Life Outside Prison – The Fairbanks Four on Life After Exoneration, Interview Part III

*The third installment of a three part interview with the Fairbanks Four. A fund exists for the men and can be donated to HERE

 

The last chapter of the Fairbanks Four story has only just now begun. This is the beginning of ever after, where George, Eugene, Marvin, and Kevin have the freedom to chose what comes next. Life without bars is new to the men, who discuss both the joys and challenges of life in a whole new world.

“You are waiting so long for freedom you are ready for it every day,” Eugene says. “But, you’re really never ready. You can imagine it but there’s no way to know what to expect.”

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Newly licensed driver Kevin Pease

 

Kevin just got his driver’s license, and shows it to George as he speaks about some of the hardships of adjusting to life outside.

“One big thing, that’s  a hard thing, is the generation gap, ” Kevin says. “There is a whole new generation of people that have been born and grown up since we went away. Everyone I knew is older, they are the adults. I go to jail, and I was a teenager. It’s almost like arrested development. I used to think of aging as the passage of time, but it isn’t that. Aging is experiences. My peers have kids, families, jobs, car payments, relationships that happened and ended, careers, bills, life, and I feel like we weren’t allowed to have experiences. We didn’t learn from these experiences because we didn’t have them. So we are almost forty and part of me feels that and part of me is still nineteen years old. When I left we were the kids. Now we are the parents of the kids. We have moved up this like whole generation, and nothing prepared us for that.”

Marvin notices the adjustment most when interacting with people as well.

“The hardest part of freedom for me is interacting with people,” Marvin says, “I may make it look easy, I try to, but it’s really difficult. I have a lot of anxiety. I am so grateful for all people have done and for my path but there are times I wish I was just a regular person who this had not happened to.”

For Eugene, people have been a refuge. He has dedicated much of his time since release to babysitting, quiet visits, and time with his grandmother. It is the process of making daily decisions that overwhelms him,

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Eugene Vent reunited with his Grandmother Annie, who raised him

 

“Choices,” Eugene says. “The hardest has been making decisions about things I am not really, I feel like I am not prepared to make or qualified to make. And it is only day to day life. What to buy from the store, what do I want to do today, what kind of groceries, what kind of job would I want. These may seem small to most people but going to a restaurant and ordering food, just waking up in the morning and opening a door, right there it’s more decisions than I was able to make in all of these years. I didn’t have the liberty to make decisions when I was incarcerated, and there are so many now.”

“I was in the store last night,” Kevin adds, “And like stuck in this aisle for an hour. I was buying jelly, but there were dozens and dozens of choices, for just jelly. What kind of jelly should I get? What do I like? Careers, training, what to do with a day, it’s like constantly we have all these choices.”

George laughs, “Man, I was doing that too, but now I just look at the prices. Things got expensive!”

Kevin sees the myriad of sensory input and choices as a kind of speeding of time, and wishes that things would slow down.

“It goes too fast,” Kevin says, “One thing that is hard is how fast everything is moving. Everything is at a higher speed than I am used to. In prison things are slow. Every day the same thing happens, with a set number of people, the same people every day, wearing one color. Now it’s cars, sounds, every color out there, people behind you, in front of you, new faces all the time, endless possibilities. It’s the hardest thing to get used to and sometimes I just want everything to slow down so I can take it in.”

Eugene agrees. “Everything is such a rush, so fast. I wish I could slow it down too.”

“I love it,” George says of the frantic speed at which free life is moving.

“Sometimes I feel like I have too much time on my hands,” Kevin adds.

“Well I feel like I don’t have enough,” says George. “But i know what you mean, like there have been a few times I was alone for a minute and thinking you know, now what?”

Now what? That is the question that dominates the minds of the four and comes up most often from those who supported them. For now, adjusting to life outside is enough.

“It’s very hard to trust people,” Kevin says. “In prison it is unhealthy people employing unhealthy tactics. Criminal tendencies and ulterior motives are the norm.”

“That’s super rough,” George agrees. “Prison – I will put it this way – in there the average educational level is high school dropout, with the occasional A student gone corrupt. It is is not the easiest brightest group of people. In there you are usually not dealing with trustworthy or aware people. Everyone in prison refuses to be vulnerable. That is the primary motivation.”

“And now we are out here with people we love, and we have to relearn what that means in an everyday way. To have relationships built on trust with people you love,” Kevin says.

“Who can you trust?” Eugene agrees, “that is a real question. What a blessing to not know because the answer used to be ‘no one.”

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George and his mother, Veronica

 

“Exactly,” says George, “that’s what I’m talking about, because now we are out here with people that we are supposed to love and care for and cherish. In there, it’s different. Inmates. Numbered people. To be out with people is good and overwhelming. I’m taking care of my mom, and we are both getting stronger.”

Kevin gazes out the third floor window that overlooks the neighborhood he grew up in. Between the trees he can just make out his childhood home. “I have these moments when I realize I am free. When it just hits me. You can’t absorb it all at once, it is just too much, so it comes in these little pieces. But it will hit you, like it’s hitting me now.”  He shakes his head in disbelief. “I am standing right here, looking out this window. I. Am. Free.”

George cannot get over how freedom announces itself in every moment of the day. “The sensation of freedom is constant,” he says. “Sitting in this chair right here right now, it’s so comfortable. Something as simple as that. Not sitting on steel. Freedom is everything.”

They reflect on all that has changed in their home town, and the people who live there. George sees the changes most in his daughter. She was three years old when he was arrested, and on his homecoming she is a twenty-one year old mother of two. George is matter of fact about how hard it was to lose those years, but seems genuine in expressing his peace with it.

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George holding his grandchildren on his birthday as his daughter Tiliisia looks on.

