Days 20 and 21 – Aaron Ring Returns to Court in Fairbanks Four Case

Days 20 and 21

ring, aaron on standAaron Ring was the star witness in two days of testimony characterized by a long cross-examination heavy on video and audio from the original case.

Ring, the lead detective during the original investigation, has come under severe scrutiny during the hearings in the proceedings the Fairbanks Four hope will lead to their exoneration. A former FBI agent testified that Ring used improper interrogation techniques and failed to investigate the murder properly. Two cold case Alaska State troopers who investigated directly under the prosecutor Adrienne Bachman turned on the state and provided damning testimony. The troopers criticized ring’s work as well, and were especially critical of the aggressive prolonged interrogations of alibi witnesses. The three weeks that preceded Ring’s testimony not only undermined his original work but painted a picture of an investigation so off track that it reinforced the long-held belief by Fairbanks Four supporters that the wrongful conviction was a result of misconduct, fraud, and corruption as opposed to error.

Ring took the stand to defend his work. He testified that he remained confident in the quality of the investigation, and that he was a calm and patient man who kept a respectful demeanor while questioning suspects or witnesses. He reiterated that he was sure he had the right people, based on the information he gained in interrogation, and specific clues. Eugene Vent, he reminded the court, admitted to having gum. An unopened pack of gum was also found at the crime scene. Ring admitted to using “portions” of the Reid Method, and generally insisted that his demeanor had been nonthreatening and that the children being interviewed had supplied him the information.

ring, aaron 2015The cross-examination of Aaron Ring was methodical and almost painful to watch. Cross-examination followed the case in chronological order and walked through Ring’s participation in the investigation from the beginning moments through the eventual convictions of the men. It was death by a thousand cuts, as Dorsey and Whitney attorney Jahna Lindemuth painstakingly revealed one inconsistency after another – the officer’s statements of his qualifications or training versus reality, his recounting of order versus the record, the hours long interviews he admitted to and witnesses testified to versus the recordings that sometimes spanned only minutes, and aggressive questioning of how Ring came to be so certain.

Ring came under relentless questioning regarding his misrepresentation of the physical evidence in order to achieve an indictment in the case. He attempted to defend his false grand jury testimony, during which he testified that there was physical evidence linking the four to the crime. It was one of many attacks regarding Ring’s false characterization of evidence in the case.

“We saw the match,” he said, insinuating that his belief there was a match between wounds and footwear was itself physical evidence.

“Yeah, but there are forensics to back that,” Lindemuth countered. “And there were no forensics on the sexual assault yet either were there?”

“Uh..there had been a sexual assault exam and I think there was findings,” Ring answered.

“There were no forensics. And you said, ‘forensics.'”

But perhaps most damningly, audio of the actual interrogations which provided a sharp contrast against the calm demeanor and subject-directed interviews Ring had described. In the audio Ring can be heard yelling at witnesses, threatening them with arrest, demanding that they not interrupt him, that they agree with him, and so on. The audiotapes verified the accounts given by the now-adult alibi witnesses that they were threatened and harassed.

Lindemuth played interviews with three teenage girls, questioned alone and without their parents present. Audio revealed what these now grown women testified to earlier in the trial – that they experienced threatening and terrifying accusatory interrogation performed on children. It confirmed the testimony of the FBI agent and Alaska State Troopers. In fact, the only witness who seemed to think Aaron Ring was calm, investigated appropriately, or professional was Aaron Ring.

Many of the young people who were interviewed during the original case, now on the cusp of middle age with teenage children of their own, sat in the gallery of the courtroom during Ring’s testimony. If he recognized them from the witness stand or had any grasp on the impact he had on their lives, his face did not betray it.

timeschanging“I spent more than half of my life now thinking about that man, having the bad dreams, and the hard memories of this man,” one of the alibi witnesses said. “And he was just a man. Not a good man, but just a man.  I have been afraid for, what, eighteen years? Afraid of seeing him again. So I kept wondering why I wasn’t scared after all when he walked in. And I think it’s because I am an adult now. I thought back then I was grown, but I was a little girl then. To hear the tapes I didn’t feel like this happened to me, I felt like it happened to a little kid because it did.  And we cannot allow people in power to do this to our kids. It was good to see him, because I think all I wanted was to see him when he didn’t have power over me. It’s not a little girl and a police officer. It’s a strong woman and a weak man. I have the power now.”

Day Four – Scott Davison vs. Adrienne Bachman

October 8, 2015

Scott Davison, Newsminer Photo

Scott Davison, Newsminer Photo

The fourth day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four case focused largely on the testimony of Scott Davison, who testified that Jason Wallace confessed his role in the Hartman killing just days after the murder to Davison and another student.

According to Davison’s testimony, he and a friend were sitting in a car in the Lathrop High School Parking lot just days after Hartman was murdered when Wallace jumped in and the three ditched school to smoke weed. When they were parked near the bowling alley a few blocks away, Wallace produced the local newspaper and told Davison and driver Matt Ellsworth that he and his friends were the ones truly responsible for killing Hartman.

