Day 7 – Eyewitness Expert and Alibis

October 14, 2015

Alaska InnocenceThe seventh day of testimony in the Fairbanks Four proceedings featured the completion of the trooper testimony and several witnesses who also testified in the original trials. The Fairbanks Four were represented by the Alaska Innocence Project, Office of Public Advocacy attorney Whitney Glover, and the renowned international firm Dorsey and Whitney, who have acted with amazing generosity and dedication in their pro bono representation of George Frese. As this case unfolds it is important for readers to understand that an eighteen year old wrongful conviction case with no DNA and heavy political opposition is about as close to mission impossible in the legal world as an attorney can get, and every day of testimony demonstrates a level of quality and dedication in the work of these attorneys that deserves admiration. Because of this work, as in previous days, the proceedings heavily favored the alternate suspect theory and bolstered the evidence for the innocence of the Fairbanks Four.

Well known celebrity as they would be seen from 550ft

Well known celebrity as they would be seen from 550ft. Want to see the original? click HERE

Dr. Geoffrey Loftus, a University of Washington psychology professor, testified in the 1999 trial of Eugene Vent. During that trial he testified that a typical person would not be able to make an eyewitness identification from 500 feet away, as Arlo Olson claimed he had in his original trial testimony. Olson has since recanted multiple times and testified during these proceedings that his fabricated testimony was the brainchild of Officer Aaron Ring and Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant, memorized by Olson at their request, and given under pressure and threats. In the Vent trial, Olson’s testimony trumped Loftus’, and Vent was convicted. In 1999, Loftus testified based on what he called “common sense,” but his testimony did not result in a not guilty verdict. This loss inspired Loftus to conduct more detailed research into visual perception in relation to distance, and he returned to court these many years later with significant peer-reviewed studies and empirical evidence that confirmed what in the original trials many, including Loftus, believed common sense should have confirmed on its own in 1999. Loftus is now responsible for the leading research in the world into the way factors like distance and light impact visual perception. In short, Loftus did millions of dollars worth of research into the concept that has long brought the Olson testimony into questions – how far can the human eye see well enough to identify someone? Loftus’ findings confirmed that a person with normal vision could not identify anyone from 550 feet away, and likewise could not do so in the dark.

Loftus, who has testified at nearly 300 criminal trials, endured hours of disjointed questioning under cross-examination. The premise of cross-examination carried out by Bob Linton on behalf of the state was difficult to find a thread or strategy in but in that it had a theme was twofold – the state argued that it may be possible to identify someone without seeing their face, and that Loftus was biased, or at least not considering elements of the case not related to eyesight. Given that Loftus is specifically an expert on the limitations of human sight and any other elements of the case are not related to his testimony, he understandably was only familiar with eyewitness portions of the case, but the State asked about his familiarity with much of the original trials. Loftus indicated over and over that he was not familiar with the rest of the case, and was there to testify about the abilities Loftus had focused too much of his research and testimony on the face, and that it may be possible to identify someone from that distance because of recognizing body characteristics. Loftus countered that factors like arm length or build are not sufficient for identifying an individual. The state also argued that Loftus did not have testimony specific to Olson – Loftus acknowledged that his research and testimony focus on the human eye, and that he did not know if Arlo Olson had unusually good eyesight.

Two notable alibis also returned to the stand. Joey Shank confirmed the testimony he gave during the original trials. Shank was the driver of the car that drove Eugene Vent and Kevin Pease from a house party across to downtown Fairbanks and appears on Vent and Pease’s timelines. Shank was sober in the night in question and long before police had determined a time of death for Hartman provided a solid alibi for Pease and Vent from late evening to after 2:00 am. These many years later he affirmed is certainty on the time and that he was with both Pease and Vent across town when Hartman was killed.

Frank Dayton, who was assaulted the same night Hartman was killed, and whose assault Olson claimed to have seen from some 550 feet away testified that he was unable to see his attackers. His testimony reaffirms his account, as summarized in an earlier blog post.

The state objected to the admission of witnesses who had appeared at the original trials. Generally, the State of Alaska has largely objected on procedural grounds to the admission of evidence, experts, witnesses, and information in general on the case. The state made clear in opening arguments that they did not even want the hearing happening now to proceed, despite their original position that they were in favor of the hearing, because although they were certain the convictions were just fine felt the community needed closure.

