Arlo Olson, 1977-2017

ArloWe were deeply saddened to receive news of Arlo Olson’s passing and further disheartened to learn that he took his own life while in custody.

Arlo was the victim of a terribly dysfunctional justice system that did not take his humanity into account when arranging for a wrongful conviction, just as it did not consider ours. Today, it is his humanity alone that matters.

Arlo Olson struggled for nearly a lifetime with mental illness as well the addiction and behavioral issues that often follow in its wake. To the degree that his choices were his own in regards to our case, he was given forgiveness long ago. His last act toward the Fairbanks Four was one of bravery and honesty and it is that act we will choose to remember.

Arlo Olson had a family who loved him dearly. He was a son, a father, a brother, and there always was and always will be much more to his story than its interconnection to this case.

As survivors of systemized injustice we will continue to advocate for true justice, which includes the humane treatment of inmates and access to dignified and quality mental health services within our prison systems.

Our hearts are with the Olson family today, and we hope they receive an outpouring of love and support in this time of grief. Arlo is with his Creator now who knows the contents of his soul and will no doubt receive him with love beyond our understanding.

Rest in peace, Arlo.

 

 

Below is a memorial written byAdrienne B. who graciously shared it here. This friend of Arlo’s reveals a star-gazer and cook, and her words are stronger than ours:

 

My grandma Alma couldn’t say Arlo. Every time he’d cook her a meal, she’d say “Orville, you’re a real good cook. You should open a cafe and call it Orville’s.” He was very particular about his clothes, down to matching his hat to his shoelaces. I went to visit him in Valdez one summer when he was a supervisor for Peter Pan. When I showed up, he was wearing a large pink Alaska tourist themed sweatshirt and some highwater green pants with that really big eye smiling, childish grin. He had done his laundry the previous night and didn’t want to smell eau de fishy so he added a small bottle of bleach to his whites and his jeans. At least he separated them. He finished his shift and we ran into town to only be able to find Lee jeans and Hanes white tshirts with a wool flannel shirt. He went from being dressed like an old lady to an old man with suspenders the week I was there. Those little Phillipino ladies took him under their wing and helped him with his laundry and made sure he ate for the rest of the season. He liked cream in his tea and couldn’t wait go the fall time so he could watch the stars. Godspeed my friend. Those of you reading this that are feeling sad, I pray you too find your place of love and gratitude for being blessed with such a kind soul. He wouldn’t want you to be sad, that’s why he always made you feel important and loved. It’s and good day to celebrate that love. Rest assured from the Heavens above, his loved ones know his sissy Tass has her big brother to hold hands with and run in the tall grass by the river to visit grandpa Aggie and Grandma Marylene. The four of them I’m sure have stopped in to visit my grand alma and grandpa Roland. In good time, in good faith, God promises I too will join them. Until then, I’ll continue to look for them in the stars. Ill speak up about the stigma of mental illness, fight for fair treatment in the system for those suffering from their own minds and let the memory of his beautiful hands be a part it. He may no longer be here in flesh, but a part of him will continue to live through so many wonderful memories. Bless and be blessed my friends.

Advertisements

I Am Spartacus – Prosecutor’s Hate Speech Backfires in Fairbanks Four Case

fairbanksfour4Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant, in cooperation with lead detective Aaron Ring, was without question the driving force behind the conviction of the Fairbanks Four. They pursued the conviction with a strange zealotry that to this day remains hard to understand.

By the time the cases went to trial it is impossible to conceive that the two men driving the court action could have possibly believed that the Fairbanks Four were guilty. In fact, they fabricated court exhibits, coached testimony they knew to be false, and attempted to intimidate defense witnesses, threatening them with arrest if they testified. They do not appear in this story as men who believed incorrectly that the four young men were guilty. They do not come across as men making a mistake – in reality it is clear that their actions were deliberate and calculated. And someday, we hope they are imprisoned for the crimes they committed.