 

“I don’t think about what is lost through change or time I think about what is gained,” he says. “How I relate to that is I see the grandchildren as the second chance. The bright side is I left this little baby girl, but came home to two grandbabies. One for two – that is a prison term, – one for two.  In prison when someone wants say a candy bar the exchange is one for two. Commissary takes weeks, everything in prison is about waiting. So you give a guy one candy bar today, and in a few weeks, he repays you two. One for two. I feel like I gave one by losing those years with my daughter and came out to two grandchildren. I got two. God finds a way to set is straight. I  lost more than you ever thought I could bear, and then gained more than I could have ever imagined. And that is how I see the whole experience. One for two.”

In the end, the men agree that their story is a happy one, where love conquers.

Kevin has long found a particular quote from another wrongfully imprisoned man the best encapsulation of their experience. From prison he quoted Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, saying “hate put me in prison, but love is gonna bust me out.”

“Love,” Kevin says – his one-word answer to the question of what freed them.

Marvin agrees.

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Marvin embraces his mother Hazel moments after his exoneration. Newsminer photo.

 

“Love, first and foremost love. Love is always what motivates us to do something for someone else,” Marvin says. “I believe that the information, the story, of our case and how we came to be in prison interested people. Brian O’Donoghue wrote about it, Innocence Project took us on, and then this huge shift from the blog. Once they heard the story the truth became obvious, and people saw themselves I think in us. Their sons. I was not surprised that people were drawn to our story.  I was surprised at how fast everything transpired after the blog.”

Eugene believes it all comes down to love as well.

“People root for the underdog, for one,” Eugene adds. “But really, love. The movement to free us was based on love and truth simple as that, and the efforts to lock us up was hate and lies, and love and truth are stronger. Of course that won out, you know? It always does. Man, it’s awesome. And we are just, totally grateful.”

The issue of of gratitude looms large in the minds of all four men and in their thoughts of the future.  The only time in the interview that the men are overcome with emotion is when the topic of gratitude comes up. Marvin says he thinks of it often.

“I just, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I always feel that,” Marvin

“Something I do wonder,” George says, “is why us? For us to be deserving of this love we have received, it overwhelms me. I feel so obligated to everyone.”

George stops his sentence short as he is overcome, and Kevin is quick to offer some comfort.

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Marvin and Fairbanks Four Pro Bono Legal Team

“Well don’t feel obligated to everyone, George,” Kevin says, “that’s not possible, you will be raking leaves and babysitting and trying to do every little thing for thousands of people for the rest of your life. Feel that hardcore obligated to what all those people added up together are. And we need to put our lives there, just into the good. Being good people. So be obligated to yourself first and learn to be okay because that’s what people want from you anyways. They want a redemption story, they want a happy ending. They want you to be okay. They want someone to survive because it gives them hope. So that’s what I am doing, I am starting with taking care of myself so I can be okay, so I can just have the strength to be a person who can do more eventually.”

Eugene says he, too, is often overwhelmed when he thinks over what he considers an obligation to those who helped to free him.

“I think a lot about,” he says,  “how do we ever repay them? Every single person that did right by us, the attorneys, just regular people, they are all such a huge blessing. And it makes the people that did bad by us so small. Like nothing compared to the good. I don’t know how we will ever repay the kindness we were shown.”

George shakes his head at the magnitude. “Eighteen years,” he says, “it’s almost incomprehensible. People, most of them strangers, who fought eighteen long years for us. It’s amazing.”

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Hazel Roberts at 2007 protest. She actively protested her son’s imprisonment for 18 consecutive years.

 

The sheer amount of time that elapsed while the men waited behind bars for justice is hard for them and their friends and families to grasp. Marvin says that simply wrapping his mind around eighteen years remains an elusive task.

“Time is a hard one,” he says, “because yes sometimes it feels like more than eighteen years, and sometimes just yesterday.”

“No,” George interjects, “it feels like exactly eighteen years. Because that’s how long it was, and this is what that feels like.”

Kevin says that there are times that he feels the weight of lost time.

“Seeing people that I used to know, looking at the life that has happened. That’s when you realize how much time has gone by,” he says, “when you see how it changed people. And when you actually have to face, man, I was in prison for something I didn’t do long enough to age people this way, change things, when you really wrap your head around eighteen years, it’s rough.”

George agrees. “It’s crazy when the moments hit and you can absorb how much time was lost, he says. “Looking at your family. Nieces and nephews, I have so many, and I didn’t even know them. How people have aged. Yes. it’s the people. When you think about what you lost, it’s people. What does time mean? Relationships. ”

“Time,” Marvin adds, “just time. It’s simple in one way, and complicated in another, because time is everything. People, experiences, relationships. Time. And it’s the only thing you can’t get back. I know what we lost.”

George believes it is as impossible to number their losses as it would be to enumerate their possibilities. He speaks with an unchained excitement about the future.

“I want to experience everything I can,” George says. “Business. Travel. Everything. Just talking, reaching out to the next generation of kids, that is how I think we all see ourselves paying this forward. Teaching them the power of their words, the power of their own creativity, advocating for basic education and life skills, a higher self-worth. It’s very important. It’s everything.  When I was growing up there was a strong sense of community, the it takes a village, and I felt like that. How can we get kids to maintain that into adolescence, into adulthood, to develop a sense of self worth despite the obstacles and take it into a healthy lifestyle?”

The conversation returns often to what the men describe as a mind-boggling number of choices available to them on all levels – from groceries to life dreams. Their personality differences shine through sincerely on the topic of choices. George is ready to choose everything, all at once, regardless of practicality. Marvin is diligently pursuing the choices he has made. Kevin and Eugene are cautiously evaluating the seemingly endless possibilities.

“For now,” Kevin says of the future, “I am busy just realizing I am here, looking out the window. Waking up to an unlocked door. Adjusting to freedom.  We haven’t even been out a month yet, so the reality is I don’t know yet what the future holds. But I know I will know eventually, and I am so happy to be free and get to decide.”