Davison talked about his struggle to come forward, and that he believed Wallace’s threat to kill him if he did, then and now. In previous videotaped deposition, Mr. Davison said he felt blessed that the Innocence Project had tracked him down and allowed him to unburden himself of a secret that had tormented him for years. Davison  also outlined other attempts to come forward, most notably when he disclosed the Wallace confession to Officer Avery Thompson, who failed to record only that portion of the interview and did not pursue the information. Thompson blowing the information off, Davison said, was discouraging.

Officer Thompson took the stand briefly and denied much memory of the Davison statements, but came up stammering when the Fairbanks Four counsel produced a string of emails between he and his supervisor (as well as original investigator) Jim Geier to counter his claim that the one-time conversation was never expanded upon. He defended the failure to record the interview its entirety.

Davison’s former girlfriend and mother of his children took the stand as well to confirm that Davison had told her about the Wallace confession during their relationship, which spanned the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

During cross-examination, State prosecutor belabored Davison’s inability to remember small details of his day or life in 1997 – how many credits he was taking that semester, for example, or small inconsistencies in his story – in one interview he described a man he confided the confession to as a friend, in another he described the man as an acquaintance. Davison defended his inability to remember such distant minutia, stating simply that perception is like that – that he had forgotten small details of the day but that Wallace’s confession was “tattooed into my mind.”

Bachman has previously attacked Davison from all angles, including rather dishonestly in the initial state response to the post conviction filing, and during questioning Davison was frank at his distaste for her tactics. “How is that relevant?” he asked when questioned about his children. He was consistently vocal about her questioning, and at one point when referring to a previous meeting with Bachman he stated that he hadn’t recognized her because she “had her nice face on” then. Judge Paul Lyle had to quell laughter from the public at the remark. In the end, Davison acknowledged his inability to remember some details, but was adamant about his testimony regarding the Wallace confession.

“I am not lying. He confessed to me.” Davison reiterated.

Judge Paul Lyle is taking the approach of hearing everything and considering admissibility when proceedings finish. This leaves his decision solidly unpredictable, as it is possible that any of the witnesses will have testimony excluded from the decision. However, for the time being it allows for the testimony to be heard and as such become public, and Davison proved a powerful addition to the discourse.

A few links for news coverage:


Day Two – A Prison Guard Bolsters an Inmate’s Confession, State Denies Courtroom Access

October 6, 2015 –

During the second day of the Fairbanks Four hearing, two witnesses and one argument over the right of the petitioners to attend proceedings dominated the day.

torquatoCalifornia Prison employee Officer Torquato and his supervisor’s video taped depositions were played in the courtroom. Torquato is the correctional officer, working as chaplain and educational officer in 2011, who first alerted authorities to Holmes’ involvement in the Hartman murder. Holmes confessed to Torquato, but vowed he would never name names or come forward with the story. Torquoato described in his testimony attempting to persuade Holmes to come forward to no avail, then seeking the guidance of his supervisor. Both correctional officers remember writing out the Holmes account and sending it to Fairbanks Police Department, after first making contact with officer Nolan there. The FPD ultimately did nothing with the confession. Torquato further described how he encouraged Holmes to come clean over a period of months, and how eventually Holmes wrote out his confession and sent it to the Alaska Innocence Project.

The two men, uniformed in khaki, spoke matter-of-factly about the Holmes confession and the events that followed, although at one point Officer Torquoato became more emotional in explaining his motivations for taking action, and that he could not live with the idea that four innocent men were in prison. The officers were a stark contrast to the law enforcement community in Alaska, who have roundly denied even the potential existence of wrongful conviction, and their testimony was believable. Adrienne Bachman objected to admissibility premised on hearsay, but Judge Lyle overruled her objection, reiterating that he would take in testimony and determine later which portions he was able to rely upon in his decision.

The correctional officer’s depositions served to bolster the testimony of Holmes, who took the stand the previous day to testify to his role in the 1997 murder for which the Fairbanks Four have been imprisoned for nearly 18 years.

The Fairbanks Four attorneys also focused on refuting the State’s claims that Holmes came forward to enact revenge on Jason Wallace. Holmes and Wallace committed not only the Hartman murder together, but also four other killings, and ultimately Wallace took the stand against Holmes to receive leniency in his own charges during their respective trials. Judge Lyle appeared to agree with the Fairbanks Four’s counsel that Holmes did not appear to have anything to gain, and had he been interested in revenge would have taken the opportunity during their murder trials.

A procedural issue which has ignited outrage amongst supporters of the four men was also prominent in proceedings. Superior Court Judge Lyle had previously ordered the State of Alaska to transport George Frese, Kevin Pease, and Eugene Vent from their prisons hundreds of miles away to the local jail for the evidentiary hearing. The state did so but refused to absorb the cost of transporting the men the few miles from the jail to the courthouse during proceedings and keep them there under guard. After being pressed for a dollar figure associated with the men attending their own exoneration proceedings, the State supplied the figure of $500 per man per day, for a total of $1500.00 per day. The community of Fairbanks, outraged at the idea that individuals were being prevented from attending the proceedings which would determine their future, raised nearly $10,000.00 in a matter of days to help the men appear in person.