Jeff O’Bryant was the man who tried and convicted George Frese, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, and Marvin Roberts. He went to trial with very little evidence of any kind, a few jailhouse snitches in his pocket, one fabricated exhibit presented as scientific, and absolutely no physical evidence. In addition to the lack of evidence indicating the men were guilty, there was a tremendous amount of alibi testimony indicating that the men were innocent. To convict the Fairbanks Four, O’Bryant knew he would have to convict the alibis, the witnesses, and in reality, all Native people. He had the ideal stage. Overt, extreme racism against the Native people of Alaska is the norm in the northern state. Persuading an all-white jury that being guilty of being Native was guilty enough was not as difficult as we hope it will be someday. So, Jeff O’Bryant argued that the alibi witnesses in the Fairbanks Four case should be ignored because they were simply Indians sticking together the way Indians do, a la “Spartacus.”

Fortunately for ol’ Jeff, the jury must have met the demographic of people who have seen the movie Spartacus. In order to fully understand the reference we did some research into the Spartacus mythology, and the pop culture “I Am Spartacus” moment that Jeff O’Bryant compared Native people to. And, wow, Jeff. He got it all wrong. He really misunderstood Spartacus. And he really misunderstood Native people. He really misunderstood a lot of things, and the jury misunderstood with him. But at the end of the day, he may be right about the Spartacus-Fairbanks Four Supporter connection.

spartacusThe mythology of Spartacus has taken many forms, and made its way into American pop culture in the 1960 movie “Spartacus” starring Kirk Douglas. According to that account, Spartacus was born into a corrupt Roman empire, where the poor were regularly enslaved as soldier in a never-ending series of wars. Spartacus was born a soldier in that world, but eventually refused to fight and escaped. He was hunted down and arrested, then turned over as a slave in a labor camp. While enslaved there, Spartacus led a small band of other slaves to freedom with a brazen escape plan. Shortly after escaping, the enemy army located Spartacus and his fellow slaves in a camp. They fought off the soldiers sent to recapture them, and went on to free many more slaves and win many battles. At its height, his army born from a slave uprising is said to have reached over 100,000 men. As the leader of the most notable uprising of the lower class against the government in the history of the Roman empire, Spartacus was most-wanted man in the ancient world and there was a huge price on his head. When the Roman army eventually circled around and outnumbered the escaped slaves they made the recaptured soldiers a simple offer: all of the slaves would be pardoned. They would not be killed, but would remain slaves. All of their lives would be spared so long as they handed over Spartacus. If they failed to hand over Spartacus, they would all be crucified.

Spartacus heard the offer while they all sat surrounded and stood up. To spare the lives of his friends and fellow warriors, he said “I am Spartacus.” But one after another, more slaves stood up and proclaimed “I am Spartacus.”

i-am-spartacus-2The rebel army that stood behind Spartacus met a bloody fate. Most were killed that day in 73 BC and in the days that followed. 6,000 escaped followers of Spartacus were hunted down and crucified. The government lined the streets with their corpses as a warning to any other citizens considering rising up against the empire. Yet, the men died free, and the rebellion has inspired humanity ever since.

The story of Spartacus is told as a story of loyalty. Bravery. Of the perseverance of the human spirit and the ability to defeat enormous enemies in the face of oppression if not logistically, then spiritually.

With that in mind, it is a strange and poignant irony that Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant chose this story as the metaphor for the Fairbanks Four alibis and witnesses. O’Bryant argued, apparently persuasively, that the witnesses were all somehow simultaneously fabricating their testimony in an effort to protect other Natives. Slaves. Unruly slaves were what came to mind when O’Bryant wanted to undermine an entire race of people.  According to the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer, O’Bryant told this version of the Spartacus story in closing arguments:

“It reminded me,” he told jurors, “of the movie where the Romans have a bunch of prisoners, slaves, and there’s an uprising amongst the slaves because of the conditions. And the leader of the uprising, apparently, was Spartacus.”

When the Romans came looking for Spartacus, O’Bryant observed, “much like the witnesses here” slaves stepped forward declaring “I am Spartacus,” one after another.