Eugene is taking his new found freedom as well. “I don’t know what we will do yet,” Eugene says, smiling, “But I am so grateful that I can be here, free, to experience whatever comes next.”

Marvin, ever the engineer, has a future more carefully mapped out. But in general, he says, he wants to “make a career, have a family, just do what I can to rebuild. To build. Have a happy life.”

George continues with enthusiasm, “People, all kinds of people, are stuck in cycles of hopelessness, focused on bleak outlooks, totally unaware of the prospects out there. We have been there to the places of hopelessness. I have. And now we are just blown away by the opportunities within reach. If we can come back and even a small amount show this next generation that this world is not bleak, it is full of hope and opportunity, then this whole experience made sense. I have been living a fantasy for 18 years. For me this world is the dream. What I learned and what I want to share, is this simple life we all have – it’s everything. This is the dream.”

For the time being, Eugene is content to simply enjoy the freedom he dreamed of for eighteen years.

“I wake up happy that I am free,” he says, “That’s what I do.”

 

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Civil Rights Activists Under Attack in Fairbanks Four Case

The State of Alaska’s position of record is that has never been and will never be any wrongful conviction in their justice system. The notion that the government institution operated by human beings is free from all human error is bizarre but not unusual as many leaders and governments have attempted to avoid scrutiny through claims of divinity or innate perfection. This is a view notably shared by such leaders as David Koresh, Charles Manson, Stalin, Kim Jong-il, and a host of other nuts. And, just as in other situations of bureaucratic corruption, those who have spoken out against their absurdity have become the targets of inappropriate and vulgar displays of power.

 

bigbrotherThe average citizen of the free world tends to understand and accept that attacks on freedom of speech happened unabated through history, yet still believe that such attacks are part of the past. That is because the average citizen goes to work, comes home to catch some prime time television, throws the occasional political meme up on their Facebook wall, and expresses their more radical beliefs at their own tables. In short, the average citizen does not live in a state of oppression, and does not speak out in high visibility situations about the oppression or unjust actions taken by the government that they observe. And thus, tales of attacks on civil rights leaders, corruption, abuses of power, are relegated to the history channel documentaries on the 60’s or Richard Nixon and the like.

 

This still happens today. Those who speak out publicly and effectively against the government, their agents, institutions, and policies still come under attack. Here. In our town, in your town, in any town. And it is critically important that you pay attention when it happens under your nose, because our progress as the human race depends upon ordinary people with perfectly average and kind sensibilities making sure that the founding principles of their nations are upheld.

 

It is inside the context of sharing a larger lesson about the importance of speaking out that we have chosen to share precisely how this blog and the leaders of the innocence movement in Alaska came under attack by the State of Alaska.

 

If you call up the leaders of this great state they will absolutely assure you that no one was attacked, that they support freedom of speech, and that all contact, subpoenas, recordings, etc. of those affiliated with the Fairbanks Four movement were done appropriately, for the right reasons, and inside the confines of the law. And they would be lying.

 

subpoeanaIn July of 2015 the State of Alaska served a “subpoena duces tecem” on this blogger for testimony and collection of my personal AND work emails, letters, communications of all kind, writings, and more.  The full scope of the subpoena is pictured here. A subpoena duces tecem is used to take property and information into the custody. It is a Latin phrase which translates as “you will bring with you under penalty of punishment.”

So, I produced years of letters, messages, emails, blog writings, and more. Under threat of arrest, and in a sincere effort to allow transparency. I also attended the demanded interview for taking of my deposition.

Depositions are a virtual legal free-for-all. An attorney, in this case Adrienne Bachman for the State of Alaska, can conduct a deposition on virtually anyone based on their own opinion that the interview MAY lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. It is such a vague standard that it is a loophole easily exploited for the purpose of harassing or spying on activists.

At the deposition interview, here are some things the State asked me:

 

1.) Fully described directions by landmark to a particular elder’s house (weird and actually the scariest question because I could not imagine what they would do once they got there, like was Adrienne Bachman going to be standing over her bed at the witching hour?).

 

2.) People who I had sexual relationships (easy – the people I decided have sexual relationships with #noregrets).

 

3.) The details surrounding a specific arrest for minor consuming alcohol at the age of 17 (I don’t remember really, I was drunk and seventeen).

 

4.) What drugs she had done as a teenager or seen other people do (as many as I could get my hands on with whoever was available).

 

5.) Why I had custody of previous foster care children (Sincerely inappropriate question under any circumstance).

 

6.) Whether I had ever used the term “sugar mama” (I really can’t remember but that sure sounds like something I would say), and then, why I was laughing at the use of the term “sugar mama” (well…because it’s funny, especially in context).

 

7.) HOW I drank as a teenager (to excess, and unfortunately I don’t have a lot of details beyond that, because I was pretty much drunk for the entire mid to late 90’s).

And so on…

The beauty here for me is that I am perhaps less uncomfortable with my past than the average person, and although I found the process truly invasive and uncomfortable, I did not find it debilitating. I am a nonfiction writer. I have invaded my own privacy in the name of telling a story for my entire life, and to me the value in sharing the brutal truth greatly overrides the embarrassment of it being public. We are all human.  But that is not necessarily typical, and the reality is this experience could be terrible for many people.

salem-witch-memorialIt is worth noting that the questions were not relevant to the Fairbanks Four case, and were stereotypical attacks of a power figure against a woman. Revelation of deviant past behavior, attacks on maternal identity, and sexual relationships or sexual history, though certainly not relevant to the case, are a classic targets when attempting to discredit any woman. And we should all be concerned at the idea of the government slut-shaming outspoken women. That said, look backward, and look forward. There has always been an organized overkill response to women who are too outspoken or who possess political power that makes the powers that be uncomfortable. The Salem Witch trials come to mind. Scarlet letters. Stolen children. The many thousands of land owning widows who faced execution, wrongful conviction, displacement. The woman, who, right now as you read this, is being hung or stoned to death or beheaded or otherwise silenced by death for failing to accept the terms of her specific oppression,. Beheaded and deposed is a far cry from one another. Yet, we cannot regard any action on the spectrum as acceptable without condoning the ideology that fuels attacks on the outspoken.  And my specific experience is worth talking about only because it is universal, and because I am so ordinary. If the government can go through all of my stuff and ask me those questions, they could do that to anyone. And I was far from the only person under scrutiny in this case.

