault.

The group, according to Holmes, then drove around downtown for about 20 minutes “without seeing anyone else to harass” and decided to return to the apartment where they had been earlier in the night. It was at that time that they encountered Hartman, he wrote.

The victim of the First Avenue assault mentioned by Wallace is not identified in Lyle’s ruling, but an assault in front of the Eagle’s Hall on First Avenue figured prominently in the case against Frese, Vent, Pease and Roberts. The four were convicted of that assault in the same trials that led to their murder convictions.

The statement’s path

Wallace’s alleged statement about the Hartman murder came to the Alaska Innocence Project by a circuitous process.

Bole, the Public Defender Agency investigator who had interviewed Wallace in 2003, later passed the information to another agency investigator, Richard Norgard, who had previously helped found the Alaska Innocence Project and who had been in contact with the organization about the Hartman case.

The parties dispute exactly when the information changed hands between Bole and Norgard, which matters because it determines who breached what is supposed to be a confidential relationship between a client and his attorney.

Lyle, in his November tentative ruling, found it was not necessary for him to determine who breached Wallace’s confidentiality; rather, he wrote that the issue to be decided was the legal remedy for Wallace and how to handle the desired use of the information by attorneys for Frese, Pease, Vent and Roberts.

The Alaska Innocence Project, which is leading the exoneration effort, is seeking judicial permission to use Wallace’s alleged statements as part of its case. Lyle and, later the Alaska Court of Appeals have each ruled that the attorney-client privilege was breached and that the Innocence Project can use the statements.

Wallace opposes the statement’s release and has taken the matter to the Alaska Supreme Court, which has yet to hear the case.

Below are some images which confirm the origin of the text. HERE is a link to a PDF version of the article.

Newsminer editor Rod Boyce shares the article on his Twitter feed.

Newsminer editor Rod Boyce shares the article on his Twitter feed.

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Article as seen on Newsminer.com prior to its removal.

State of Alaska Caught Lying AGAIN (Yawn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Birthday Letters – Happy Birthday George

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letters from George HERE and HERE

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

Radio interview HERE.

Seventeen Octobers – The Anniversary of John Hartman’s Murder

spruceAs the dwindling blue-gray light casts shadows off spruce trees onto the new snow this October night in Fairbanks, Alaska, those who live here know that soon the light will heed to darkness. Night will fall, and each day that we move toward winter solstice the night will fall a bit earlier. This place – the vast expanses of sky and land that make up the last frontier – will be nearly swallowed by darkness for months. It is this time of the year that it is hard to truly remember that the light will return. The days move forward and we arc, always, back toward spring. Toward light. Yet in October, we can feel the darkness on our heels.

It was on an October night exactly seventeen years ago that a darkness came upon many lives. It changed us. It changed too many to enumerate. It altered something, and for so long it seemed a darkness that would never lift. Even now, as we greet the anniversary of a night that changed so many lives, there are moments it is hard to truly remember that darkness will eventually give way to light.

Yet, it is a gift to fight. It is a gift to be here, in darkness and light, in moments of faith and doubt. No matter the hardships, no matter the darkness, to live is a wonderful thing. Life is so ephemeral. A bright light like a flash, a fleeting glance at all that is brilliant and real. And although a book could be written – countless articles have been written, a blog is being written at this moment – about all the people who lost something to the darkness on an October night exactly seventeen years ago, only one person lost all.

JohnHArtmanJohn Hartman was killed on the corner of 9th Avenue and Barnette seventeen years ago tonight. He was a boy. He was nothing but boundless potential and he was full of life. That light ebbed and went out seventeen years ago. John Hartman has been gone now more years than he was alive. And nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever eclipse the importance of his existence, the tragedy of his death.

Tonight we pause to remember. We remember to never forget John Hartman. And into the darkening night we deliver this prayer – may all that were altered or harmed on the night of October 10, 1997 feel peace. May this prayer find its way to the sky and into the awareness of those who have moved on from this earth. May the legacy of John Hartman be peace, justice, and above all, a reverence for life. Live. Live honestly, and live well, every day hold to the gift it is to simply be alive.