When the jury announced a guilty verdict, Kevin Pease turned to Jeff O’Bryant and said, “How does it feel to convict an innocent man, Jeff?”

How did it feel, Mr. O’Bryant?

fairbanksfour6In 1997 there was no army. There was no conspiracy, there was no massive decision by dozens upon dozens of Native people to lie for the benefit of other Native people. There were only people, telling the truth in a court of law, where they were dismissed at face value because of their ethnicity. Kids. Living out a role they were born into. They hadn’t had that moment yet. That moment when you realize some kinds of discrimination are bigger than the individual. Those kids walked into the courtroom believing justice was blind, and they walked out with their eyes wide open.

billfairbanksofurBut today, there is an army. There are thousands of people willing to stand behind these wrongfully convicted men and say, if you take one innocent person you take us all. To say no, we will not quietly allow you to take a few people in exchange for a life where we are complicit in our own continued enslavement. Thank you for pointing us to this inspiring bit of history. But remember, never take heavy words for granted. Never forget words have a power all their own, that once they leave your mouth there is always the risk that they will be truly heard. Cause guess what, Jeff? Can you hear them now? They’re saying, I am Spartacus. We are all Spartacus.

fairbanksfour5 fairbanksfour3 fairbanksfour4 fairbanksfour2 secrethearing1 IMG_1857 courthousecrowd 415 (1024x683) IMG_7093 IMG_7092

Scott Davison Is Not Only Credible, He is ADMIRABLE

truthIn late 1997 Lathrop student Scott Davison skipped school to smoke pot with friend Matt Ellsworth and fellow student Jason Wallace. While the three young men got high and talked, Wallace made a statement that would prove life-altering for Davison.

According to Davison, Jason Wallace told them that he and his friends had beaten and killed John Hartman. He detailed a night of driving around looking for victims that culminated in the fatal beating for which four other young men had just been charged. Wallace ended the story with a threat. If Davison or Ellsworth ever repeated what he had just told them, he would kill them as well.

At the time, Davison was only seventeen years old. He was a child. And he was now a child burdened with a terrible and violent secret and the very real possibility that unburdening himself of the secret would result in his death. To keep a secret is to carry a weight. It drags you down and it permeates the deepest recesses of the mind. It hardens the heart. What an awful curse to be placed on the shoulders of a child.

Davison, understandably, said nothing to anyone. Years passed. If there was ever any doubt in his mind that Wallace was capable of making good on his threat, that doubt would have been entirely destroyed when just five years after Davison heard Wallace confess his first murder, Wallace killed again. On Christmas Eve of 2002 Jason Wallace beat a young woman to death with a hammer, crossed town to stab another man repeatedly with a screwdriver, and then returned to the woman’s apartment to set her lifeless body on fire. Clearly, Wallace was not only capable of killing, he was capable of inflicting unthinkably depraved torture and killing in cold blood. He was capable of killing an unarmed woman on Christmas Eve. He carried within him a darkness beyond imagination. So, understandably, Scott Davison continued to hold his secret.

Yet, a secret of that magnitude is a heavy burden. It is difficult to imagine the internal tug-of-war that any human being holding that information would endure. On one hand, innocent men are in prison. On the other hand, the system in place put them there and could not be trusted to allow the information to free them. On one hand, Wallace was locked up and couldn’t just show up at the door. On the other hand, Davison himself was in and out of jail at that time. On one hand, his life could be destroyed or taken if he revealed his truth. On the other hand, four other men’s lives had been destroyed. Hartman’s life had been taken.

Davison must have weighed these things over, and over, and over. Like a stone tumbled for years until finally the rough edges are worn away and the stone is smooth. And after years of that internal dialogue, Davison made a choice.

He had nothing to gain. Absolutely nothing to gain. Nothing, that is, besides becoming a man who was given a choice and made the right one. With his life and dignity and reputation at risk, Davison walked into the Innocence Project office and revealed the secret he had been so unfairly lain in his life’s path on a snowy October afternoon in 1997.