By the time that the Fairbanks Four proceedings were nearing completion and the state had failed to present a case that supported the guilt of the wrongfully convicted men, they presented an unsubstantiated theory that the “Fairbanks Four” activists, specifically myself, business owner Ricko DeWilde, and pastor Shirley Lee had conspired with a prison gang to have Arlo Olson intimidated.

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April and her gang

Let me take a quick break to say, as absurd as I feel writing this sentence, I am not in a prison gang. I frankly have my doubts as to whether or not I would qualify for admission into an all-male prison gang even if it was my aspiration. I do not know or care whether or not any of the Fairbanks Four have affiliated with prison gang members in the last eighteen years of living in prison.  I am certain that Pastor Lee and Mr. DeWilde are not in a prison gang. We have not, would not, and did not conspire to intimidate or harass anyone, and haven’t even conspired to hurt their feelings. We have, openly and publicly, encouraged people with information to come forward in this case and vowed to stand by them if they are attacked for doing the right thing. Because their own government WILL attack them for doing the right thing, and has (see Scott Davison or Arlo Olson). We have bribed no one, paid no one, threatened no one, hurt no one. Still, the State of Alaska presented that theory in a court of law.

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Shirley Performing A Baptism, Like a Boss

Pastor Shirley Lee, a longtime activist and member of the Episcopal clergy, was mentioned in deposition and again in trial testimony. The State of Alaska insinuated that the pastor was part of a conspiracy to intimidate, bribe, or harass witnesses. A pastor. This grandmother, pictured here to your left. She runs a homeless shelter, leads services on Sunday, and holds memorial services for people who are unclaimed or whose deaths are unsolved. Pretty gangsta.

 

Unlike Shirley, who may qualify for sainthood, Ricko and I are not perfect angels, but we are good human beings. Our horns may be holding up our halos, but they are there nonetheless. And the reality is that the innocence movement is controversial and unpopular – of course it was pioneered by rebels.

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Ricko and his actual gang

Ricko DeWilde, owner of Native art themed clothing line HYDZ, was repeatedly named in the vague but bold conspiracy touted by the State. Adrienne Bachman said, in court, as if it were fact that Ricko had assaulted Arlo Olson when they were together in jail. This is really problematic. First, Ricko and Arlo were never in jail together. Second, Arlo was not assaulted in jail according to any records, staff, or perhaps most importantly by Olson himself. Olson did say that he was picked on and treated poorly in prison after a news article revealed him to be an informant, but lent no credibility to the idea that he was the victim of a gang conspiracy or any assault.

And, according to Bachman, it was I who ordered the beating, as part of my role as a prison gangster.

EugeneintrotimeOne piece of evidence was introduced, and then rejected by the court, as “evidence” of my gang affiliation. It was a letter from Eugene Vent some years ago. In a six-page diatribe about the evils or racism and how the prison system encourages the internalization of racist stereotypes as a means of control, how that same prison system is a microcosm of society, and racism and identity by ethnicity is a construction of the majority to oppress the minority, Eugene used the word “brotherhood,” and once he capitalized it. He also capitalized words like “defense,” “potential,” and “tomorrow.” To my sincere frustration, Eugene does not use capital letters or quotation marks appropriately all the time. Yet, that does not mean I am in a gang, only that I was correct when I warned him that alternative grammar has unintended consequences (or “Consequences” as he might say). Nor does it mean that anyone was assaulted.

Judge Paul Lyle, who presided over the hearings, was quick to squash the theory. He asked Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman whether she “had any evidence at all linking the petitioners or this witness to a gang or an assault,” to which she had to answer truthfully, “no.

Yet, despite the admitted absolute lack of evidence, our names have appeared in the newspaper alongside these accusations. Our personal belongings and communications have been scrutinized and, as of today, remain in the possession of the State of Alaska.

A secondary goal of subpoena may have been to keep myself and reporter Brian O’Donoghue out of the courtroom in an effort to control media coverage of the trial. The State invoked a rule banning named witnesses, which just happened to include the most prominent reporter and blogger covering the case. If that was an intention, it was simply another gift, as without the subpoena we would not have had an opportunity to reflect on what such a display of power means and, in turn, write about it.

And now that I have been asked questions, under threat of penalty under the law, about things as incredibly unrelated and inappropriate as whom I have had sex with, I have something to say about that. Two things, really. First, readers, just know that this still happens, even today and even in the country that worships at the altar of personal freedom. Second, and more importantly, thank you to the State of Alaska and thank you Adrienne Bachman. Everything is an opportunity. You have given us an opportunity to turn to those who came forward and say, look, we kept our promise. We were right there in the crosshairs alongside you and you were not alone. You gave me a chance to turn to my children and say, we do not participate in rape culture and shaming of other people by agreeing to play the game. We are not and will not be ashamed of our pasts or our mistakes; we will own our choices and celebrate our lessons. Watch me, learn. The world says be afraid and be ashamed, and part of me wants to listen to that. But my better angels say, screw those guys, set down that shame it belongs to them, and do not agree to play a losing game. Always listen to that voice.

After that speech my son said, “You’re a really good mom.”

My oldest daughter said, “Haters gonna hate, just keep your head up like #noshame.”

