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

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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.

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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.

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Big Bad Wolf III – The Police Killing of Henry Kettendorf

badcop In 1994 the words “viral post” would have meant nothing. There was no status update, no like or share buttons, and to the common Interior resident, no internet. It was in this era that the Golden Heart City saw the height of city and police corruption and lived with violence against Native people by the police force as a social norm.

Activism and advocacy journalism in this time was not for the faint of heart. Gene George, then a resident of North Pole, Alaska, ran a small publication Athabascan Reports. He was known for reporting on controversial topics. Today we are posting Volume 5, Issue #1 of Athabascan Report titled “Fairbanks Cops Out of Control.” This issue contains a transcript of a conversation between two city police officers following the killing of Henry Kettendorf.

Kettendorf, a 32 year old Native male, was wanted on burglary charges out of Anchorage. He was unarmed and killed by a single shot through his heart fired by Officer Aaron Ring. Civilian witness accounts differed from the police report. Troopers investigated the shooting and concluded it was justified, although they also “declined to release their findings” according to a February 13, 1995 article in the Sitka Sentenial.

A coroner’s inquest was eventually held, and Officer Aaron Ring was represented by none other than former Fairbanks District Attorney Bill Murphy, who went on to represent Eugene Vent through a trial which ended in his wrongful conviction. If this constitutes a conflict of interest it was never disclosed. The death of Henry Kettendorf all but disappeared into obscurity after the coroner’s inquest found in favor of Officer Aaron Ring and FPD and has remained a topic of conversation largely through the efforts of a determined and controversial local activist.

Athabascan Reports published articles on this Kettendorf killing, but none were so controversial as the report below. In this issue, Gene George published the full transcript of a conversation between two FPD officers in which they berate the female reporter from the Daily Newsminer for publishing an unflattering article, calling her a cunt and bitch among other gender-specific slurs. They go on to make light of the shooting of Kettendorf, joking that they would not have tried to save him, but said “die, motherfucker” to him as he bled out. The two officers also discuss retaliation on the witness.

By this account, the last sight Henry Kettendorf saw while he was alive was Aaron Ring’s face, after Kettendorf cried out, “you shot me!” Officer Ring apparently answered, “Yep.” The men in the transcript think this is hilarious.

It is not fair nor logical for us to weigh in on whether the shooting of Kettendorf was justified. It appears that it was not – he was an unarmed man in a well-lit parking lot. But without complete information, which has proved difficult to find, we will withhold a conclusion. But the death of Henry Kettendorf certainly took place inside an unacceptable police culture. The fact that officers would speak about a person this way, talk of retaliation through inappropriate use of police power against witnesses, and that the climate in general was so destructive dispatchers felt the need to secretly record and expose officers, and that when they did, the tapes provided to the City Council and Mayor simply went missing, exposes a lot about the power structure in Fairbanks in the 1990’s. The events which led to the wrongful conviction of the Fairbanks Four took place on this same stage with all the same players. Rumor has it that shortly after this leak the dispatchers were fired and replace by the wives of Aaron Ring and Jim Geier.

Inside this climate people like Gene George reported these events when that was so much harder than it is today. We owe a debt to people like him.

Below, his work speaks for itself.

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Big Bad Wolf II – Drug, Sex, Money, Guns, and a “Set Up” – Fairbanks Police Chief “Mafia” Mike Pulice

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There is a popular Swahili proverb “Wapiganapo tembo nyasi huumia.” 

Translated, it means, “When Elephants fight, it is the grass which suffers.”

It is a poignant reference to the structure of most societies. When kings fight, soldiers die. When the rich argue, the poor starve. Nearly all specific injustices take place inside a larger universal injustice. Every family who said heart-wrenching goodbyes today on the frontlines of wars did so inside the larger injustice of genocide, inside the even larger universal injustice of religious discrimination and hate as rhetoric for political gain. Which is to say, nothing happens in a vacuum, a specific injustice is always a symptom of a universal one, and this case is no different. Through discussion about the players and circumstances in the Fairbanks Four case we hope to shed some light on the bigger injustices.