In the end, four witnesses took the stand on the seventh day of litigation. Trooper McPherron completed his testimony. McPherron was one of the two cold case troopers who worked under Bachman in the case and ultimately came to court to verify that she hid information from them, instructed them not to collect exonerating evidence, and terminated the investigation before its end, apparently displeased that their investigation turned up information indicating the four are innocent and the alternative suspects are guilty. Joey Shank confirmed that he was with Pease and Vent across town when Hartman was killed. Frank Dayton reaffirmed his testimony. Eyewitness expert Loftus confirmed that the Olson testimony was a fabrication.

Sometime during all of this testimony, less than a mile away from the courthouse, supporters of the Fairbanks Four held a fundraiser and raised $17,000 for the Alaska Innocence Project selling Indian Tacos. Every time the State of Alaska makes it clear that they simply do not feel like dealing with wrongful conviction, the truly amazing people of Alaska appear in droves to make sure they will have to face the innocent now and in the future. If you would like to join them in their beautiful and humbling efforts you can donate here online or here. Or, light a candle, take a walk, appreciate things, think good thoughts, do something nice for someone else, keep an open mind, question the powers that be, vote, kiss a baby, adopt a dog, visit someone lonely, smile, remember someone who felt forgotten – we will gladly accept any of these in-kind donations because we depend on people who let the darker parts of life remind you to shed some light in this world.

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Big Bad Wolf VII – Rashan Brown and the Murder of John Hartman

Rashan Brown, 1997 Lathrop High Yearbook

Rashan Brown, 1997 Lathrop High Yearbook

In 1997, Rashan Brown was, by all outward appearances, a typical high school student. He was a senior at Lathrop High School, where he at one point served on the school paper. Brown once published an interview with classmate William Holmes. Holmes would include Brown in his own nonficiton account some fifteen years later. In his written confession, Holmes named Rashan Brown as a fellow participant in the brutal kicking death of Jonathan Hartman. According to Holmes, he and Rashan Brown along with fellow Lathrop students Marquez Pennington, Shelmar Johnson, and Jason Wallace, left a house party on in the early morning hours of October 11, 1997, and drove to downtown Fairbanks and killed John Hartman for fun. Hartman was discovered draped across a curb, fatally wounded and comatose. He died the following day. Four other young men were swiftly arrested for and convicted of Hartman’ killing and remained imprisoned despite their unbroken insistence that they are innocent, no physical evidence linking them to the crime, and significant evidence to include Holmes’ own confession, that link the alternate suspects to the crime.

Rashan Brown was the son of a local community leader and city councilwoman and has no public criminal record in Alaska. What is known of Brown is that some months after the Hartman murder he is rumored to have had a mental breakdown of sorts. He was sent to live with his father in Oregon, where it seems things did not improve.

Rashan Brown was arrested on August 5, 2004 in Umat County, Oregon. Brown was charged on 10 total counts, including "MURDER AGGRAVATED", "", "MURDER AGGRAVATED", "", "MURDER AGGRAVATED", "", "MURDER AGGRAVATED", "", and ""

Brown was charged on 10 total counts

On December 13, 1999, Rashan Brown met up with Julie Ann Wilde and Victor Torres, aged 18 and 19, with the victims believing that the meeting was for the purposes of Brown purchasing drugs. Evidence indicates that Brown had planned a murder of this type for some time, and intended to kill Torres and Wilde to steal any drugs and money they had. Brown indeed shot both victims at close range and left their bodies where they fell. He threw away the bicycle he had been spotted on driving to and from the crime scene and reported it stolen. He went to the home of an acquaintence and offered him $20 to tell police he had been there all night. Brown became a suspect in the killing. His bicycle was found in a dumpster, a handful of witnesses came forward to implicate Brown in the crime, the murder weapon was recovered, and blood from the victims was found on his underwear.

Brown was tried for aggravated murder as well as conspiracy. During trial he was extremely disruptive. He engaged in many yelling and screaming courtroom outbursts, hunger strikes, was repeatedly removed from the courtroom, and his state of mind was debated back and forth by defense and prosecution. Although the defense asserted that Brown was mentally ill and not fit for trial, the prosecution believed he was, and not only that Brown was fit, but that his outbursts and behaviors were a farce.

Brown was ultimately convicted of his crimes and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He filed many appeals, all predicated on accusations of procedural missteps, but received no decisions favorable to his position and has exhausted his appeal process.