And my youngest said, “I wanna come next time, I’ll bring popcorn.” And then she gave me a hug and we all laughed and were better for it.

At church another pastor remarked about Shirley that you could always find the true disciples in the newspaper making waves.

While the state was busy hypothesizing that Ricko was the muscle of the conspiracy, he was busy welcoming a new son to the world and hosting yet another fundraiser to make the world a better place.

 

We are blessed.

Day 12 – FBI Agent Attacks FPD Methods and Eugene Vent Under Cross Examination

October 21, 2015

Gregg McCary took the stand on the twelfth day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four bid for exoneration and testified that the original police interrogations were deeply flawed. McCary is a former FBI agent, who was with the burea from 1969-1995. While with the FBI McCary worked as a criminal profiler and was a contributing author to the FBI’s primary manual – Crime Classification Manual. McCary’s resume is lengthy and he is considered on of the country’s leading experts in criminal profiling and false confessions. The petitioner’s attorneys pointed to McCary’s testimony to argue that the statements of Frese and Vent, the cornerstone of the convictions, were classic false admissions produced after flawed and unethical interrogation. McCary attacked the original police interrogations from nearly every angle, asserting that the tactics employed in the investigation were so troubled that the flawed outcome was predictable.

“They didn’t hunt for any other suspects,” McCary said, “They limited the universe of suspects to these four individuals and never went beyond that.”

McCary focused heavily on the flaws in, and overemphasis upon, the interrogations conducted by Fairbanks Police. He noted that Eugene Vent and George Frese were both in a suggestible state with suggestible personality attributes, and reiterated that the aggressive interrogation style know to lead to false results was essentially the bulk of the investigation.

“The investigators here substituted an interrogation for an investigation,” McCary said.

McCary noted that the interrogations were based false-evidence ploys, and that the interrogations were conducted with intoxicated and sleep deprived subjects. Throughout his testimony he essentially listed the known factors in false confession, explained them, and identified how every single one of them impacted this case.

Prosecutor Ali Rahoi  on behalf of the state objected to the admission of the testimony on the grounds that McCary (the guy who literally wrote the book) was not a qualified expert, that behavioral criminology is not a real profession. So….we cannot really mock that. It kind of does the job itself.

EugeneVentCourtEugene Vent took the stand for his extended cross-examination by special prosecutor Adrienne Bachman. Ironically, after a morning of testimony by a renowned expert in the field that aggressive false evidence based questioning is not effective, Ms. Bachman essentially took that approach in her cross-examination of Vent. Bachman stacked compound leading questions on screaming accusations on disjointed lines of questioning.

Vent maintained a calm demeanor, even as questioning escalated to a level some observes found so unbearable they left the room, one describing it as the most horrific bullying she had ever seen.

Vent seemed less rattled by the behavior than most others in the courtroom. Here are few highlights from his interrogation  cross-examination:

  • Bachman accused Vent of being too drunk to remember whether or not he was scared during interrogation based on his blood alcohol test, yet maintains he was sober enough for interrogation.
  • State introduced some notes that Eugene Vent passed to a girlfriend while he was a sophomore in high school. In once, Vent said of his weeked that he and his “boyz” got “smoked out and loced out.” Bachman insisted that the “boyz” referred to were his codefendants and that “smoked out and loc’ed out” means to smoke marijuana and carry a gun. Bachman has tried her hand at gangsta slang quite a few times during the proceedings and the results are mortifying to watch. Like one of those moms who shops in the junior’s section and says “OMG” too much. Vent clarified that loc’ed out does not mean to carry a gun. Eugene’s writings were a trip down 90’s-slang memory lane. For those of you who missed the decade, “loced out” was a term derived from the Spanish word “loco” and was used essentially to mean….well chilled out? Stoned? Super stoned? Maybe crazy? We don’t know. We didn’t really know then, either, we were pretty far away from the rap scene that proliferated the expression but it was a cool thing to say in a time when we were trying really hard to be cool, and so we used it, almost always associated with getting stoned. And it definitely had no relationship to guns of any kind. Through introduction of this evidence the state reminded us all of a time when people didn’t have text so they wrote notes, and when people got “blazed” and this line of questioning would be called “bunk” and we could give “mad props” to anyone who kept a straight face through that, and of a time long past where apparently Eugene wrote some super dorky notes. Make that hella dorky.
  • Bachman established that while Eugene Vent was being interrogated in 1997 he burped without saying excuse me. The audio introduced reflects that Eugene is likely guilty of the crime of burping without saying “excuse me” in 1997, but we feel that eighteen years of hard time may be a tad overboard for the crime of mediocre manners in a seventeen year old drunk boy.
  • Bachman hammered Vent on his poor manners. “I wasn’t being respectful,” Vent answered, then referring to Detective Aaron Ring, “Neither of us were being respectful.”
  • Bachman also established through a gotcha-vibed series of questions that Eugene Vent had gum in the night in question. “And you left that gum at murder scene at 9th and Barnette, didn’t you?” she said. In a serious anti-climax, Vent replied that no, the gum was collected from him at the police station, and logged in his property report.

The cross-examination was not funny. Human lives are at stake here. If this wasn’t so horribly, tragically, relentlessly tragic, it might be funny. At the least it is a parody of itself because the conduct of the state attorneys is just so painfully ridiculous. What is becoming evident is that these tactics are probably effective on juries (a scary thought) but play poorly to rooms filled with professionals.

Day 11 – Testimony of Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent

KevinCourtTwo of the Fairbanks Four, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent, took the stand during the 11th day of proceedings. The two men spoke to a packed courtroom and recounted the events of the night of October 10th, the early morning of October 11th, and the series of interrogations and events that lead to their wrongful arrest and conviction for the murder of John Hartman,.