By October of 1997 the Fairbanks Police Department Chief and his right-hand men were struggling to maintain control under the weight of a series of scandals that had rocked public faith in the system and had severe financial consequences. John Hartman’s murder was arguably the most notorious crimes ever committed in Fairbanks, and the public demand for swift justice was overwhelming. The men in power in the “golden heart city” simply could not afford another scandal.  It was in this climate that four young men were accused, arrested, and convicted of the murder of John Hartman.

All four men have maintained though nearly eighteen years of incarceration that they are innocent, and evidence mounts indicating that they are indeed innocent. The investigation and trials which led to their convictions are haunted by accusations of corruption and conspiracy, and as evidence exonerating the men continues to accumulate, so do accusations that their convictions are more than an unfortunate mistake. When considering the possibility of deliberate or negligent wrongful conviction, most citizens ponder motivation. It seems offensive to the concept of justice and even against personal interests of the players to wrongfully arrest or convict someone. But the state of the city of Fairbanks circa 1997 reveals a climate ripe for such a turn of events.

A critical and almost never mentioned player in the Fairbanks Four case is Mike Pulice. Pulice served as both the Fairbanks City manager and Police Chief for a number of years. Tracking down the exact positions and duties held by Pulice in October 1997 have proved difficult, but it appears he was still on payroll and may have been on leave. It is unlikely that he played an active role in the investigation, but he was highly involved in creating the climate in which it happened. If the series of events which took place following the Hartman murder were a play, Pulice would be the set designer. It was his stage on which these events played out.

The Pulice scandal is almost a parody of itself in its extravagant inclusion of the most cliché scandal elements – allegations involving sex, drugs, public corruption, money, conspiracy, and organized crime.

Mike Pulice – colloquially referred to as “Mafia Mike” by critics – was the man at the center of a controversy centered on money, drugs, and weapons that went missing from the Fairbanks Police evidence locker during his tenure.

CorruptionAccording to court records, two firefighters employed under Pulice, Jimmy Rice and Lee DeSpain, came forward as whistleblowers in the evidence locker thefts and pointed fingers at Mike Pulice. They believed that Mr. Pulice was engaged in an extramarital affair with his employee, that he was running a criminal enterprise openly and preventing information leaks by threatening those in the know, and that he was responsible for the thefts. Mr. Pulice responded to this turn of events by threatening to have the men “set up” if they proceeded with their complaints. One such conversation occurred when Pulice called an attorney for one of the men. The two firefighters resigned from their positions, citing “intolerable” working conditions and fear of retaliation. A police officer who had spent some twenty years with Fairbanks Police testified that he cautioned the men to take the threats by Pulice seriously. What ensued was a long and drawn out litigation which the city ultimately lost, and an investigation into the corruption that went nowhere.

An AP article in the December 5, 1996 Sitka Sentinel made mention of the events and a dollar figure – “With the disappearance of $510,000 from a police evidence locker still a mystery; the Fairbanks City Council has agreed to conduct its own probe into the matter.”

Over half a million dollars in cash was missing, along with an untold amount of cocaine and guns. Hearsay accusations of a local gun dealer pulling up to the old “Main School” building, where evidence was housed, and departing with weapons abounded. In an executive session meeting of the city council, transcribed and published HERE, the city’s approach was clear – the sitting Mayor Jim Hayes (himself later arrested and imprisoned for fraud after stealing money from his own church) and other local leaders pontificated about how, despite not having read the 45-page investigation into the thefts, they felt certain that Mr. Pulice wouldn’t steal money. Mayor Hayes suggested Mr. Pulice step down from Chief of Police into a higher paid position as a high ranking officer, but Mr. Pulice declined, expressing that he was willing to take a “harsh” letter of remand and two weeks off.


By 1997, Rice and DeSpain had already filed a lawsuit and as the case progressed through the system it revealed more and more disturbing details about the inner-workings of the FPD and City of Fairbanks at the time. The accusations of financial mismanagement and corruption at both the FPD and City shook public faith tremendously, and also took a lite out of their respective budgets. When John Hartman was murdered, the community demanded swift justice, and demanded it inside a climate where distrust and anger toward the local powers were at an incredible high. The bottom line is that this was NOT a typical crime in a typical climate. This was a horrific crime at a time that the citizens of Fairbanks were already outraged. Careers and more were at stake, and decisions about what came next were made by people under the employ and influence of a man who is on record using wrongful conviction as a threat against a colleague. One can only imagine how little the lives of strangers, let alone children of a lower class, would have meant in this high stakes game.