The blood spilled in the injustice that began with the killing of John Hartman and was followed by this wrongful conviction is incredible. Brown demonstrates well the ultimate price of leaving the guilty on the streets. Had the right men been arrested in 1997, many people who are dead would be alive. This includes the victims of Brown – Julie Ann Wilde and Victor Torres – whose families must live with incredible loss and grief, and may not even know how their personal injustice is interwoven with an injustice many miles north.

As to Brown, it is impossible to say who is was in 1997, and further impossible to know the contents of his mind and heart before the night John Hartman was killed. It is clear that his life took a dark turn. It is, again, sad to consider who Rashan brown may have been had justice found him in 1997. In the Holmes account of the Hartman killing, five high school aged boys left a house party with a plan to assault “drunk Natives” for fun. When they could not fund a suitable victim, they happened upon Hartman and said, “we got one!” Holmes pulled the car up to the child, and the other four young men jumped out and attacked him. They knocked him to the ground and kicked him. And, then, Jason Wallace kept kicking. And stomping. And kicking. The boy shuddered his last while Jason Wallace kicked and Marquez Pennington rifled through his pockets. And, once back to the car, Wallace sat silent while the other boys screamed.

What if? Those may be the two saddest words in the English language, used to number losses unknown. What if they had been pulled over just moments after they pulled away? What if John Hartman had gotten medical treatment in minutes, not hours? What if they had told the truth that night, and not lived under the burden of a terrible secret? What if Jason Wallace had been sentenced to life for the unimaginably brutal kicking death of a child? What if the others, with less involvement and still minors, had received sentences that reflected the gravity of the events, but included rehabilitation? Who might they have been? And who may still be alive?

We will never know if Brown may have grown up to be okay had he been caught that night. We may never know whether he became ill under the weight and trauma of a terrible secret and the fear of killers, or if he was destined to break. But we do know that had he been incarcerated in December of 199, as he absolutely should have been for his role in the killing for John Hartman, that Julie Ann Wilde and Victor Torres would be alive today. Our hearts are with those families. In a few short days the Fairbanks Four will have another chance in court. Someday, they will come home. There is no such relief for the families of the other victims, and the permanency of their loss is a tragic reminder of our blessings. May they heal, hope, and see a greater justice someday.

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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State of Alaska Pulls Funding for Eugene Vent’s Attorney

obstaclesColleen Libbey, after 11 years working on one of the most complex and high-profile cases in the state of Alaska, has been removed from the case without warning.

This alteration in counsel, which the Department of Administration has attributed to budget cuts, comes deep in the midst of disovery, and days before Eugene vent’s scheduled deposition.

When the public defender’s office is too busy, conflicted, or otherwise engaged, the Office of Special Advocacy regularly assigns the work to private defense attorneys. It is a basic tenet of our justice system, so much so that it is incorporated into the Miranda rights…”If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you….” Colleen Libbey was assigned to Eugene Vent as a court appointed attorney.

Vent, the only one of the Fairbanks Four who had an ongoing active appeal at the time of the September 2013 Innocence Project filing, has had the same attorney since 2004. The litigation has dragged on these eleven years primarily because of delays and appeals within the system, and in part because of the complexity of the case.

When the Alaska Innocence Project filed their motion for post-conviction relief, the State immediately asked for an extension of just over seven months simply to review the case. By the time the case reaches court for the evidentiary hearing the original motion will be more than two years old. Although we have consistently found these extensions and delays to be extravagant, they are an appropriate measure for what kind of time the State of Alaska has determined is necessary for an attorney to prepare for even a singular action on the case. Now, days before he was scheduled to be deposed, and a handful of months before the evidentiary hearing, the State of Alaska has terminated Vent’s attorney.

The impossible task of preparing for a case in which the other attorneys have required years to gain familiarity is now left to Whitney Glover. Glover is a Office of Special Advocacy attorney, employed by the State of Alaska. Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman, in an interview with journalist Brian O’Donoghue, commented that Vent’s new attorney Whitney Glover currently has upwards of twenty other PCR actions pending and has repeatedly filed in other cases indicated that her “docket is so full she may not be able to meet deadlines.”

It is not uncommon for a public attorney to have an extraordinarily high caseload, and it is likely that Glover is indeed coping with a full docket, to which one of the most significant cases in Alaskan history was just hurriedly added.

It is impossible to know the motivations of the individuals who made the decision to remove Eugene Vent’s attorney from this case. The timing is so poor that it is difficult not to see the removal as strategic.