There is a reason for everything. Davison was not the victim of happenstance. To be the bearer of a truth so heavy was a task he was fated for, because Davison did something with it that few are capable of. He risked his life, he signed up for humiliation, risked retaliation, reputation – he laid all he had to offer down in service of a higher truth.

Much of the State of Alaska’s filing made in response to the Alaska Innocence Project’s aimed at demonstrating the innocence of the Fairbanks Four is focused on the task of discrediting, humiliating, and slandering Scott Davison.

Although prosecutor Adrienne Bachman waxes disjointedly and frequently about hearsay throughout the twenty-three page document, claiming that the Holmes confession and Davison’s statements are both hearsay and therefore have no place in a court of law, the remainder of the filing appears to consist nearly entirely of actual hearsay generated by Bachman herself. She makes one claim after another about the character of Scott Davison, yet the filing contains no documentation to support that her claims are factual.

Bachman berates and belittles Davison in every imaginable way. She calls him an informant in one breath, and with the next says he did not follow through with a request to be an informant. She speculates about the relationships Davison had, claiming he was “charged often and convicted occasionally” of domestic violence. Which, of course, means what it says – despite frequently being accused of domestic violence inside a relationship, he was seldom found to be guilty of the charges. Not that the nature of his relationship drama has a thing at all to do with his credibility.

Bachman asserts in her filing that because Scott Davison has nothing to gain by coming forward, and that in the past when he had legal problems he could have attempted to leverage this information to ask for leniency in his own sentencing and did not, that he should not be believed. Read that one twice. She says there is nothing in this for Scott Davison personally, and somehow that makes him less credible. Umm…okay, Adrienne. In all reality, the fact that he has nothing to gain and so much to lose bolsters the credibility of his statement.

She further attacks his credibility because he did not come forward in 1997 when Wallace first confessed to him. Yet, Davison was a teenage boy when he heard the confession of Wallace. Wallace had literally just gotten away with murder, and threatened to kill Davison should he come forward. It is unreasonable for anyone to think that a child sworn to secrecy under threat of death would call the police to tell them the secret. A secret he had heard while skipping school to get high. It is reasonable to expect an adult to make that judgment – to come forward despite the risks. And when Davison became an adult he used the judgment of one and came forward. But in 1997 he responded the way any thoughtful person would expect a child to respond. With fear. He was scared, as anyone would be.

As a young man Scott Davison clearly took a troubled path. It was that troubled path that crossed with Wallace’s. If not for the poor life choices Davison was making in the late 90’s, he would have never encountered Wallace. Although Bachman attacks his credibility based on his past criminal activities, it is only logical that anyone who had credible information on Wallace would be an associate. And most of Wallace’s associates would have had criminal tendencies. Brids of a feather, as they say.

Davison was a drug user and committed a series of crimes, primarily domestic violence and violations of the original conditions of release which all stemmed from an incident in 1998 when Davison apparently robbed someone and injured them in the course of the robbery. She describes this in such a way as to lead a reader to believe that Scott Davison ran up to an old woman, slashed her face, and ran off with her purse. Although her characterization of the events is dramatic, it is unsupported and irrelevant.

Scott Davison has clearly made mistakes in his life. He has made choices I cannot and will not defend, and he has made choices which are not admirable. Most human beings have made choices that are not defensible, and that we are ashamed of. Most of us would be devastated to read our regrets, shame, and sins on the front page of the paper. Scott Davison may have made some bad choices, but he made one decision that I find heroic. With nothing to gain and everything to lose, he opted to tell the truth and do the right thing for four strangers. For fellow human beings that he did not know. He laid his life on the line for men he never knew. And that, my friends, is one of the most courageous things I have seen a person do during my time on Earth.

