Alibis and Witnesses IV – Alibis Interrogated

If Marvin had owned a mini-van, there would probably be a “Fairbanks Eleven.” God save anyone who knew him at all if he had owned a bus, there could be an entire tribe in prison.  The next posts will feature some of the alibis and witnesses that appear to have barely escaped arrest for the crime as well. The number of people accused of involvement would have never been able to squeeze in the vehicle, and although some had their fingerprints, etc. submitted, none were arrested or prosecuted. They can be thankful for their own strength of mind and Marvin’s small car!

In all seriousness, there are several witnesses who were brought in because they were named as alibis, or who initiated contact with the police because they had been with one of the four that night. But the interviews rapidly devolved into something that reads a lot more like an interrogation. This post features one of those interviews.

These people were lied to. The police are allowed to lie. It is completely legal and standard practice. These young people were not aware of that, and were understandably baffled. These lies read a lot more like thinly veiled threats. The interrogators attempted to threaten anf bully these people into changing their stories with a common interrogation technique. The technique is, in its simplest form, just “good cop, bad cop.” We all know that term, but most of us do not appreciate how psychologically unraveling it can be. With this technique police officers offer the person being interrogated two options. Both are bad, but one is clearly better. One is a threat -“you will be accused of murder.” The other is an offer of a way out of that -” or maybe you were just a witness.”

For example, when they interrogated George they told him for hours that continuing to stick with his story (the truth) was completely unacceptable. That he had to either admit to playing a smaller role in the beating, or else keep up his story, in which case they would assume he was a ring leader of a brutal sexual assault and beating. It seems incomprehensible to most people that a normal person would pick between two lies, but the reality is that the situation is terrifying. People with a lot of power are telling you that you only have two choices. Experts say that many people give in out of terror and anxiety, and simply pick the lesser of two evils – anything to make the experience end.

Some people are very strong, very sure of themselves. These people often see right through the tactic. Others are weaker and cave immediately. Most of us are likely somewhere right in the middle, and as such are potentially vulnerable to this tactic.

In the case of these witnesses, the police attempted to give them the following choices: agree that you were present, and that you were an eye-witness to the crime (of course, they cite made-up evidence and “proof” that this is the case) or we might have to consider you a participant. Essentially, which were you? An eyewitness or a murderer?

This approach is most successful on people who have any doubt about their whereabouts or gaps in their memory as they can often be led to believe the scenario. (More on that HERE) It is actually surprising that they were not successful in creating an eye-witness with this tactic, but thankfully, they were not. Still, their treatment of these people who were simply doing their best to give their whereabouts that night is astonishing.

Race is a contentious issue in this case, but having read all of the police interviews, we can say this: there were many Native people interviewed, and there were many white people interviewed. Only Native people were subjected to this treatment. Racism is not something that can be often proven – unlike murder, it leaves no physical evidence. But there is more circumstantial evidence of these investigators being racists than there was circumstantial evidence of the Fairbanks Four being guilty of the crime.  Yet, those four sit in jail, the investigators sit behind the desks they were promoted to, and the people they bullied and berated sit with the memory of this kind of treatment. Some people recommend that we shy away from saying that, that playing the “race card” is unfair. But sometimes in life as in poker you have no choice but to play with that hand that you were dealt, and in this case the circumstantial evidence of racism is in our opinion overwhelming. Readers will have to judge for themselves.

Vernon Roberts. When Vernon Roberts was interviewed by the police he told them simply that he was drinking that night at George and Crystal’s apartment, that he did not remember the specific time that things happened, but said that the order of events was that they drank at the apartment, that they then walked from George’s apartment to downtown, that the group spent time at the reception, and that he and George parted company in front of Tommy’s Elbow Room (also known as Cabaret).

He confirms that the group of people outlined in George’s timeline. He says that his girlfriend thought George was about to get in a fight in front of Elbow Room, that he left and returned to George and Crystal’s apartment.We know the times of these events through the testimony of people who were keeping track of the time (see George’s timeline HERE). There is no question that his intoxication makes him a somewhat unreliable alibi. But there is much to be learned about the case from the way he was interrogated.

