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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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.

State Prosecutor Bachman’s Astounding Interview With Indian Country Today

truthWe have been pleased to see the story of the Fairbanks Four debut onto various national media outlets, but have been perhaps most gratified to see the case appear on Indian Country Today. This story has universal meaning and all Native rights issues are, at their core, human rights issues. That said, history indicates that progress is rarely made on Native issues unless and until the indigenous people of America join forces. So, we have been especially pleased to know that the story of the Fairbanks Four is reaching across tribes. This story is new to most Native people only in its specifics. Mistreatment and dismissal at the hands of the American government is, of course, a very old and familiar story to people of all tribes.

Indian Country Today’s latest article on the Fairbanks Four case is an interview with state prosecutor Adrienne Bachman, who is responsible for heading the state’s review of and response to the recent Alaska Innocence Project filing. Nothing would please us more than to tell you that the window this interview provides into the state’s perspective gave us a hope that the state intends to lead a fair and balanced investigation in the interest of justice. However, in this interview Adrienne Bachman reminds us a great deal of her predecessors – the interview contains a few politically correct general statements and an awful lot of detailed statements which indicate that Adrienne Bachman stands firmly where Jeff O’Bryant stood before her – determined to uphold a prosecution through any means necessary. And the devil, as they say, is indeed in the details.

Read the interview for yourself HERE. Below, we would like to highlight some of the more fascinating lies it contains.

“All of the arguments currently made in the petition were made during the original trial, except the Holmes affidavit. Only the Holmes allegations are new.”

This particular statement is one of the most bold, baffling, and patently false of them all. The Alaska Innocence Project filing contained over 130 pages. Less than ten were dedicated to the Holmes confession. Some other highlights? The eyewitness expert who determined that the testimony of Arlo Olson was scientifically impossible. The causative instrument forensic specialist who debunked the state claim that George Frese’s footwear matched the victim’s injuries. The affidavits by half a dozen others, including one that outlines a detailed confession made by another of the five perpetrators Jason Wallace, and language which strongly infers that the contents of the sealed brief contain yet another confession. The statement that the only new allegations contained in the filing are contained in less than 10% is outrageous. We will hope for the best here and assume that perhaps the prosecutor was only able to read the first few pages on her month-long vacation. Read the entire AKIP filing for yourself HERE. Read about SOME of the additional new evidence HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE or even, HERE.

“The petition characterizes the original evidence, but a review of the actual trial testimony shows that there were many additional pieces of evidence that are never mentioned by either the petition or the newspaper articles that seem to form the basis for much of the public opinion that lingers about this case. Examples include the various admissions or confessions made by three of the four.”

Well, this is not so much a mischaracterization as it is an absolute lie. Bachman states here that an example of evidence that has never made it into the newspaper or the AKIP filing includes “various admissions or confessions made by three of the four.” The interrogations and police interviews can be read HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE and just in case you want to be sure you can find them in the press, take a look HERE and HERE.

Eugene Vent, after 11 hours of interrogation in total, made incriminating statements. Read about his take on that HERE. The method used to obtain the statements HERE. George Frese also made incriminating statements in the case, after hours of interrogation, and sandwiched between insistence on his innocence, a request to go home, and statements that he didn’t”actually remember any of that shit.” George’s statements were not allowed into trial after the court determined they were ILLEGALLY OBTAINED.

For readers who struggle as much as the prosecutor with counting in the single digits, that makes for TWO people who made highly questionable statements but certainly statements it would be reasonable to classify as “admissions or confessions.” Her assertion that she is in possession of three admissions is patently false.

“The state is committed to conducting a prompt, thorough and thoughtful investigation of the Holmes allegations. It is a top priority.”

Sigh. Here is a statement we WISH was true. In reality, the state waited almost a month into their 45 day response time to even begin work on this case, and in an initial interview with the Daily News Miner Bachman made it clear that her first priority in regards to the Fairbanks Four case was for the state to review the original case. You know, THEIR case, which is apparently quite unfamiliar to them. In her response to the AKIP filing Bachman made it clear that her actual first priority during the beginning of her review was her “long-standing” vacation plans. Don’t take our word for it, read all about that HERE.