When the investigators for the state contacted Davison he stuck with his story. They attack his credibility on minor details – in one version of events he claimed they smoked pot inside a car, in another version outside, etc. But on this point he did not waiver: Jason Wallace had confessed in detail to murdering John Hartman in 1997. When the state was unable to attack the factual merit of Davison’s story, they attempted to attack his will. They attempted to humiliate and discredit him as a human being when they realized that he could not be discredited as a witness.

Scott Davison, wherever you are, thank you. From the bottom of our hearts. Matt Ellsworth, wherever you are, please, DO THE RIGHT THING. That secret was bestowed upon two men. Two men have turned this over and over in their minds and made very different decisions. Davison’s is to speak, Ellsworth’s is to remain silent. We have said before and will say again the enemy of the truth is not a lie, it is silence. It is time to speak up. Four innocent men are in prison. Many murder victims followed Hartman and their lives could have been saved. Ask yourself, are you the kind of man who in the face of oppression with lives on the line speaks or remains silent? What would you wish from your fellow man if you were the the victim of injustice? It is understandable to be afraid then, and now. But how does a secret keep you safe when murderers know you are keeping it? The time for secrets is over. Scott Davison should not have to stand alone. You should be standing behind him. And if you do, we will stand with you.

Imagine hearing a confession of murder as a kid. Imagine carrying that secret for years. Imagine mustering the courage to speak out. And imagine, for a moment, what it must feel like to be so personally and obscenely attacked as retaliation for doing the right thing.

Whatever his past misdeeds, Scott Davison did what the State of Alaska will not and more: he accepted the risk of humiliation and even death to protect the concept of justice. Scott, thank you. We are so very sorry for the way you are being treated, and admire your decision to come forward. No matter what contents of your past the state chooses to parade around, your courage in this case has revealed the content of your heart to be good. Keep on keeping on!

 

Rise From The Ashes – Audrey George – Albis and Witnesses XI

Audrey“Love one another and you will be happy.  It’s as simple and as difficult as that.”  ~Michael Leunig

Location became central to the investigation into the night of October 10, 1997. No location is mentioned more frequently in study of the case than the wedding reception that took place at the Eagle’s Hall that night.

A wedding is a time for celebration. The joining of hearts, of families, of paths. The beginning of children, futures, sorrows and happiness unknown – and a promise by two people to stick together through whatever may come. A wedding is a a time when people gather to witness love, to share in love, to be a part of that hopeful moment when two lives are woven into one.

We have spoken before about the pain and the shame that came with this case and how it touched so many in our community. When the Fairbanks Four were wrongfully accused, investigated, interrogated, and convicted of the murder of John Hartman, what should have been a night remembered as all brides remember their wedding was transformed into a criminal investigation. One wedding guest, while being interrogated for hours and hours, answered simply when he was being pressed about why he wanted to attend the reception, “Because Audrey is my family – because, I love her.” And it should have been love, after all, that was remembered of that night, without the shadow of pain and a complicated web of deception and hardship.

For Audrey McCotter and the late Vernon Jones, whose wedding became central to the Hartman investigation, there would always be something in the background of those happy wedding photos. No one knew, as they danced and laughed, smiled and cut cake, reunited with friends and family gathered there to celebrate – no one knew that this night would change lives. That a series of events was about to be set into motion that would change the Native community of Fairbanks and force the examination of society, of the concept of justice, and ignite a struggle to assert a place in it. That night, it was just a wedding between two people who loved each other dearly. Yet by morning, things had changed. In the police theory the Fairbanks Four were accused of having met up at the wedding reception, left briefly to commit a murder, and return to dance as if nothing had happened. On the day that her wedding announcement should have appeared in the local paper, Audrey’s wedding reception was referenced over and over in articles about a brutal killing.

Audrey speaks out below for the first time publicly about how her life intertwined with this case, about her wedding night, her personal struggle with the events that unfolded, and the heartbreaking loss of her late husband Vernon Jones.