Pease and Vent joined Marvin Roberts at the petitioners table, dressed in street clothes and flanked by attorneys. It was clear the three were happy to see each other, but the mood quickly turned somber. Pease and Vent were chained at the waist, and barely able to lift their hands high enough to be sworn in. They are aged. Both men look old enough now to be the fathers of the boys pictured in the photographs the last time they appeared in a Fairbanks Courtroom some eighteen years ago.

Pease took the stand first and described, as his alibi witnesses described in initial 1997 police contact, the original trials, and recently on the stand again, a night spent mostly at a party across town. Pease also described his background, life in 1997, and the police interrogation.

In initial questioning about family background Pease testified that he is an orphan. His father was murdered some six months before Kevin was sent to prison. His mother passed away while he was in custody. In 1997 he was living with his mother in downtown Fairbanks and both of them were grieving the sudden loss of his father. The mood in their house, he said, was tense. Different. Kevin was spending most of his free time with girlfriend Jessica Lundeen, who had to babysit the night of October 10th. So Kevin agreed to attend a party with friends, among them Eugene Vent, Kevin Bradley, Shara David, and Joey Shank. Kevin testified, as have many others, that they remained at a party in the Bradley residence until near 2:00am, then returned to downtown. Kevin was dropped off at home. When he went inside he woke up his mom, who was angry at him for making noise, and even angrier when she saw he was drunk. In his testimony, Pease described an argument that escalated into yelling, with Pease eventually punching the wall. He took off on his three-wheeler and his mother called the police on him. It was this call that led police to bring Pease into the investigation.

Pease described riding the three-wheeler to the home of friends Conan and Shawna Goebel, who both testified to the same series of events and the police behavior during their eventual questioning.

A large amount of testimony and cross-examination was spent on Kevin’s interrogation – specifically his initial choice to lie to detectives. By the time the police picked him up late on October 12, 1997, Pease had already heard rumors that Vent had been implicated in the a serious crime and that police wanted to speak to him about it as well.

“I was scared. I didn’t know what time I came back to town, I didn’t know what time this happened to that kid, I didn’t know what time it was when I walked home alone,” said Pease, his voice cracking into tears. “I was scared.”

It was fear, Pease testified, that motivated him to lie and deny having been out drinking or driving around that night. His girlfriend Jessica Lundeen had suggested he say he was with her all night, and he did. She testified to as much just days before Pease took the stand. Much of cross-examination focused on what State Special Prosecutor described as Pease’s “big whopping lie.” Pease remained adamant that he had lied to detectives out of fear, knew right away it was a mistake when he understood the seriousness of the charges, asked for an attorney, and corrected it.

As cross-examination continued, Pease was asked if he knew a James Wright. Pease testified that he did not, but that he saw that he was aware of his reputation as a snitch due in part to the words “James Wright is a snitch” being carved into the wall of Fairbanks Correctional Center.

Bachman used this line of questioning to accuse Pease of understating his understanding of prison politics.

Pease countered that he understood but preferred not to take part in prison politics, and that it was “common knowledge” that snitches are thought poorly of in prison culture. The line of questioning was interesting in that it likely points to an upcoming snitch witness for the Sate. Perhaps they found him after reading of his snitching abilities on the prison walls.

Kevin Pease was followed by Eugene Vent. Vent was seventeen and had a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit when Officer Aaron Ring interrogated him for nearly 12 hours. Vent eventually agreed that he “probably” assaulted Hartman. Eugene Vent’s interrogation was the focus of cross-examination by Bachman.

EugeneVentCourtVent testified that a lack of confidence in his memory due to intoxication, police insistence that his “footprints were in the blood” and fingerprints at the scene, that witnesses placed him there, and other lies police used in interrogation eventually persuaded him he could have been there.

“I was listening to everything he told me. And eventually, I just believed him, Vent said. “I was feeling terrible, guilty.”

“Why?” Vent’s attorney, Whitney Glover, asked.

“Because I believed I had done something real bad,” Vent said, breaking into tears.

Vent went on to describe in greater detail how the Reid Method interrogation he endured led him to a state of such confusion he didn’t know what happened. Although he maintained innocence for many hours, he said, by the end of the process he was confused, felt obligated to help the officers any way he could, and ultimately followed their lead in agreeing he had “probably hit and kicked” a young John Hartman, and that he “guessed” he had been with George Frese, Kevin Pease, and Marvin Roberts.

“I’m responsible for dragging Marvin and Kevin and George into this and there’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about that,” Vent said, again becoming emotional.

Adrienne Bachman made it clear that she expects his cross-examination to be long and continue through the twelfth day of proceedings.

Although Vent’s eventual acquiescence to the police officers and subsequent implicating statements are often touted by the State of Alaska as the smoking gun in this case, experts in false confessions have called his statements a “textbook false confession.” Experts on the Reid Method, the method of interrogation used on Vent, caution that the method should not be used on minors, people who are intoxicated, or people who have any gaps in their memory. Under any of those circumstances, of which Vent had all three, the method is known to lead to false confession.

Vent’s attorney is expected to call a false confession expert to testify as to the psychology behind Vent’s statements. Continued cross-examination of Vent and the false confession expert testimony are likely to consume the twelfth day of proceedings.

Although revisiting imperfections and bad decisions is embarrassing – discussing a decision to lie to the police, a decision as a teenager to drink, and all the small sins that surface in this case – it is necessary. Because the whole truth is that no one is perfect. The whole truth is that being drunk, poor, Native, and in the wrong place at the wrong time made this possible. The whole truth is what needs to be told, even in moments that it makes the Fairbanks Four or their alibis look imperfect, because the whole truth is that no one is perfect. It is high time for the courts to recognize the truth, for the family of John Hartman to receive the truth, and these men to have opportunity to tell it. Nothing but good will come from that.

truth

Day 5 – A Star Witness Recants

October 9, 2015

The last day of the first week of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four case featured critical witness Arlo Olson recanting the testimony he gave at all three of the trails that led to the convictions now in question.