No one on the jury thought there was a reasonable doubt about their guilt based on all of the evidence presented at trial.

The first jury to hear a case against George Frese ended in a hung jury.One juror, convinced the accusations were the result of a conspiracy, locked themselves in the bathroom and refused to come out. It has always seemed, to us, that juror had doubts.

 

The interviews of both men were fair and above board. The police did not supply the details of the beating, Mr. Vent did. He named his co-defendants as involved in the beating, not the police. As a further example, Eugene Vent told the police that he’d given [John Hartman] some gum. Since the police had not mentioned chewing gum, but did find a small pack at the scene, Mr. Vent’s own words told the world that he had been there – no matter how much he now attempts to back away from those statements.

Okay, she does know we can read, right? I am going to skip quoting anything related to gum from Eugene’s interrogation, and use a quote I find more suitable from Eugene while being interrogated: “I can’t believe what you’re saying right now.”

Like, really. I can’t believe what you’re saying right now. Sadly, that is not true. In 1997 being tricked and lied to by people meant to protect you and uphold justice seemed unbelievable. Today, it seems routine. Live and learn.

We would like to encourage all of you to read the interview with Bachman for yourself, and any and all of the case materials she refers to. We would further encourage you all to let your elected leaders know whether or not you think this case was handled properly in 1997, and whether or not much has changed since then. Although it would be possible to pick this interview apart line by line, we will leave off here with a quote from us, and a quote from someone far wiser.

At the end of the day, only one of two things can be true: either Bachman lacks the ability to read and understand the material that she is responsible for reviewing, or else she has a full grasp on the information and is choosing to lie. Neither is acceptable. We have said for the last sixteen years without abating that the State of Alaska has demonstrated a lack of ability and propensity toward dishonesty in this case that indicated it should be removed from their jurisdiction, handled by a federal agency, and that each indication of corruption, perjury, bribery, racism, and civil rights violation should be investigated thoroughly by a federal body as well. We think we have done a good job laying out our extensive reasons for taking that position; we would like to thank prosecutor Bachman for taking the time to do several press interviews that demonstrate state bias more effectively than we could ever hope to do on our own. – Fairbanks Four Blog, today, right now.
Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. – Isaiah 10: 1-2

True Murderer Comes Forward – A Letter from William Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a sad story. Listen, listen.

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Never Forget to Remember John Hartman

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We grieve John Hartman.

The hardest, most painful part of writing the story of the Fairbanks Four is to trespass on the memories and recall the horrific final moments of a young boy we never knew.

In the graphic court photos, the mountains of expert affidavits analyzing his cause of death, explorations of causative instruments, manners of death, autopsies, soft tissue, timelines, witnesses, pants, the photographs of him ailing in a hospital bed aired as he lay dying in an effort to identify him, the letters to the editor, the newspaper articles, the school picture, the photo of him kneeling in his football uniform run over and over in the articles not about his life, but his terrible death…..in all of these documents someone’s child became a court exhibit. But never, ever forget, those who fight for the Fairbanks Four fight for this boy as well.

ImageIn those terrible photographs, below the wounds, was the face of someone who was loved. A son, a brother, a friend, a person. He was a baby once, freshly born, and surely his mother marveled over his little wrinkled fingers as all mothers do, so impossibly small. So perfect. His birth was the most common and divine miracle that any life is. He came into being. He smiled for the first time. He laughed. He learned to walk, tumbled on unsteady feet. Someone ran their hand over his forehead to check for a fever, someone kissed him goodnight. Maybe he wrestled with his brothers, made his friends laugh. He blew out candles on birthday cakes, he woke up in delight on Christmas mornings. He smiled toothless into those early elementary school photos. John Hartman grew out of chubby cheeks and freckles sprinkled across his nose, the winds of hundreds of summer days swept over him, the sun warmed his skin. He had a first kiss, a crush, secret dreams, unique hopes. Surely, his life contained all of these typical moments, and the thousands of moments unique to him known only to those who truly knew him. He became a boy, then a young man, grew into that middle season where childhood is waning, and the future is wide open.