John SkidmoreWhen attorneys for the men revealed that the money for them to attend had been raised, John Skidmore with the Alaska Department of Law initially stammered over the phone from his Anchorage office, then asked for time to determine a response. Shortly thereafter he announced that in light of the defendants “having funding” the total cost had been raised to $4,800.00 per day, that the men would be guarded by two troopers a piece, remain handcuffed, and that the troopers would be flown in from Anchorage each day and flown back, despite there being nine designated Judicial Services troopers in Fairbanks. In addition to the outrageous and more-than-tripled dollar figure, the State went on the say that to meet their own demands would be to taxing and that they did not want to do it all. John Skidmore is a favorite lackey of the state, and is pictured above in a Alaska Daily News photo explaining a 2014 missing-drugs-scandal where he neither confirmed nor denied anything with remarkable adeptness at saying a lot of nothing and taking no accountability, a party trick he repeated for the October 6th proceedings.

In his ruling, Judge Lyle acknowledged the importance of the request and explained that it was outside the power of the court to order the state to bring the men to court. He was apologetic as he denied the motion for the men to attend.

Although supporters of the Fairbanks Four are outraged by the transparent and absurd effort to keep the accused out of court, and it is indeed outrageous, we have resolved to be grateful. The Alaska Innocence Project was not awarded a Department of Justice grant that they have depended on as their major source of operating funds. The State of Alaska’s rather disgusting attempts to dodge facing the innocent in court should be a motivation to us all to be sure they face the innocent in court over and over. The $10,000 raised to send the men to court will now be donated to the Alaska Innocence Project, and we hope to triple that figure by the end of the month. The answer to darkness must always be light. So, thank you Ms. Bachman and Mr. Skidmore, together you have inspired us to make sure you continue to face the innocent. Next time, we will be prepared to assure that involves looking them in the eye.

To donate to the fund to support the Innocence Project CLICK HERE! If everyone who saw this post gave just $1 we would have $30,000 in a matter of a few days.

Below are a few links to coverage of day two:

Newsminer – Judge Denies Motion for Attendance


Back in court – Opening Arguments and Witnesses in Fairbanks Four Hearings

MArvininCourtOctober 5, 2015 marked the first day of proceedings in the evidentiary hearing the Fairbanks Four, their attorneys, and supporters hope will ultimately lead to their exoneration.

Inside the courtroom, Marvin Roberts was flanked by attorneys, his traditional beaded moosehide vest among the black suit jackets underscoring his singularity in the courtroom. His three – sat a few miles away at Fairbanks Correctional Center, where the State had been ordered to transport them. The court was, however, unable to force the State to transport them under guard the few remaining miles to the courthouse each day when the State refused. Equally alone, and every bit as tasked with the burden of representing those who could not be there in person, was Chris “Sean” Kelly, the elder brother of victim John Hartman.

Nearly eighteen years have passed since the last time this case was in court, and the years have altered many in the crowd. Accused man Marvin Roberts, the only one of the four to achieve parole, and Hartman’s brother Sean Kelly are middle-aged men now. Hazel Roberts, mother to Marvin, has gray streaking her hair now, and is on the doorstep of 60. The last time she sat behind her son proclaiming his innocence she was nearly the age he is today. Hartman’s mother is long deceased. Also present at court was George Frese’s daughter with her daughter on her lap. Today, she is twenty years old, and her daughter is three. In 1997 she was a three-year old on her mother’s lap and her father George was twenty. The years calculated in their alteration of the human beings involved are painfully visible. The rows of spectators listened carefully as the case began. Immediately prior to proceedings, journalist Brian O’Donoghue, whose investigative reporting first revealed the many issues with the original convictions to the public, was unceremoniously ejected from the courtroom. State prosecutor Adrienne Bachman deposed both O’Donoghue and blogger April Monroe, making them witnesses to the case, in what many suspect was an effort to execute control over coverage of the proceedings. The crowd shook their heads as O’Donoghue rose and walked from the courtroom, unable to cover the story for the first time since its inception.

During opening statements attorneys for the men and the State of Alaska outlined their respective cases. The Fairbanks Four, as George Frese, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, and Marvin Roberts have come to be known, are visibly well represented on this return trip to court. The eighteen years that have elapsed since their original conviction have virtually inverted the appearance of the courtroom – a reflection of the change in public sentiment about the case. The attorneys for the Fairbanks Four sat two tables deep, and opening statements were given in turn by the lead counsel for each of the men. The Fairbanks Four, their attorneys argued, are entirely innocent of the murder of John Hartman. In an opening bolstered by a series of video clips – William Holmes unemotionally confessing to the murder of Hartman in detail, his co-conspirator Jason Wallace implicated by both Holmes and his own statements cockily invoking his right against self-incrimination when asked about his role in the killing, and former star witness Arlo Olson recanting his original testimony – attorneys for the Fairbanks Four argued passionately that their clients were absolutely innocent, as they themselves have insisted since the first day of incarceration and maintained these many years.