We applaud Audrey for her courage. She is taking a brave step onto a new path. Knowing her personally I can assure all of our readers that Audrey’s hardships have made her a person of incredible strength and compassion. The gifts she has given to those around her after rising from the ashes of her own pain are incredible. We are grateful for her support, and humbled by the strength it took to share this deeply personal part of her life with the world. Here is her story, in her words:

My marriage began and ended in blood. Our wedding was in Fairbanks but we lived in Unalakleet so it was hard to plan long distance but we did it. A lot of special family members were there that are passed on now such as Teddy Luke, Morris and Thelma Thompson, and James Grant, Sr. My whole family and my husband’s whole family from the Koyukuk River area were there. We planned it during dividends so our family could afford to fly into Fairbanks to celebrate our happy day. It was precious to us, but that day has been remembered for something entirely different. It was October 10, 1997 the day John Hartman was murdered and subsequently when the Fairbanks Four were found guilty of murder.

One year and eleven months later my husband committed suicide. Life is not fair. I started a battle the day he died. I battled depression, alcoholism and thoughts of suicide. I’ve been sober eleven years now, I’m remarried, my two children are happy and healthy. I consider my life to be blessed and I’ve not only survived trauma but I’ve excelled.
I want the Fairbanks Four to rise from the ashes of loss and destruction and be blessed and excel as well, but they are still in the battle. I am no legal eagle, so my support of the Free the Fairbanks Four Movement will have to be my weapon.

Public humiliation and shame will now be turned around back on the courts. We did nothing wrong. I got married and my guests were happy young people celebrating with us. An important and less known fact is that Marvin Roberts, one of my guests at the reception, had a reputation as a responsible young man who was sober that night and he wasn’t known to get into trouble the way kids occasionally do.  We will continue to celebrate when they all walk again as free men. I’m tired of death and injustice when it’s within our power to stop it. Treat others as you wish to be treated and we have not treated these four men well.
~Audrey (McCotter/Jones) George

We know this much is true: the story of the Fairbanks Four will ultimately be remembered as a story of the power of love and truth. Someday, a story of the enormity and power of love will be the one in the background of those wedding photographs, as it should be. It is love we fight for and with. Thank you Audrey for being part of the fight.

The Light Is Coming

BillFilingWhen the Reverend Scott Fisher prayed with the crowd gathered in front of the Fairbanks Courthouse on the day the Alaska Innocence Project filed their court motion claiming the innocence of the Fairbanks Four, the hundreds gathered under a cold and gray sky fell silent and listened. It was that strange kind of silence – the absence of noise where sound should be. It was as if we all just knew that this prayer should be alone in the air, its path upward completely clear, the words free to travel unaccompanied into the heavens.

Just a few hours ago, it was night. Yet, the sun rose. Morning came. The light made its way over the horizon, and now we stand in the light. For sixteen years we have waited. For sixteen long years these young men in prison have waited, in darkness, with only faith that light would come. We call upon the soul of this young man John Hartman, who was taken by darkness, and promise him, morning is on its way. We remember that with only faith in the darkness we stood, we prayed, we waited for the light.

The preacher’s voice was soft. This was a lamentation, a laying down of grief. This was the painful recollection of so many prayers said and left unanswered. Yet in the long pause that followed these heavy words, hundreds of heads remained bowed. Everyone knew this prayer was not over. When he resumed it was in a voice of power, a proclamation.

But now, there is light on the horizon. We can see it, we feel it, and we know the light is coming. To those of you who have waited, with only your faith, who have feared and gone forward, who have fought for justice in a dark, dark world, let me assure you: THE LIGHT IS COMING. To those young men in their prison cells, fear not: THE LIGHT IS COMING. To those of you who have hidden in the darkness, kept yourself and your secrets there: THE LIGHT IS COMING. And it is time. Step into the light. Seek the light. Because it is seeking you, and soon there will be no dark place left to hide. We have walked through darkness these many miles and we have many miles left to travel, but there on the horizon we can see a glimpse of morning and we know THE LIGHT IS COMING.

courthousecrowdIt is hard to say when the clouds parted and the sun shone down on those people holding hands, heads bowed. But when we looked up, it was a blue-sky day. The summer found its way into the autumn, the sun touched everything, and the looming gray marble of the courthouse faded into the background, insignificant amongst the brilliant red and gold leaves on the trees and the blinding white sun shining off of the river. The clock tower and church bells rang out at once in a strange and serendipitous orchestra, and people broke out into song.