The importance of Arlo Olson’s testimony in the original convictions of the Fairbanks Four is best described by the prosecutor who relied so heavily upon it:

Simply put,” Jeff O’Bryant told jurors, “if Arlo didn’t see what he saw, and you throw out some of the state’s evidence, the state doesn’t have a case. No doubt about it.”

Olson himself confirmed that he did not see what jurors believed he saw, and that in fact he would not have been able to identify anyone.

“No, it was far. It was dark,” he said, “I was drunk.”

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

Marvin Roberts from 300 feet. Olson identified him from 550 feet away, but now claims that testimony was fabricated.

Jurors from the original trials have described in press interviews how heavily they relied upon Olson’s testimony to reach a verdict. Yet, the testimony on which four men were convicted of a brutal murder has come under significant scrutiny for many years. In the original trials, Olson claimed to have seen all four men together that night, and witnessed them commit an assault against Franklin Dayton. Olson claimed to have seen this from 550 feet away, drunk, in the dark, even though the crowd of people he stood among saw nothing of the sort. The testimony itself was predicated on the idea that one lone person in a crowd had been able to see for a distance and in conditions that greatly surpass the known limitations of the human eye, and the details of the testimony were equally suspect. Olson testified from prison on a videotaped deposition that his original testimony had been fabricated, and coached by Officer Aaron Ring and prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant.

Olson described being interviewed by Officer Ring, and testified that the officer slowly shaped a story to fit the case, supplied him with details, took him to the police garage to see Marvin Robert’s car, and only recorded an interview once the story had “shaped up.” Investigative notes created by Officer Aaron Ring confirm some aspects of Olson’s account, including the trip to the garage and the only partially recorded contact. Olson claimed to have been both afraid and persuaded by the officer’s assurance that the men were guilty. Olson went on to describe how he would sit in the D.A.’s office to practice and memorize the testimony.

“I kept memorizing it and memorizing it and after a while, you start believing it,” he said.

Despite the State of Alaska’s original position that the Olson testimony was critical, there is no indication that it has impacted their strategy of rigorous defense of the original convictions. Under cross-examination Olson largely held his head down and answered “okay” or “I don’t know.” During the deposition he confirmed that he is on medications and struggles with mental illness.

We have long maintained that Olson’s testimony was false, inappropriately influenced, and came from a troubled young man. His testimony, unsurprisingly, confirms all of that.

Arlo Olson was followed by testimony of public defender investigator Thomas Bole and former public defender investigator Richard Norgard. Bole recounted how in 2004 Wallace’s public defender sent him to see Jason Wallace, incarcerated at FCC in connection with the beating death of a young woman, the brutal stabbing of another man, arson, and a conspiracy to take over a drug ring with partner William Holmes that culminated in the Christmas Eve murders of two other victims. When Bole interviewed Wallace, the inmate confessed to the killing of John Hartman. Bole described Wallace as extremely emotional and related how the inmate broke down in tears repeatedly.

Thomas Bole, 2015

Thomas Bole, 2015

The investigator heard and believed the claims, and according to his testimony was burdened by the information but also unable to come forward, constrained by rules of confidentiality. Bole ultimately discussed the Wallace confession with fellow investigator Richard Norgard, a public defender’s investigator who would eventually go on to found the Alaska Innocence Project. It was Norgard who passed the Bole account to the Alaska Innocence Project, sparking a series of sealed and secret filings, hearings, and a long legal debate over who broke the confidentiality owed to Wallace, whether it mattered, and most importantly, whether or not the information would ever be admitted to a court of law, or if it would remain forever sealed and secret. The statements of Wallace were ultimately revealed through an accidental leak by Jason Wallace’s attorney Jason Gazewood, published by the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer, and republished here. The publication of the statements, according to Judge Lyle, for all practical purposes broke the court seal, and allowed the testimony of Bole and Norgard to be open in light of the breach.

Attorneys for the State attempted to dispute the testimony of Bole based, in part, on the psychology theory of confirmation bias. The idea of confirmation bias is that human beings have a tendency to inadvertently seek confirmation of their preexisting notions and ignore contradictory information. Confirmation bias is likely to have impacted many involved in the original case, but did not make logical sense when applied to Bole. The theory is not applicable in Bole’s situation, as there is no indication that Bole had any preexisting notion to confirm when he walked blindly into an investigative interview with Wallace in 2004. The line of questioning baffled Bole, who reiterated that he hadn’t “known Jason Wallace from Adam” when he went in to interview him. “There is the possibility, sir, is there not, that when you spoke with Wallace you heard what you wanted to hear?”

Bole appeared momentarily speechless, shook his head and laughed in apparent disbelief, and said, “No.”

“Not possible?” Bachman repeated.

“No,” said a stunned Bole. “Not possible at all.”

“Jason Wallace told me what he told me, and I am never going to forget that,” Bole stated.

Under continued cross-examination Adrienne Bachman for he State of Alaska asked Bole whether he feared for his career in light of the fact that the now disclosed statements made by Wallace were subject to confidentiality. He immediately confirmed that he did fear for his career, but said that he was ultimately glad that the information had come out, as it weighed on him.

Amid many procedural losses and victories, depositions and examinations, there was the weight of a terrible secret lifting from many shoulders this week inside the Fairbanks Superior Court. we applaud all who have courageously told the truth in this case, especially those who did so in fear for their safety, their careers, of humiliation and more. Courage is not the absence of fear, but bravery in the face of that fear, and it took real courage to do the right thing in this instance.