Adrienne Bachman argued for the State of Alaska that jury trial is the “bedrock of the justice system,” that the judge had no business being a super-juror in the case, and went on to say she would call witnesses who bolstered the original case, including a cab driver who came forward in 2014 to claim she saw four “Asian-looking men” in the Barnette area the night of the murder, and “felt a catch in her heart.” She outlined a basic argument for countering the admissibility of anything she deemed hearsay, communicated her intention to stand by the boot print exhibit created by controversial figures Jeff O’Bryant and Aaron Ring, and exhibit repeatedly described as misleading and totally unscientific by experts, reiterated that alibi witnesses should not be called because if “they were not believable the first time, they are not believable now.” Bachman also revisited the testimony of Melanie Durham, a women’s shelter resident in 1997 whose testimony about hearing the Hartman beating has long been used as a reference for the time of the crime. Durham came forward when she realized the beating she heard had resulted in a death, claiming to have heard “dark” voices and a smaller voice plead for help. After the Fairbanks Four were arrested and she had a conversation with officer Aaron Ring, accused by supporters of significant misconduct in the case, Durham altered her story to be that although she was not close enough to hear audible words, and she saw nothing, that she was still able to identify the voices as Native due to an accent (as an aside – none of the Fairbanks Four have a “Native” accent, all are verified city boys). Durham’s  illogical but racially charged testimony was effective the first time, and Bachman argued that Durham did not hear a black man, despite Holmes’ having a classic “African-American speech pattern.” It was an interesting addition to the theory that witnesses can distinguish Natives in the dark distance by indistinguishable speech – the State expressed their stance that this is also true of African Americans.

In the end, both sides argued what is to be expected – the attorneys for the Fairbanks Four argued based on fact and witness testimony that their clients are actually innocent of the crime for which they have spent the last 18 years in prison, and Adrienne Bachman argued that she did not want to be there and did not think it was fair that her opponents were presenting this information in court. Oh, also that her witness has the superpower of identifying people by ethnicity without seeing them, and that she has a witness who may have seen four Asians in 1997, because that is close enough, right? In all reality, it is dismaying to say the least to hear bigotry presented as fact in 2015 as in 1997.

Opening arguments were followed immediately by the in-person testimony of one of the most critical and controversial witnesses in the current case – William “Bill” Holmes. The crowd sat in absolute silence as Holmes, in horn rim glasses, orange prison garb, and flanked by troopers, described with apparent ease his role in John Hartman’s death. He discussed attending a high school part at classmate Regent Epperson’s house, and leaving when it was “boring.” He described the plans to assault Natives, repeatedly referring to the Alaskan indigenous as “drunk Natives” as he relayed the series of attempted assaults that culminated in the fatal assault of Hartman. He described the other teenagers running back to the car, near hysteria because “little J was just trippin,’ stompin’ the old boy out.” He describes discovering a few days later that the assault proved fatal, that others had been arrested for the crime, Wallace showing off and laughing at Hartman’s blood still on his shoes, and how Holmes threatened the other teenagers present with murder should they ever come forward.

When describing his motivation, Holmes insisted that God had moved him, nothing more and nothing less.

William Holmes TestimonyHolmes proved a difficult witness to undermine for Bachman, who focused heavily on his ability to identify his route through arial photographs and his definition of “U-turn.” The line of questioning ultimately backfired as Holmes described by landmark with great accuracy the corner of 9th and Barnette. Bachman also sought to undermine Holmes’ claim of faith by grilling him about sexual conversations had via contraband cellphone with a woman. Bachman insisted Holmes could not be both coming forward for spiritual religions and ‘talking dirty’ to a woman. She ended her cross examination with a brief commentary about his testimony being hearsay, prodding Holmes with the claim that he didn’t see anything or commit a crime. Holmes responded that he thought driving the car for premeditated assaults, driving the getaway car for a murder, threatening witness/participants with death if they came forward, and destroying evidence was indeed a crime. In the end, Holmes had the better end of that argument.

Most memorable in the Holmes testimony, however, was simply the easy demeanor with which Holmes reflected on Wallace “stomping the ol’ boy out.” For the many people whose lives were turned upside down when Marvin, Eugene, Kevin, and George were imprisoned for the killing, hearing the details of the brutal death of young Hartman for the first time were overwhelming.

FairbanksFourrallySpectators exited the courtroom visibly shaken by the Holmes testimony, and as Marvin Roberts and TCC President Victor Joseph stepped into the large crowd gathered to protest outside the courtroom, the mood turned somber.

“We need to pray for John Hartman, for this little boy, and his brother who is here today. We need to lift him up,” Joseph began, and continued to urge the crowd to support the Four and continue their work.

Marvin thanked the crowd, tears catching in his throat as he listed his co-defendants still in jail by name.

The crowd of supporters, which included the UAF chancellor and bishop of the Alaska Episcopal church, played drum and sang traditional songs in a circle around the courthouse steps.

“Two years ago,” Father Scott Fisher said in closing prayers, “we gathered in this same place, with faith, and insisted, the light is coming. Today, it is sunrise.”
Below are some of the many articles and videos about the first day of the Fairbanks Four proceedings. We will update you as trial continues.

KTUU – Fairbanks Four Hearing Begins (article/video)

KTVF – First Day of Trial

Indian Country Today ‘Fairbanks Four’ Seek Truth, Freedom

NPR – Dan Bross – Bill Holmes Testimony

Washington Times – Fairbanks Four Want Convictions Overturned

Big Bad Wolf VI – Marquez Pennington and John Hartman’s Murder


Marquez Pennington

When William Holmes confessed to his role in the brutal murder of John Hartman, he named four accomplices: Jason Wallace, Rashan Brown, Shelmar Johnson, and Marquez Pennington. The press, as a rule, has excluded mention of the two named by Holmes who are not in prison. Holmes, Wallace, and Brown are all serving time for murders they committed as individuals. Pennington and Johnson are free and residing at least part-time in Alaska. We do not see any reason to shelter them and have never excluded them from reference.