Nuchalawoyya

Nuchalawoyya

The song was Nuchalawoyya, a song many hundreds and maybe thousands of years old, from the people and the place on the river that these wrongfully imprisoned men dream of returning to. A word that means in literal translation, where two rivers meet. But, as many words, loses meaning in a simple translation. The word is a place where rivers meet, a place where people from many places met. A place where, long ago, people discussed things like treaties and territories. A place of common ground, a destination, and now, a celebration. A song.

The song began with a small circle of four men. The men who were singing were boys once. Just kids in 1997. Theirs were the first voices to ring out that day, a powerful song from this small circle of four men. All of them were interrogated in this case. Each of these men, in their mid-thirties now, have carried with them these many years a burden we rarely discuss – the shame that came with this case. The shame of feeling and believing that if they had been stronger and louder; that if their voices had somehow been heard that their friends would not have been taken. They have walked with the guilt of survivors, never knowing why it was they were not taken. They have understood the grief of Eugene and George, who buckled under pressure and have had to live with the shame and the belief that if they had been stronger perhaps they would be free, their friends would be free, they would be there as men should be, at home to care for their families, and now, that perhaps the next victims of the men who killed Hartman would be alive and home as well. These men have carried with them a thousand shades of shame, the pain unique to those who spoke the truth and were not heard.

The list of names of the men who were given this shame as boys and who have carried the weight of it through the years grows shorter with the passage of time. Beside them in that circle was the space where others should have been. People who are gone now. Many of the young people who were interrogated, questioned, who testified in those dark years, who lived through a time when they spoke as strongly as they knew how and were not heard, have been buried. Some have died at their own hand. Yet, as these remaining men broke into song you could see some of the burden – a burden which will never leave completely – lighten.

This time they were heard, and their voices were joined by many others.

For far too long a time this case has been about darkness. This injustice has thrived in shadows and fed itself on secrets. Injustice draws strength from the evils of humanity – shame, fear, trickery, corruption, pride, denial.

That time is over.

For those of you who have information in this case, step into the light. The sun is on the horizon, morning is on its way, and if you don’t seek the light, it will find you. The light is coming.

For those who have walked with a heavy heart, who still carry the shame and grief and fear and pain, set it down. Let that darkness go. The light is coming.

 

 

 

 

 

*photo of Nuchalawoyya above is by “FairbanksMike” whose lovely pictures can be seen on Flickr

Alaska Innocence Filing Exposes Flawed Eyewitness Testimony

Marvin Roberts from 300 feet away, a photograph taken 10/12/13 at McKenzie Point Correc

Marvin Roberts from 300 feet away, a photograph taken 10/12/13 at McKenzie Point Correc

The Fairbanks Four were convicted primarily on the eyewitness testimony of Arlo Olson, who testified that he was able to identify the four men, two of whom he had never seen before, from 550 feet away in the dark.

We recently posted the details of Olson’s testimony, audio recordings of his multiple recantations, discussed his motivations, inconsistencies, recantations of recantations, and his personal criminal history. (READ THAT HERE) We have also discussed how Olson’s testimony about the assault of Frank Dayton was not even consistent with Frank Dayton’s recollection. (HERE)

 

 

This is a photograph taken 16 years to the date eaglesand time of the night Frank Dayton was assaulted. Arlo testified that he identified the Fairbanks Four from this vantage point and in this lighting. According to his testimony he identified they would have been essentially next to the furthest visible building on the left, there is a parked car with headlights on at the exact location to mark the spot. We have discussed this multiple times. Those posts and conversations have their place. It is important to understand HOW and WHY a wrongful conviction occurs. But the reality is that discussions of how or why Arlo Olson lied in his testimony don’t really matter anymore. The filing by the Alaska Innocence Project filed for post conviction relief of the basis of innocence for the Fairbanks Four contains expert scientific review of the testimony that makes a very simple and indisputable claim: it is impossible for Olson, or any human being, to identify anyone from 550 feet away.