We do not know if Pulice had any direct involvement in the Fairbanks Four case, and in fact there is no indication he did. However, the officers who ran the investigation were the same men that worked closely with Pulice for many years. Some were trained and promoted by him into the positions they held. They came up in a professional climate where the kind of behavior revealed in the DeSpain and Rice suit was normative, This case came into the scene of a terribly corrupt and messy police department right at the moment they most needed a victory. And it was, indeed, applauded as an incredible victory. Within a handful of months the Hartman case was cited directly when the FPD requested more funding.

Rice and DeSpain went on to be awarded $1.6 million in 2000 by the Alaska Supreme Court in their suit against the city and Mike Pulice, although both men allege that the damage to their lives was irreparable. Neither are employed as firefighters. Pulice slipped quietly into retirement, and no one was ever held accountable for the evidence locker thefts.

In 1997 the city of Fairbanks was being run by a man who ultimately served significant prison time for corruption and fraud, a police chief who cost the city 1.6 million after openly threatening whistleblowers who accused him of activities that if true and pursued criminally would spell out many felonies and a long prison sentence. The FPD was being lead by a man who threatened wrongful conviction as retaliation for exposing him. There should be no debate as to whether there existed sufficient motivation and moral capability to wrongfully convict the Fairbanks Four for the murder of John Hartman, it is clear that there was both.

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Yet, the grass remains.

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.

State of Alaska Caught Lying AGAIN (Yawn)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The “Secret Confession” Alaska Courts Failed to Unwrap this Christmas

statueThe snow-covered courtyard that stretches from the doors of the Fairbanks Superior Courthouse to the meandering bank of the Chena River twinkles with Christmas lights throughout the late winter months. The clock tower chimes the time. In the shadow of the clock lies the cernterpiece of the plaza – a large bronze statue of an Inuit family. It is meant as a tribute to the first peoples of Alaska who for years have gathered at the courthouse doors asking for justice. In summer months the statue is the centerpiece of a busy downtown, but in the silence and snow they appear determined, but alone.

Inside the courthouse, on the desk of Paul Lyle, sits what is likely to be one of the most controversial court rulings in the history of Alaska. The ruling is another layer in the web of bureacratic secrecy that has troubled the Fairbanks Four case for many years.

Judge Lyle has made a ruling on the “secret confession,” and that ruling now sits hidden from public view while the appeal courts consider the secret appeal to the secret ruling on the secret document contained in the Alaska Innocence Project filing from September 2013. The document is widely assumed to contain a murder confession by Jason Wallace in the 1997 death of John Hartman, the crime for which the Fairbanks Four have been imprisoned for over 17 years and which they have claimed to be innocent since their arrests.

In recent weeks, a long-awaited sign of activity on the Fairbanks Four case appeared on the docket of the Fairbanks Superior Court. The court records available to the public are scant, but have put the community on notice that there is indeed activity behind the closed doors.

Court documents released in early January indicated that Judge Paul Lyle has indeed made a decision on some element of the case, but the decision has been stayed – the legal equivalent of a pause button. The reason for the stay is to allow for a person named only as “The Affected Party” to perfect an appeal. Although the nature of sealed proceedings is inherently vague, the press was quick to deduce that the affected party was Jason Wallace, a man whose “secret confession” is at the heart of the sealed brief, the closed courtroom proceedings, and much controversy.

jason wallacLittle is known about the details of the statements made by Jason Wallace and filed under seal. But enough is known about Jason Wallace, his crimes, his actions, his habits, and circumstances, that coupled with the reporting surrounding the issue, that supporters have long been able to read between the lines.

Jason Wallace currently resides in Spring Creek Maximum Security Prison in Seward, Alaska, where he is serving a 60 year sentence for the 2002 murder by hammer of Fairbanks woman Teacke Bacote, the stabbing of Fairbanks resident Corey Spears, and his part in the conspiracy that led to the killings of Hakeem Bryant and Christopher Martin. The bloody crime spree planned by Wallace and his associate William Holmes was interrupted before they were able to kill thier last three intended victims – Michale Keys, Jaqueline Godfrey, and Godfrey’s young daughter.