As darkness falls tonight and any night, never let it rob you of the knowledge and faith that morning always returns. The light is coming.

 

Deranged State of Alaska Insists that Innocent Men Should Remain in Prison

queenofheartsThe State of Alaska filed their response to the Innocence Project filing that rejected their claims. You can and should read about that HERE. Because, honestly, the state’s response is so stupid that it isn’t even fun to write about and probably no picnic to read about either. And it has left me thinking about the crazy, mean Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Remember her? I am feeling pretty convinced that if we put her in charge of the justice system in the State of Alaska we would be making a fair trade in terms of ethics and competence. But at least we would have painted roses and maybe a catchy theme song.

The State of Alaska started this response period of with….wait for it….yet another request for an extension! When they requested an extension I had high hopes that they may have something at least new to say. Alas, it appears they needed more time to simply regurgitate their last filing, with the spelling errors mostly cleaned up, and the rather embarrassing, tasteless, dishonest attack on a witness removed.

But the basics are the same. The State of Alaska is willing to have an evidentiary hearing on the Fairbanks Four case. They just don’t want any of the evidence to be allowed in. They surmise that in this evidence hearing they do not want any evidence that will bring Alaskans “closure” on this issue. Apparently, they honestly believe their citizens are so unaware or stupid that we will accept an evidence hearing without the evidence as closure and go on with our lives, pretending that they didn’t lock up innocent children. Pretending that they didn’t leave serial killers on our streets. Pretending that they didn’t lie, hide, cheat, and bribe. We cannot have justice, so they offer “closure” through a review of evidence with no evidence allowed.

I can see why – it is evidence likely to set innocent men free. It is evidence likely to make it crystal clear that the Fairbanks Police Department chief hid a murder confession. That the DA hid a murder confession. That the courts are still hiding what appears to be a separate murder confession. That witnesses were harassed. That witnesses were bribed. And, most horrifyingly, that if the people sworn to seek and uphold justice in 1997 had tried even a little bit to do that, not only would four innocent men be free, but at least five other lives could have been saved, perhaps more. It’s the brutal and unflinching truth, and the truth is the rattling skeleton in the State of Alaska’s gleaming mansion of lies.

The State argues that the confession of William Holmes should be thrown out and considered hearsay. We discussed that at length HERE the last time they made the argument.

The State argues that the scientific evidence should not be allowed in because progression in the forensic sciences is not relevant to post conviction relief filings. I mean, who needs science, right? The progression in the sciences has more than doubled our life expectancy and led to such revelations as the world not being flat, the existence of space, and the cure to the diseases that used to kill nearly all of us. But, scientific progress isn’t for the State of Alaska.

In a nutshell, the state believes a confession of murder from the murderer is “hearsay” and that modern science has no place in a courtroom. Even though the filing is full of words and legal references (as a matter of fact, in one jewel of a statement they attempt to discuss precedent by citing an unpublished opinion that they then acknowledge does not set precedent), all I can picture is that crazy queen. Our system indeed seems that absurd, deranged, and sick with power. It would be easy to make fun of that for 5,000 words. Yet, the state opinion is so ridiculous it is essentially a parody of itself. And, they are spending your tax dollars to do this absurd work, much more slowly than necessary!

In the end, there is nothing funny about it. This isn’t a movie and it isn’t a joke. Lives are at stake, and our justice system is sick, sick, sick. It remains sad, it remains shocking, it remains heartbreakingly painful that the State of Alaska is so invested in protecting themselves from embarrassment that there is no limit to the lives they will ruin, deaths they will turn a blind eye to, and lows they will stoop to. But, it has been made clear that they have no plan to change their tactic.

It’s an election year. Alaskans, you might want to ask your politicians about this issue. Surely, we can do better than this.