Some News Links:

Arlo Olson Says His Account Was Fabricated

Fairbanks Four Trial week in Summary

Day Three – Assaulted Man Comes Forward, Wallace Pleads the 5th

October 7, 2015 –

SHpostergrayOn the third day of the legal proceedings which the Fairbanks four believe will lead to their exoneration, the court heard from witnesses who corroborated the Holmes account that he met up with Rashan Brown, Shelmar Johnson, Jason Wallace, and Marquez Pennington, and that the five went on from there to fatally assault John Hartman, from the elderly Robert John who was assaulted by Holmes, Wallace, Brown, Pennington, and Johnson the night in question, and viewed the Wallace deposition, where the convicted killer invoked his right against self-incrimination on nearly every question.

The first witnesses all discussed the events of the high school party where Holmes and the others met up. Regent Epperson testified that she had thrown the party in her mother’s apartment. The party was typical high school fare – with a parent away on a business trip, high school students flooded in and out of the small south side apartment. Epperson denied that Holmes would have been at her party, as she distinctly remembers disliking him for dating two girls at once (although he did not begin dating either of the girls named until some months later) but acknowledged that he could have been in the other room our outside. Two of Regent’s part guests confirm having seen Holmes at the party.

Jennifer Nutt placed both Holmes and Brown at the party, additional witness Phil Duty placed Holmes, Wallace, Brown, and Johnson there. One small detail that is confirmed across witnesses are the undergarments of Rashan Brown, which apparently attracted a great deal of attention. According to Epperson, Holmes, and Duty, Rashan Brown was extremely intoxicated and while he was on the floor his leopard print underwear were visible to other party goers. This was a source of great amusement for the teenager, and is a detail some eighteen years later that remains consistent and fresh.

The Fairbanks Four counsel elicited significant information about the departure of the maroon ford tempo Holmes was driving and claims in his confession was the car used in the assault of Hartman. Philip Duty testified that he wanted to catch a ride with Holmes, but wasn’t able because the car was full. They were, according to the Duty testimony, “riding five deep.” He was able to identify Holmes as the driver, and the passengers as African-American men. The witness testimony confirmed the presence of Holmes and the others he named on the night in question, and placed Holmes leaving with a full car. Bachman, special prosecutor for the State of Alaska focused on the lack of time-specific information. It is absolutely the case that most of the witnesses can testify to the order of events, confirm the events and the date, but eighteen years later are not clear on time.

The party-goers were followed by a feeble and ailing Robert John, an elderly man who persisted through clear physical discomfort to relay the assault he suffered on the same 1997 night that Hartman was killed.

Before we knew that Holmes would confess, had heard his name, knew who really had killed Hartman, or any of the details which have now become central to the case, we knew that there had been a significant number of similar crimes committed that evening. One of the assault victims was Robert John, who was attacked outside Past Time Card Room in Fairbanks. John’s assault was witnessed by a man named Raymond Stickman, who did not know who John was, but reported the attack to Fairbanks Police. In his police statement, Stickman described an “older” Native man attacked near the card room by four African-American youth. He described their car as a four-door full size car, perhaps a Ford.

Robert John testified that three African-American youth attacked him, hitting and kicking him, but ultimately retreated when he fled for the card room. In Holmes’ confession he described an identical assault, and described how as they drove away the group saw “twenty drunk Natives” down an alleyway, and joked that had they chased the man into the alley they would have “got their asses whooped.” Past Time Cards was next to a long alley, and it was into that alley and Past Time cards that John escaped.

Jason Wallace, 2004

Jason Wallace, 2004

Jason Wallace, implicated by his own 2003 confession and the 2011 and 2013 confessions of associate Bill Holmes, made his debut as a witness in the case as well. A videotaped deposition of Wallace showed the man blithely answering various versions invoking his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. He did answer questions unrelated to the Hartman crime, including confirming that he is in prison now after bludgeoning a woman to death with a hammer, driving across town to stab a friend with a screwdriver many times, then returning to the first crime scene to light to woman’s body and fully occupied apartment complex ablaze. The only thing that was made clear by Wallace’s answers to the questions in deposition was that Wallace cannot answer any questions about the murder of John Hartman without incriminating himself, which bolsters the argument that he is criminally responsible for the killing.

liar2The day’s proceedings ended with multiple requests from the State of Alaska to suppress testimony regarding Wallace’s 2003 confession to his public defender and the public defender’s investigator. Judge Lyle struck down the effort, citing the leaked information as an obvious breach of sealed proceedings, and reiterating his desire to consider admissibility only after hearing information in the case. Judge Lyle also declined to keep testimony of the public defender and the public defender’s investigator closed, citing the same reasons.

“I couldn’t stop the press from publishing what 18,000 people had already seen. This information is out in the public, and if the only place it cannot be public is in this courtroom, in this case, where it’s relevant, then there has to be something wrong with that law,” Lyle said.

Adrienne Bachman, on behalf of the state, cautioned the judge that he should warn the witnesses about their potential criminal liability should they choose to testify. Judge Lyle challenged Bachman to validate the threat with either law or through the constitution, and she was unable to do either. So, to clarify, Bachman made a thinly veiled threat of prosecution toward these witnesses once they were admitted against her wishes, despite clarity on their testimony not being illegal. If that doesn’t sound familiar, revisit any of the original witnesses who gave testimony against the state’s interest and were threatened with criminal prosecution. It is a trick, but not a new one.

The prosecution’s theory is that the Holmes confession is entirely fabricated. For this theory to hold water, that would mean a lot of people secured a time machine and went back to 1997 to fabricate corroborating details and police reports to match the Holmes account. The petitioner’s attorneys continue to argue steadily and convincingly that George Frese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts, and Kevin Pease are, as they have claimed to be since their arrests, innocent of the murder of John Hartman, and that William Holmes, Rashan Brown, Shelmar Johnson, Marquez Pennington, and Jason Wallace are responsible for the crime. The proceedings to present the evidence for each theory will continue until the end of October, and the ultimate outcome will rest in the hands of Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle.

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.