Vernon’s interview rapidly devolved into an interrogation-like situation, with officers Aaron Ring and Jim Grier tag-team questioning him for a long period of time. When he concedes that he was drunk and that it is possible that he may not remember the entire night they begin to use the same interrogation techniques on him as they had on the four. They tell him some severe lies: they say that George sent them to talk to him, that George and Eugene indicated he knew who was responsible for the sexual assault, that coming forward as an eyewitness would help George, and insinuate that he will be in trouble if he does not come forward with the story they are supplying. NONE of this is true. They accuse him of being in the car, of sitting in the middle seat, of being either a participant or a witness. So, his bad cop, good cop choices are to either admit to being an eye-witness, thereby helping his friend and keeping himself out of trouble, or to take his chances on being investigated as a participant.

Vernon made a choice after being exposed to this technique for a long time in the interview that probably kept him from being either pressured into some kind of false statement or even falsely imprisoned for murder as well – he told them that he wanted to speak to his father, and when they pressured him to stay, he insisted.

A long excerpt of his interview is below. In time we hope to find a way to post these thousands of pages of documents in their entirety to link to (so if anyone knows how to do that, volunteer). Vernon’s experience is simply best told through the police transcript, and we wanted to include it. Prior to the segment here Vernon outlines his night over and over. Shortly after the ending of this segment there is a prolonged period of time where Vernon says he wants to speak to his father, the interrogators encourage him to wait, and eventually his insists and leaves. Vernon’s experience is simply best told through the police transcript, and we wanted to include it.

Interview conducted with Vernon Roberts. Interview conducted by Detective Aaron Ring and Investigator Jim Geier. For the purposes of this transcription “R” will indicate the voice of Vernon Roberts, “G” will indicate the voice of Investigator Geier, and “X” will indicate the voice of Detective Aaron Ring.

X:  I mean I suppose it’s even possible could YOU have been in the car with these GUYS when this happened?
R:  No, I don’t think so.  I think I was downtown most of the night.  Actually all the night.
X:  I mean you…

R:  Until I came over here
X:  Because we have some information that there was maybe even another person with these four guys.
R:  Um

X:  When this happened.

R:  I don’t know
X:  And I was wondering if maybe that could’ve been you.  Maybe you stayed in the car or something when this happened.  is that a possibility?
R:  Nah, cause if this shit would a happened in front of me, man, I would’ve stopped, I’d put a stop to it
X:  Oh, unless you had too much to drink and you were just sitting there and these guys were, I mean they’re out of the car and all of a sudden it happens and it’s too late for you to do anything, ya know, this probably only took a few seconds
R:  I don’t remember, I shouldn’t, I honestly don’t know.
X:  Well, ya know, I , I don’t like keeping things from ya here. And, and I’ve talked to George and George has admitted what his involvement in this is

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  Okay, and uh, and I asked who else I can talk to about this, and he told me you, okay you’re not under arrest here or anything, cause I, I don’t think that uh anyone’s told us that he was involved in kicking this guy or anything, but the information we have is maybe you have some information about it, or maybe YOU were even in the car, okay.  So that’s what I’m looking at.
R:  Well, like I said, I have no informatio
X:  Did you have a car that, did you have a car that night?

R:  No, I was walking.
X:  Okay, well that leads me back to the night there at the Eagles and I wanta, I wanta be serious with you here, okay.  I don’t want you to cause a problem for yourself by, by trying maybe to keep things from us.

R:  Oh I’m not, I, that, I’m being honest, honest with you guys
X:  Cause the most important, the most important thing that you can do now is be completely truthful in this thing.

R:  That’s what I’m doing
X:  And I think maybe you’re afraid that you don’t wanta get your friends in any deeper trouble, let me tell you this, George can’t be in any deeper trouble, he can’t be in any deeper trouble.  He’s told us that he did this, okay.  He’s told us that he did this, Eugene told us that he did this, okay.  I mean it goes all the way around.

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  And they’ve already told, so any, any information that you have isn’t gonna hurt George, I mean it’s not.  We just wanta verify some things that he’s told us about his limited involvement and he said, these other guys were more involved than he was and that he just kicked this guys a couple of times, he didn’t have anything to do with sexually assaulting this guy

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  And I asked him well how can I verify that and how can I prove what your involvement is and he tells me I should come see you, okay.  So what does that leave me to believe is that you were either there or he told you about it, and I’m, I’m kinda curious as to which it was.
R:  I don’t even know.