Mr. Pennington appears to have used the eighteen years that have elapsed since his alleged participation in the beating death of John Hartman to pursue other criminal activity. His criminal record is extensive. Marquez Pennington has been arrested more than 30 times between 1998 and 2012, or 2.14 times per year. His record can be viewed HERE. These arrests have often contained multiple charges, and his record exposes a long history of drug sales, use, and violence. Despite many significant charges being brought against him, including multiple drug related felonies, Mr. Pennington has apparently avoided harsh prosecution. He did serve some time in prison alongside the men currently incarcerated for the murder of John Hartman, and was apparently unmoved by the process of looking innocent men serving time for his sins in they eye.


Marquez “QB” Pennington

In addition to his relatively brazen work as a drug dealer apparently conducted without significant law enforcement interference, Mr. Pennington has enjoyed a long if unremarkable career as an amateur hip-hop artist. When rapping, Marquez Pennington goes by the stage name “Q.B.” and “Q.B. of Choldhustle.” His work appears on Myspace, and a compilation album titled “Interior’s Most Wanted,” produced by Redd Dott studios, or Alaska Redd, the studio of Josh “Red” Silva, a Fairbanks rapper who has collaborated with Marquez Pennington as well as Bill Holmes and Shelmar Johnson. On this particular album, distressingly dedicated to both William Holmes and his slain ex-girlfriend Mahogany Davis, Marquez Pennington is featured as Coldhustle. Other self-imposed monikers associated with the middle-aged Pennington include Cube, Q, Quadruple, and so on.

Holmes is not the only source who links Pennington to the murder of John Hartman.

A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity relayed the following story about  Mr. Pennington:

“In 1998, early 1998 I think, I was in FYF (Fairbanks Youth facility – the local juvenile detention center) with Marquez. Everyone knew he killed Hartman. He told people, he bragged about it, that they curb stomped this kid. And here, we were doing time for little stuff. Curfew, weed, drinking. Nothing big. And he was getting out ahead of us, before all of us. We were there and he was leaving, and that’s when I remember hearing about it. Because that was what caused people to really talk, their frustration that a murderer is just walking out the door. Guys being like, man that’s messed up, killers getting out of here and we are stuck here. No one thought it was okay what he did, but we were just young and scared. Still scared. When a person will do that to a little for nothing what would they do to you?”

A recent filing on behalf of the Fairbanks Four revealed another source linking Marquez Pennington to Hartman’s murder. According to the filing, Fairbanks man Takory Stern contacted investigators in March 2014 and requested a meeting. Once there, he gave statements indicating that Marquez Pennington had confessed to his role in the murder directly to him in 1997. At the time Stern would have been 14 years old. The officer who conducted the interview recorded only small portions of the interview. In this article about the statement, Officer Avery Thompson alleges that it is normal practice to only record portions of interviews. It seems contrary to basic investigative skill to record a statement only partially, but it is safe to say that for this case at least, it is routine for interviews to be truncated, partially recorded, or missing altogether.

Takory Stern is reported to have killed himself during a police chase several months after giving his statement. Whatever his troubles, we are grateful that he chose to do the right thing and come forward with his information, and glad he was able to relieve himself of this burden before his time on Earth was finished. It was clear from his obituary that he was very loved and is missed.

holmesMarquez Pennington is a man with a long criminal record who has been named as the killer of John Hartman by one of his accomplices and other witnesses. He is a resident of Fairbanks and North Pole, Alaska, and remains entirely free in the community he has been harming since at least 1997. In the Holmes account of the Hartman killing, Marquez Pennington was rifling through John Hartman’s pockets when the young boy shook and went limp. In that story, a child’s soul fled his body during an act of unspeakable violence, and Pennington was there hoping to steal a few dollars. Someday, he will answer for that, and it would do him well to get right with his maker before that day comes.

Pennington was allegedly distressed at the events, screaming in the back seat as they sped away from the crime scene. It is sad, really, to consider he may have been a misguided but scared teenager in way over his head in 1997. It is sad to think about the man he may have been had he received the intervention as a boy he so clearly needed at the time, and the harm to others that it may have prevented. No one did Marquez Pennington any favors when they arrested the wrong men for the crime. As it stands, he has made no public comment about the murder of John Hartman. If the accounts of Stern and Holmes, who passed a lie detector when his claims were tested, are correct, then Marquez Pennington is also guilty of the murder of John Hartman, a 14-year-old young boy who was mercilessly kicked and stomped to death for no reason in October of 1997. If so, he has lived the last 18 years without a shred of decency or honor, failed to take responsibility for his actions, and sad idly by while innocent men do his time. It is way past time for Marquez Pennington to stand up like a man to whatever events took place in 1997, and it is our hope that he does. It is extremely unlikely that he or anyone will ever face charges for the killing of John Hartman – the State is unlikely to prosecute after 18 years of publicly taking the position that someone else did it. But Pennington and the others could still come forward like men and own their decisions, give peace to the family, and assist in justice for four innocent men.Time grows short. Please keep Marquez Pennington in your hopes, thoughts, prayers, dreams, or whatever you do. He still has time to come clean before the Fairbanks Four trial begins October 5, and if life is providing him a chance at redemption, let’s hope he takes it, steps into the light, and can live the remainder of his days out with some peace.