Other recent moves by the State seem equally strategic. The witness lists, for example. The State of Alaska did not include any information or clue as to the nature of the testimony of the sprawling list of witnesses they named in discovery. A move like this, as small as it may seem, is impactful. That means the Alaska Innocence Project, a tiny nonprofit with one attorney and limited funds, will have to investigate each and every name on that list just to know what the person may testify to. MY name, among other names, made that list. Right next to the kitchen sink….

Sometimes, the appearance of indiscretion is as good as the real thing. The State insists this is all a clean, above-board search for justice. Yet, it certainly seems like something else.

On this blog, we often refer simply to the State of Alaska. The state is, of course, composed of many branches, departments, task forces, offices, etc. That said, the State of Alaska is indeed an entity. State monies and priorities are delegated, and all of these many branches belong to the same tree. The State of Alaska through the actions of its many agents and agencies is engaging in a series of actions and deceptions which, if taken at face value, at best seem incompetent or reckless. If considered as a whole they seem strategic.

The State of Alaska was eager to share this figure as justification for the decision – in the eleven years that Colleen Libbey served as Eugene Vent’s counsel, Alaska spent $104,000.00 on his attorney. Roughly $25.00 per day that she worked on the case. Here is a figure they are not so eager to share – by the time the evidentiary hearing begins this October, the State of Alaska will have spent $896,400.00 housing him as an innocent man in prison. They will have spent about $3,585,600.00 incarcerating all four.*

As menacing as the incarceration figure is, there is another dollar amount we believe will be much higher. The figure that we would love to see, and one the State of Alaska has refused to share, is the total cost of the prosecution of the Fairbanks Four.

The State of Alaska has spent millions of dollars prosecuting, incarcerating, and fighting the release of Eugene Vent, yet suddenly cannot afford for him to have an adequately prepared attorney.

got thisWhitney Glover, Vent’s new attorney, deserves as much support and votes of confidence as she can get. Luckily for her, she is inheriting a lot of quality evidence, and above all will find herself fighting for the truth. There have been many moments over the last eighteen years where those close to the case and the four men themselves have come close to feeling defeated. It is not going to happen, no matter the obstacle, it can and will be overcome. We have learned that over and over – we have been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Colleen Libbey – thank you, thank you, thank you for eleven years of work on a hard case you surely deserved to see come to completion under your watch. We appreciate every moment you gave.

Whitney Glover – we believe there is a rhyme and a reason to all things, and a higher purpose in this story. Congratulations on being the person our maker selected for the job, you must be the one meant for it. Fate brought you here, so it is here you belong. Welcome!

Read this story in the news!

 

 

 

*Costs of incarceration found HERE

 

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.

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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.

 

Motion In Fairbanks Four Case Condemns State Response, Accuses State of Prosecutorial Misconduct

 

The Alaska Innocence Project lead counsel Bill Oberly and attorney Colleen Libbey filed silmoutaneous motions in Fairbanks Superior Court accusing the State of Alaska of accomplishing little more than “wasting paper” in their controversial response to the Fairbanks Four case. In a filing on behalf of Eugene Vent, Libbey further accuses the State of Alaska of violating Vent’s constitutional right to a fair trial and prosecutorial misconduct by withholding a murder confession in this case.

The filings, which come less than sixty days after the State’s response, trump the State response itself in simple length and drastically outshine the State in the merit of their respective arguments. The contrast between the aimless and sometimes bizarre content of the State of Alaska’s Motion to Dismiss and the succinct and well substantiated arguments in the Alaska Innocence and Libby filings are stark.

The Innocence Project filing undermines the credibility of every piece of information alluded to in the State filing and casts serious doubt on the intention and merit of their work. Libbey’s motion details the prosecutorial misconduct surrounding the decision to hide a murder confession in the case during ongoing legal actions, and at one point in reference to the State’s most vigorous assertions says, “This argument does not make sense.”

It is hard to imagine a court in the free world that would not grant the Fairbanks Four a new trial in light of the ever-mounting pile of evidence that William Holmes, Jason Wallace, Marquez Pennington, Rashan Brown, and Shelmar Johnson killed John Hartman, or the overwhelming and ever-growing evidence that the State of Alaska has engaged in misconduct and corruption at nearly every level of this case, from the first moments of the investigation up to today. Yet, it is indeed this terrifyingly corrupt and unapologetically deceptive system that the Fairbanks Four must leave their fate to.

There are people in this case who have information and are currently, right now, refusing to come forward. Those who fail to come forward take the side of the oppressors. They assist the state in keeping innocent men in jail. If you know someone who has information in this case, ask them to come forward. If they will not, turn them in. The time for inaction is long over.