X:  Cause he, okay
R:  I’m telling you guys the honest truth, I mean you all just

X:  I know
R:  Act like I’m fucking lying to you all, but

X:  Well no, no

R:  Shit
X:  No, I don’t think it’s, I wouldn’t call it that

R:  Yeah, but that’s what your saying
X:  Vernon, well, well here’s the
R:  Be, be truthful, you keep saying, telling me to be truthful, and then I am…
X:  Here’s the point, Vernon

R:  And your all just, saying I’m a liar or something
X:  If we came, if we came over here and you said right away, the first, first thing we sit down with you and say, okay, I know all about this, here’s what George did, ya know, here’s, here’s the whole thing, I would think well geeze, this is kinda strange, this is George’s friend, he shouldn’t tell us this all that that quickly ya know.  So I know people cover for their friends, I, I, ya know, I don’t live in a dream world, I know people try and keep their involvement limited
R:  I ain’t covering for nobody, I’m just telling you guys what I know
X:  Well, here’s another thing that I’m concerned with Vernon, is that if you were in the car, that might be a reason you might not wanta talk about it.  Cause You would think you would be in trouble, okay.
R:  Like I say, I don’t even know if I was in the car
X:  Vernon, here’s the thing, if you didn’t kick this, this boy, if you didn’t have anything to do with that, if you didn’t hit him, then you’re not in trouble, okay

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  But, but if you’re a witness to it, we need, we need to talk seriously about it, okay.  If you witnessed it happen, then WE need to talk about it.
R:  I don’t know if I did or not, like I told ya, I blacked out, when I drink, when I drink
X:  Do you remember driving around with the four of them?
R:  (Inaudible) No, I don’t even know if I was, I don’t think I was either
X:  Well you, what does Marvin drive, you know what Marvin drives, right?
R:  I don’t know, I just, I don’t know, didn’t even see him that night and if I did, I was blacked out cause I don’t remember seeing him, Eugene, or Kevin.
X:  People black out when they pass out and fall down on the ground.  You were functional. You were walking around, you made it back over here, you made it back over to Chrystal’s
R:  I, I do that lots, when I’m blacked out
X:  And here’s, here’s the thing, YOU left, from Chrystal’s with George, and you ended back up over at Chrystal’s.

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  Okay, and in between there, something happens, okay.  That’s all we’re trying to get at, okay.
R:  I know, I wouldn’t mind knowing what the hell happened too.

X:  Okay
R:  But it’s like I said, I blacked out from drinking so much
X:  Okay, but these, these boys, who have told us that they done this, when we asked them about
you, they said well, he probably knows, but I, ya know, they don’t, I don’t think any of them said that Vernon kicked anybody, did they?

Geier:  No, no involvement, but he knows about it.
X:  I mean that’s so, I’m here trying to verify yourfriends story, okay.  That’s, that’s all
R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  And if you wanta listen to the tape where George says that, I’ll play it for you, okay.  Cause he showed up at the hospital, thinking he broke his foot on this guy

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  And, and wanted some help over there, and, and he talked pretty honestly about it, okay.  He talked pretty honestly and I’m not psychic, I’m here to talk to you cause he sent me over here, okay.  And uh, I’m sorry it took me ya know, so long to get over here to see ya, but, and then I hear more and more, and your names involved a little more and then, and uh, based on what Eugene and George have had to say, we’re here trying to find out if, if you wanta help us or not, okay.  If you wanta help us.  And I suppose that people say, well he was in the car too, he’s just as guilty, but that’s not necessarily so.

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  Okay, that’s not necessarily the truth.  The extent of your involvement is what we’re looking at and whether you actually got out and took anything from this guy, or you hit him, or kicked him or, or, or sexually assaulted him, okay.  And whoever’s responsible for sexually assaulting this kid, that’s one thing that George and Eugene really didn’t wanta talk about.

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  Okay, I don’t know if they’re involved in that or not, whether they put something, an object up this guy or not.    I don’t know.  I don’t know if it’s Kevin, ya know, I don’t really know for sure.  I, I wouldn’t bet that it would be George.
R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  Or Eugene, I wouldn’t bet that it be either of those guys.  Uh, but they sent me over to talk to you, maybe that’s hard, them putting this off on you to be the one to tell, ya know?  But, and then maybe that’s not fair, but that’s just the way it is, okay.  So I think maybe we need to go down and, and talk about this seriously and figure it out.  And uh, like I said you’re not under arrest.  We’re, we just wanta get this story from you.