Marquez, if you read this, please look into your heart and ask yourself what the right thing to do is. Do that. Think about how 18 years would feel locked up for anything, let alone something you didn’t do. Think about George’s baby girl, 3 when he went away. George is a grandpa now, and he missed almost all of it. Trust that good does come from choosing the right thing. It is never too late to find forgiveness, and there is always more shame in hiding a truth than owning it. We are rooting for you, hoping for you, praying for you, believing in you. Please do what you believe in your heart to be right.

If you or anyone you know has information about Marquez Pennington and his role in the 1997 murder of John Hartman, please call Alaska Innocence Project at 907-279-0454, or Fairbanks Police at 456-2583. Please do ask that they record your entire interview.

Big Bad Wolf IV – Who Killed Mohogany Davis?

Mahogany DavisWho would still be alive today if the right men had been arrested and convicted for the killing of John Hartman?

Often discussed in the realm of the innocence movement are the consequences of wrongful conviction on those who are wrongfully convicted. The pain and suffering, the damage to the justice system, the social ramifications for a false sense of justice, the difficulty of rebuilding a life after years of imprisonment – these are topics that the innocence movement gives great consideration. Less discussed is the effect it has to leave the guilty on the streets. As this case has progressed we have become more and more aware of that impact, and as the Fairbanks Four approach a trial date we want to recount as many of the damages as we can. The Fairbanks Four have lost pieces of their lives, years. But they have not lost all. Some have.

Three of the five suspects now believed to have killed John Hartman are currently serving long sentences for other murders. The other two have long criminal records for drugs and violence but remain on the streets. John Hartman was the first person they killed, but within five years the body count of their known victims had risen to five. Five murders which could not have happened if these men were arrested and convicted on the timeline that the Fairbanks Four were instead arrested and convicted of the crime. Teaka Bacote, Hakeem Bryant, Christopher Martin, Victor Torres, and Julie Ann Wilde would be alive today if the right people were arrested in October of 1997.

In addition to the known victims, there is the concerning list of the missing which surround these perpetrators. One crime to which they had distressing and memorable proximity is the killing of Mahogany Davis.

Mogohany Davis was a 21-year old mother of three, including a three-week old, when she ran bleeding and barely dressed into the parking lot of the Little Dipper apartments. She collapsed onto the pavement and a neighbor called 911. The call came in at 4:13am on May 11, 2002. Mahogany lived nearly two hours past the 911 call, and Fairbanks Police officer Jim Geier, who was instrumental in the Fairbanks Four arrest and convictions, was able to speak to Mahogany before she passed. An excerpt from a May 13, 2002 Juneau Empire article confirms that Mahogany did speak.

Sgt. Jim Geier said officers were able to talk to Davis before she died at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital about 90 minutes later.

“We did have the opportunity to obtain information from the victim,” Geier said. “We also obtained some information from witnesses and are pursuing leads.”

If Mahogany, barely clinging to life, was able to speak, what did she say? What would you say? Those unknown words have long unsettled her family, who believe she would have used her last moments on this earth to reveal the identity and motivation of her killer in an effort to protect her children as a final act. They are haunted by a troubling and lingering question – if one of the lead detectives on the Hartman crime heard deathbed revelations that named alternative suspects in the Hartman killing, would that story have died with Mahogany? If there were reputations at stake, would this young mother’s case be allowed to fall cold? It is a weighty accusation, and one that cannot truly be known. But what she said and why it did not lead to her homicide being solved weighs heavily on her surviving family. It is only know that she spoke, but because her murder investigation remains open, the contents of the file are confidential, and her family knows little more today than they did in the days after her death.

According to Davis’ mother, Rhonda Davis, the crime scene was horrific. The apartment opened to a short hallways that was splattered and smeared with blood.

Jason Wallace, 2004

Jason Wallace, 2004

The family believes Mahogany Davis was killed by someone she knew since there was no sign of forced entry. Mahogany was attacked in front of her three sons, aged 4 years, 20 months, and 3 weeks at the time of her murder. Mahogany’s youngest son was fathered by William Z. Holmes and she was a close associate of Jason Wallace. According to Mahogany’s mother, the oldest of the children described the assailant as a yellow-skinned black man. They also said her wounds were stabs, but did not appear to be from a knife. Wallace was arrested later in 2002 for attacking and killing a woman in her home with a hammer, and attacking and stabbing another man in his home with a screwdriver. They see parallels between these non-knife stabbing murders and the death of Mahogany. Rhonda Davis points out that Jason Wallace, longtime Holmes associate and convicted killer, has a “yellow complexion.”

Mahogany had a long relationship with William Holmes, was his ex girlfriend, and mother to his son. Her family believes Mahogany was killed by William Holmes or his associate Jason Wallace because she had information about them – either about upcoming large drug deals or their involvement with John Hartman’s murder, or any other incriminating information.