Wallace and Holmes had a relatively simple plan – the two were involved in a planned $80,000 drug purchase, along with a handful of friends. Wallace was to stay in Alaska to kill the two people in Fairbanks who knew the details of the buy, Teacka Bacote and Corey Spears, while Holmes flew to California with their fellow buyers, Hakeem Bryant and Christopher Martin, to kill them. Then, Holmes and Wallace would reunite in Washington to make the purchase and kill the last targets – Michael Keys and Jaqueline Godfrey along with her young daughter (presumably to prevent witnesses) -allowing them to keep the drugs and cash. William Holmes and Jason Wallace were willing to kill their own friends, women, and an innocent child for $80,000 in cash and another $80,000 worth of cocaine. The plan did not end as planned and fate spared the lives of the last three victims.

William Holmes, 1997

William Holmes, 1997

Holmes killed Martin and Bryant in California. He shot them execution-style on the side of the freeway on Christmas Eve. Their bodies along with the charred remains of the rental car the three were travelling in were discovered the same day.

On December 27, Jason Wallace went to the home of Teacka Bacote, an unarmed 22 year old woman and friend, and killed her with a hammer. He then went to the house of friend Corey Spears and stabbed him in the neck with a screwdriver as the man slept. Although it was Wallace’s intention to kill him, Spears survived the brutal attack. After attacking Spears, Jason Wallace returned to the home of Teacka Bacote to set her body and fully occupied apartment building on fire.

Wallace was apprehended at the Fairbanks International Airport when he arrived burned and reeking of gasoline and attempted to board a flight. He confessed nearly immediately to his crimes. He cried and talked often of his mother and God in his interviews with troopers. His tears were not for his victims, but for himself. Having planned the deaths of seven people, stabbing his friend, and murdering a woman by hammer, Jason Wallace was overcome with self-pity. It is clear in transcripts that Wallace wanted to do as little time as possible, and he immediately began providing information on his codenfendent as well as many other associates. He, for example, names Shelmar Johnson as the man who supplied the weapons for the crime spree he and Holmes planned. He named many individuals as drug users, sellers, and showed an extreme willingness to provide any kind of information he could to negotiate for leniency.

Sometime between the night he was arrested and early 2004, Wallace said something else. The Alaska Innocence Project refers to “statements of Jason Wallace” that corroborate the written confession to the Hartman beating death by William Holmes, and goes on to say that the court must determine whether these statements are still subject attorney client privilege.

Given that Jason Wallace only had one attorney, public defender Geoffrey Wildridge, and only had communication with the attorney from spring of 2003 through the end of his trial, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that Wallace must have confessed to killing John Hartman to his attorney. Because Jason Wallace provided so much information, and so openly negotiate information for leniency, it is easy to imagine that Wallace may have confessed only in an attempt to trade the information for more leniency. It seems not only possible but very likely that many people under State of Alaska employ inside the justice system may have known about alternative confessions in the Hartman case as far back as 2002 or 2003.

Do Not EnterYet, unless and until the words of Jason Wallace currently buried inside a secret filing and caught up in a secret appeal are ever released, the truth about Jason Wallace remains a carefully kept secret.

As always, Alaskans, remember that there are many who walk among you with secrets about this case. Sadly, that includes some members of society we are told to trust the most. But it also includes scores of individuals who heard directly from William Holmes, Shelmar Johnson, Marquez Penningotn, and Jason Wallace about the killing of John Hartman. If you or anyone you know has information about this case please contact the Alaska Innocence Project at (907) 279-0454.

Want to read more? Do!

Local Reporters Visited Wallace at FCC in 2004. In this article, they describe his response to their questions about the case. Read that HERE

Local reporter Brian O’Donoghue released an article recently in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer. It is as detailed as any article is likely to be regarding the appeal process.HERE.

HERE, HERE, and HERE are a few articles on the murders Wallace and Holmes committed in 2002.

Wallace was hardly the only one talking. Bill Holmes confessed to the murder of John Hartman first in 2011 to an officer at the correctional facility where he is serving a double life sentence, who sent the confession on to the Fairbanks Police Department, who passed it on to the District Attorney. They then worked together to hide the confession, but it was eventually revealed. Read about that HERE. Holmes eventually got a confession to the Alaska Innocence Project as well. Read about that HERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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