And then, he was so unfairly interrupted. His life came to an end. They say that all of those moments flash before the dying, that the last thing we do before we leave our bodies is remember the life we lived in them. Hopefully, that is true, and the life that flashed before him was a happy one.

I wish we could articulate how it is impossible to work to prove the innocence of the Fairbanks Four and to tell their story without grieving the child whose death they were accused of causing – how often the reality and weight of his suffering and the magnitude of his pain and the grief of his loss weighs on us.

George Frese said he thinks of him every night, that he prays to him simply, expressing sorrow that his life ended so terribly, and implores him for help from the other side. These four men all understand that their lives are inextricably connected to the life and death of a boy they never knew, and what has arisen from that is a kind of powerful and sad kinship.

To fight for justice is to fight for justice. That four young men who committed no crime are imprisoned is a terrible injustice. That whoever killed John Hartman has never been held accountable is a terrible injustice. Every time his death is examined, discussed, his name is said out loud, the fact that he was murdered is discussed without equal understanding that he also lived – all of that is an injustice. The wrongful convictions that followed the murder of an innocent child have, perhaps, prevented him from resting peacefully, which he deserves. But the greatest injustice of all is that John Hartman died while he was just a little boy, and that the endless possible futures in his path were taken from him. In his obituary his family shared that John wanted to attend college in Michigan, where he hoped to play football and become a vet. In a world with true, pure justice, this young man would be in his thirties now, perhaps with a child of his own, marveling at the miracle that life is.

To anyone who loved and knew this boy, we are so sorry. We are so deeply sorry for your loss, and so sorry if the fight to prove the innocence of the Fairbanks Four hurts you. We are sorry for the greatest injustice of all in this story; the loss of his life and the hurt it brought upon you all.

Please remember that we never forget John Hartman. We are fighting for him, too, and doing everything we can to tell this story with tenderness and respect to the truly innocent boy who died in that long ago October.

 

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Bloody Photos of the “Bloodless” Crime Scene Emerge

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ImageWhen Calvin Moses and his passengers came upon a young John Hartman badly beaten, barely alive, and draped over a curb around 2:50am on that cold night in October 1997, the sight of his body was so frightening that the four adults did not get out of the car for fear the attackers were still nearby. They rushed to a nearby apartment complex and called 911. In fact, John Hartman was so bloody and badly beaten that they could not tell if he was a boy or girl, face up or face down. Only that if he was alive, he was barely alive.

One EMT who responded to the call was so badly shaken that he called home, woke his wife, and pleaded with her to lock the door. In the first newspaper article about the case (HERE) the lead detective described the crime scene as “horrific.”

Perhaps Detectives Aaron Ring and Jim Grier (who did the bulk of the police work on this case) believed that when the lab results came back from the car, the clothes, boots, shoes, hands, and feet of the four young men they had arrested in the hours immediately following the girssly discovery of the murdered boy, that the lab results would show what any reasonable person would expect to find on the people and car used to commit a violent stomping and beating death – DNA. And lots of it. But the lab results didn’t tie the Fairbanks Four to the victim. So, they tested, and retested. They took Marvin’s car apart to the point that it cannot be reassembled, searching for blood. And they found NONE.

NO DNA EVIDENCE HAS EVER LINKED THE FAIRBANKS FOUR TO THE CRIME THEY ARE CHARGED WITH COMMITTING.

When the police realized that there was no physical evidence linking Marvin Roberts, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, or George Frese to the murder of John Hartman, they did not begin looking for other leads. They did two things – they shopped for jailhouse snitches and “lost” a lot of evidence that would have supported claims of innocence by the four young men and pointed to the guilt of others.

So many things have been lost in the Fairbanks Four case. Life. Time. Freedom. Hope. Memory. Intangible things.

But a lot of other things were lost. Tangible things. Evidence. For example, the first interview police did with Chris Stone. That was “lost.” The transcript of the police interview with EJ Stevens simply directs the reader to the audio recording. Somehow, it was lost. Perhaps no coincidentally “lost” piece of evidence stands out more than the missing crime scene pictures. With no photographs of the crime scene, the public and juries had to rely on the word of the investigators who examined the crime scene (primarily Ring and Grier).