Today, Mahogany’s case is cold. No suspects were ever arrested, and if William Holmes or Jason Wallace were ever investigated, the Davis family was never informed. Local station KTVF 11 reporter Stephanie Woodard ran series on the Mahogany Davis killing called “A Look Into the Cold Case Murder of Mahogany Davis,” which we have linked to below.

Mahogany’s family yearns for justice and as much closure as that can bring. Please hold them and the families of other victims in prayer, because the wrongfully convicted may come home someday, but the victims of the wrongfully free will never return. They have paid a terrible price at the hands of wrongful conviction. In this regard the Fairbanks Four and their families are blessed, although their suffering has been significant and long, they woke up today with their lives, and although family may have to visit them through windows and in chains, they are still with us.

If any reader has tips about the murder of Mahogany Davis please do call Crime Stoppers at 907-450-6500.

Introducing The Big Bad Wolf I – Officer Clifford “Aaron” Ring

justicequoteThe decision to fight for the Fairbanks Four has not come without hardship. Many of us who chose to take a stand have, and will continue to, come under attack. One of the hardest things to do is speak out against people who we know are powerful, at least in the worldly sense. However, it is also one of the most important things we have done and will do. This is one of those difficult posts.

We are not fighting against an accident. We are not rallying against an injustice of coincidence. The Fairbanks Four were not the unfortunate four harmed by chance. They were the victims of deliberate actions taken by human beings. We do not believe that means they were forsaken by their maker or tossed aside. Instead, they came under the hardship they were born to bear, and we were given the responsibility of freeing them and exposing the anatomy of injustice in our hometown so that a greater good could come of it.

We have discussed some of the noteworthy corruption in a previous post HERE  and we do not plan to stop talking about corruption in this case until it is fully revealed, until those who committed the crime of deliberate injustice are exposed, and until amends are made to all who were hurt.

We will never be able to make a completely comprehensive post about the players in this case whose mistakes or deliberate actions led to this injustice. It is not possible to know the heart and mind, and therefore the intentions, of another human being. But we can tell you what we know and what we have been told about the men and women whose actions and choices paved the road to this injustice. It is not our wish to enact revenge on them. It is only our wish that the whole truth be known someday so that there may come a time when there is indeed justice for all.

We will post a series of pieces on individuals who played a critical role in the arrest, investigation, wrongful conviction, and illegal incarceration of the Fairbanks Four.

Clifford “Aaron” Ring

aaron ringIt seems fitting to make Aaron Ring first in the “Big Bad Wolf” recounting of the key players in the wrongful conviction of the Fairbanks Four. If this was a movie, he would be the bad guy. He was extremely active in the case, from the initial arrests to the court trials, and touched almost every aspect of the case.

George Frese, Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, and Kevin Pease have spent most of the last 18 years in 5X8 concrete prison cells, often for 23 of 24 hours in a day. For the duration of their time in prison, and indeed since their arrests, all four have procalimed their innocence in a case that has long been one of the most contested and controversial in Alaska’s history.

AaronRingsHouseBy contrast, Aaron Ring lives here. The only thing these accommodations have in common is, of course, that both are funded by the State of Alaska. The retired FPD officer lives in Florida now on a comfortable pension where apparently he can wake up every morning, put his shoes on one at a time, eat breakfast, and apparently go about life with no outward betrayal of regret, if it is there at all.

The goal of this case-specific wrongful conviction blog has been to tell a wrongful conviction story in great detail to create a broader awareness of the issue at large and this case. We have long implored the public to come forward with any information related to this case and enter a public dialogue. What we receive in response to that request perhaps more often than anything else is information on or complaints about Officer Aaron Ring. We have had multiple source accusations of race-based hate crimes by Aaron Ring as a juvenile and young adult at Lathrop High School, two accusations of sexual assault on an underage victim, one while a uniformed officer and one not. We have had many unsolicited reports by people who had contact with officer Aaron Ring as juveniles that they consider abusive. These range from actual assaults (being thrown on the ground, hit, tripped, knocked off a bicycle, slammed on a car door, etc.) to pseudo-assaults (being cuffed in the back of a police car while the breaks are repeatedly slammed), to psychologically abusive contact. Keep in mind, these accusers all have one thing in common –  they were CHILDREN when these events occurred.

This is not the first time that dozens upon dozens of alleged adult victims of child abuse have come forward to finger an individual who held a trusted position in the community. The Catholic Church had a whole scandal. Teachers, boy scout troop leaders, favorite coaches, priests, pastors…….this is recognizable territory. A scandal tends to deepen as more and more alleged victims surface with their claims. In general, mounting accusations are often perceived as confirmation that there is after all “something to it.” We have all seen that before, and on our side of the internet we are seeing it again here.

We are neither qualified nor prepared to evaluate or determine the veracity of these statements. But we want to acknowledge that they have been made.

What we can document and verify is the conduct and speech on record by Officer Aaron Ring as he investigated the Fairbanks Four case, and we have. These pages ultimately together just tell a story, and Aaron Ring is a character that appears over and over. Here are some of the more stand-out moments of his conduct.