Well known celebrity as they would be seen from 550ft

Well known celebrity as they would be seen from 550ft

The evaluation of Olson’s testimony was completed by an extraordinarily well qualified  scientist who uses this photograph of a well-known celebrity to illustrate what the eye can see from 550 feet away in optimal conditions and daylight.  Can you recognize the face? Obviously, no, you can’t. No one can. Plainly stated, no human being can identify a face from that distance.

 

 

 

 

 

Julia RobertsHere is the photograph, with a representation below of the loss of perception and size at varying lengths. This issue is settled. The sky is blue, grass is green, and Arlo Olson lied in court, simple as that. There was a time when many believed to world was flat. Science sometimes answers these questions, and logic has once again prevailed.

The testimony was absurd to begin with. The idea that four men were sent to prison based on it is astounding and unforgivable. Yet, the state of Alaska considered this their most important evidence, the very prosecutor who convicted them said that without the testimony they had “no case,” and to this day imprisons the Fairbanks Four on the strength of that claim. The entire expert statement is contained in the filing we link to below for readers to review on their own.

The Fairbanks Four were not sent to jail on accident. They were not unlucky bystanders in an unfortunate misunderstanding. We believe they were the victims of irresponsible work at best, and more likely corruption. The lies of Arlo Olson were purchased by police and prosecutors with an offer of leniency in his own crimes, and if his account is to be believed, he was threatened with prosecution for perjury if he recanted. The bottom line is that there is abundant evidence that Olson’s testimony was flawed and untruthful, and now there is clear, concise, correct scientific proof.

The State of Alaska’s current response to this case is that they are sure they are right, but will now do an independent investigation of themselves, by themselves, and until that time will remain silent. We have said before, and will say again, that the enemy of the truth is not a lie, it is silence. In their silence they remain the enemy of the truth.

Application for Post Conviction Relief:

http://www.webcenter11.com/sites/default/files/application_for_postconviction_relief.pdf

True Murderer Comes Forward – A Letter from William Holmes

story1We have a long tradition of letting people tell their own story.

Today, the Innocence Project walked into the courthouse and filed a motion for Post Conviction Release on behalf of George Frese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts, and Kevin Pease. These men have maintained their innocence for almost sixteen years, and today definitive evidence of their innocence has been made public.

This court motion contained a lot of information – testimony by experts that George’s boot did NOT match the wounds on the victim, proof that Arlo Olson lied, proof that it would be scientifically impossible for someone to have seen what he claimed. But, the most important thing it contained, in our view, is a story. A handwritten confession, by a man named William Z. Holmes who confesses in detail the murder of John Hartman.

We have said many times that we believe people can feel the truth, see it, sense it, recognize it. And that is why we believe so strongly in the power of truth told by those who hold it. We believe the best we can do to help any injustice is to make a space where people can tell their truth. There will be plenty of articles, news, updates, and headlines about this case today, we will let them fill their purpose, and fill ours.

With that in mind, below is the handwritten confession of William Z. Homes. We will let that stand alone for today. You can judge for yourselves if it is the truth. We believe it is.

We believe in redemption. That anyone can do all they are able to change themselves during their time upon this Earth and that no matter how dark or low a place life takes us to that we can still seek light. So, we publish this with a great sadness for the heartbreaking manner in which John Hartman died, but also a hope for the individuals who did kill him, and every single one of those who helped to hide the truth and further lies, that they may use this time to come forward and begin what must be a very long journey toward redemption.

This day could have never come without the faith, hope, and hard work of many, and we thank you all. Our journey to justice is far from over, but today we begin a walk down a new road.

This is a sad story. Listen, listen.

Image

photo (1)

photo (2)