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  And you can come back or, or whatever.

R:  I basically told you what I know
X:  Well you said you blacked out

R:  Yes
X:  You could’ve been in the car, but blacked out.

R:  I blacked out

X:  And, how, how old are you?
R:  Twenty two
X:  Okay, I’ve been drinking since I was nineteen, drinking age at nineteen

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  Okay, I know when YOU drink a lot, sometimes things are fuzzy, ya know, your memory’s fuzzy, but you don’t forget everything

R:  I do     X:  Okay.
R:  I, that happened to me lots of times before.  I remember some of the people telling me, oh you remember doing this and that, and

X:  Well that’s
R:  Man you were so funny that night, and I’d be like no, and then they’d be all like, I was blacked out
X:  That’s, that’s little things, Vernon, that’s, that’s little funny things that you do, but having some guys hop out of a car and, and stomp a guy, and beat a guy, is probably not something that  happens a lot.  And that’s probably something that would stick out in your mind.
R:  If, if I seen that, I mean I wouldn’t lie about it.  I’d tell you, and if I seen it or not
X:  Well, except for there’s a problem where you’re afraid of maybe being in trouble, or, or George is gonna get in more trouble if he’s the guy that sexually assaulted this boy or something.  I don’t know. There’s a lot of reasons why you wouldn’t wanta tell us that right away, and I understand that.  And I don’t hold that against you.  I don’t hold that against you at all.  But George sent us here to get the story from ya, and that’s why we’re here.  It’s as simple as that, okay.  You, you’re, you’re the guy that can tell us and I know it’s hard, I know it’s a shame that he had to put the rest of that off on you, but he told us, he did it.  He told us what he did

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  And uh, I just need to verify that with you, verify who else was involved and verify what your involvement is, they, they don’t say you kicked him, they don’t say you hit him.  If that’s true,that’s fine.     

R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)
X:  Okay, but that doesn’t excuse you from being a witness, you still have to be a witness, okay.  And that’s, that’s all there is to it, okay.  Now, let’s just please get past this a little bit, and tell us straight about it, and if you wanta go down to the police station
R:  I am talking straight about it
X:  And make a statement about it, well we can do that, okay.  But I, I wanta, I want the whole story, ya know.  I realize parts of it are gonna be fuzzy, and parts of it you aren’t gonna remember, but the whole thing is not anything that you’d forget, okay.  And if its, if there’s other people involved that we don’t know, and that you know, we need to talk about that too, okay.  Cause I wanta make sure we have all the facts, and I ya know, if they’re friends of yours that are involved, well we still need to talk about that.  Cause just the indication I get from George, I mean he says, ya know, go talk to Vernon, Vernon will be able to tell ya, Vernon will be able to tell you what happened, that leads me to believe that you were there, okay.  And there’s some talk from some other people about a fifth guy
being in the car, okay.  Well, like we say, we’re not psychic, we’re just, we’re just trying to get to the truth.  And from what I hear from these guys, it doesn’t sound like you assaulted anybody.
R:  Uh-huh (affirmative)

X:  It really doesn’t, it really doesn’t
R:  I honestly don’t know.  I mean I’m telling the truth
X:  May, maybe we, maybe we can take a quick drive up to Ninth and Barnette and maybe that will help you remember.

G:  Do you mind?

R:  I don’t mind.
X:  Sure, let’s take a quick drive up there.

R:  I don’t remember anything though, sorry.

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6 thoughts on “Alibis and Witnesses IV – Alibis Interrogated

  1. It’s so hard to say…..I can’t imagine they set out to frame people. I think they were cocky, inexperienced, thought they had the right ones at first, and when the labs came back instead of being objective they just tried to force a square peg, ya know? Willing to take closure without concern for justice. They have to have had doubts, but I think they looked at those boys and thought, it doesn’t matter, probably headed for prison anyways. And, personally, I think that whether they knew it themselves or not that feeling was rooted in racism.

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  5. Pingback: Day 14 – Another Beating Victim, Marvin Roberts, State of Alaska’s Attack on the Press | The Fairbanks Four

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