  • Aaron Ring lied to the people being interviewed and threatened them. He made up evidence, told people that their friends or families had placed them there or told the officers they were lying, threatened people with jail or other harm if they failed to agree.
  • Aaron Ring, according to multiple witnesses, turned the tape recorders off and on during police interviews. Ring used the times the recorder was off, according to these witnesses, to threaten them more directly, provide more extreme false information, or reassure them that if they just said what he wanted them to say it would not be a big deal. Alaska law requires interrogations be taped in their entirety.
  • When George Frese said, “I want to go home,” Aaron Ring claimed he had said it alone in an empty room. Ring would have been obligated to stop the interrogation if George (which he indeed did) asked to go home.
  • When Eugene Vent, drunk and only seventeen, said “I want my mama,” Ring downplayed the statement and continued with the interview.
  • Played the major part in some of the most harrowing interviews in the case, including Shara David, Edgar Henry, Antonio Sisto, Eugene Vent, George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts, and conducted the first interview with Chris Stone, which is “missing,” and with EJ Stephens, likewise “missing.”
  • Aaron Ring made a damning and misleading exhibit with the help of prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant. This exhibit was called “totally unscientific” by the only expert who saw it in trial, but he was not called to testify. The exhibit was not to scale, and consisted of an overlay of George Frese’s boot print overtop of a photo of the victim. The size had been adjusted to create an appearance of a match. The lab logo was left on the boot print, creating the misleading impression that the exhibit had been created by scientists.

We must preface the following with a statement that we have no comment as to the veracity of the accusations made below. We have no idea if the accusations below are valid, but can only report that the following accusations have been made against Aaron Ring in statements to us by others.

  • A woman contacted us to tell us that she had known Aaron Ring as a young man, from adolescence to his late teens. She was substantially younger than him and claims he sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions.
  • Several individuals claiming to have known Ring in high school have contacted us to claim that Ring was widely known as a racist, and was extremely and overtly racist against Native students.
  • A woman contacted us to tell us her now-deceased daughter claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Aaron Ring as a teenager and while Aaron Ring was on duty as a police officer. According to this woman, Ring made contact with her teen daughter and picked her up for underage consumption of alcohol, but agreed to let her go in exchange for sex acts, and threatened her with severe legal consequences if she did not comply. Her story was apparently taken and preserved by a local journalist.
  • A man contacted us to tell us that as a young person he was arrested by Aaron Ring and was physically assaulted during the arrest. The man claims that while he was in the back of the squad car Mr. Ring repeatedly and deliberately slammed on the breaks to cause injury to the him.
  • More than a dozen individuals have contacted us to report that Aaron Ring used unnecessary force.
  • A Fairbanks resident alerted us to the existence of the Henry Kettendorf case – a young man named Henry Kettendorf was shot and killed by Aaron Ring in downtown Fairbanks. The case created some controversy at the time. An eyewitness to the shooting described it very differently than the officers at the scene. A transcript was later published by reporter Gene George of “The Athabascan Report,” in which officers can be heard mocking Kettendorf, his death, and threatening to conspire against the witness to the shooting. After years of searching for this particular edition of the publication and finding it was removed from nearly every library in the state, we finally procured a copy.

There was a time when we believed, or at least wanted to, that this was all one big mistake. But the more information that surfaces about the case, the more it seems that the wrongful conviction of the Fairbanks Four was not a mistake so much as an event on a timeline of terrible deeds committed against the young and vulnerable of Alaska for minimal personal gain. We can choose to believe, and for now we will, that the actions that harmed so many were not so much intentional as they were the byproduct of a kind of thinking so ingrained that it produced great harm. If someone as a young person believes an entire race to be animalistic or below them it is not hard to imagine that deep seeded thought growing into a tree of injustice as the person’s schemas hardened and their power grew. Whether a source is corrupted or bad is impossible to say, but there is wisdom in the verse that says “Ye shall know them by their fruit.”

To change the landscape of our community or country as it relates to biased thinking inside the justice system it is not enough to attack the tree or judge the fruits, we have to ensure that the seeds of racism and bias are not sown into the minds of the next generation and find a way to articulate their visibility in our current social structures. There comes a point where an individuals intentions in a series of actions do not matter nearly as much as the fact that they were capable. In other words –  maybe didn’t know better. And if that is the case perhaps the people most responsible for the damage he did are those who surrounded him, knew better, and stayed silent.

Many children were harmed in the making of this wrongful conviction. The players in this game who moved them like pawns failed to calculate the outcome now at hand – they didn’t crush ALL of those children. Some persevered. Some found self-worth against the odds. Some of those kids didn’t fall into addiction,early graves, fold into the small town inside a small town and disappear into the familiar. Some did not bow down under shame. Some of them grew up. And they remembered.

As for Aaron Ring, accountability is not ours to assign. As is often the case, there is probably not as much peace inside the beautiful Florida home as there appears to be from outside. All we can do is wish him well, hope that if he indeed struggles with the demon of pride or racism or rage that he wrestles it and prevails, and that if he is guilty of any actions that were illegal that the justice system may find him and treat him fairly. After all, our wish is the same for him as it is for you, or for the Fairbanks Four. Justice for all.