For many in the Native community the moment that the crime scene went from “horrific” to “virtually bloodless” was the moment when it became completely clear that something was extremely wrong with this case. These are, after all, a people who have many times seen a death on the first winter snows when they are blessed with a moose to feed their families. The idea that place where a boy was kicked and beaten to death would be bloodless has long seemed to be a deliberate lie. We can now confirm that anyone who saw the crime scene and later described it as bloodless was lying, and readers can confirm that for themselves by looking at the recently unearthed photograph above.

When KTUU Channel 2 Anchorage did their documentary The 49th Hour: The Fairbanks Four, they were granted access to the historical footage shot by KTVF. During this same KTUU documentary (which you can watch HERE) the CURRENT Fairbanks Police Department police chief applauds the exemplary work of the detectives who investigated the murder of John Hartman, even calling it “model” police work. In that film footage from KTVF that KTUU producers unearthed, buried in the long-forgotten reels of film shot the day that John Hartman died, were a series of images of the crime scene the police and DA described as bloodless. This photograph of the place John Hartman was killed looks exactly as we would have imagined.

Those of us that live with the land and feed our children with what we can gather and hunt know something about blood and snow. We have seen the warm blood of an animal hit snow and race across the surface, frozen. We have seen it seep, and spread slowly from a wound. The place where a life is taken, even when taken respectfully with one swift and cordial wound, is marked on the snow until spring washes it away. We know the way that snow makes blood sticky, how the course hair of moose cling to your hands and boots and resists any attempt to cast it away.

To take a life is to spill blood, and blood remains there where life poured out, and upon those who touched it. It tracks on boots and pants, fingers and hands. Life does not disappear without a trace. John Hartman did not lose his life without leaving a mark behind. Those who killed him did not leave the scene of the crime without the blood of John Hartman on their feet, in their car, on their clothes, their shoes, and hands.

That DNA evidence probably washed over time, as seasons changed. But blood is on the hands of many in the case of the Fairbanks Four: Those who really did kill John Hartman, those who chose to deliberately wrongfully convict the Fairbanks Four believing they had so little value that they would never be remembered and fought for, and those who “lost,” altered, hid, corrupted, and lied. Those people have blood on their hands that cannot be washed away with water or with time. For all those in our community and world who have blood on their hands through murder, corruption, conspiracy, or through the crime of silence, we have a prayer always on our lips and in our hearts for you – that someday you will be free from the prison you built for yourself. That you will choose to redeem yourself as best you can during your time on this earth. That you remember that every day that innocent men spend in prison for a crime they did not commit, you commit another crime, and your guilt grows.

You can try to bury the truth. You can try to outrun it, you can try to lose it by forcing it deep into the darkest theatres of the mind. But you cannot destroy it. You can take a lot from another human being – their life, their time, even their hope. But you cannot take their story, and you cannot take the truth. Truth has a power of its own, and someday, the truth will FREE THE FAIRBANKS FOUR.

Dear Silent Holders of the Truth – A letter from Eugene

One incredibly frustrating, heartbreaking, difficult reality about the murder of 1997 is that THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO KNOW WHO DID IT. One investigator after another has identified a small handful of people that have information about this case, and knows that there are others. There is a $35,000 reward for information. ANYONE with information can call Bill Oberly with the Innocence Project at 907-279-0454 and come forward anonymously or on the record, and PLEASE, PLEASE, if you or someone you know has information about the killing of John Hartman, DO come forward.

What the investigators continually hear from people with information is that they are afraid of retaliation or being labeled as snitches, most especially afraid of retaliation or hardship if they themselves end up in prison. Although their choice to remain silent is their choice to make, it is heartbreaking. In order for the Fairbanks Four to get a new trial, these people would HAVE to come forward.

Below, Eugene speaks to THEM. To people that have information in this case but choose to stay silent.  Spread this letter everywhere you can, most especially to anyone you think it might apply to. Hopefully their heart is softened by Eugene’s plea and they are encouraged by his words of support.