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.

notagangsta

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.

shirley2

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.

Ricko-and-kids

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.

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Day 16 – State of Alaska Calls Margaretta Hoffman, Others

Day 16, October 27 2015

collage2The third day of the State of Alaska’s case against the exoneration of the Fairbanks Four featured the completion of the videotaped Veronica Solomon testimony, Margaretta Hoffman, Jason Wallace’s wife Michone Wallace, Harold Lundeen, and Brent Ledford. The testimony generally brief. The only witnesses thus far who have incriminated the Fairbanks Four – Veronica Solomon and Margaretta Hoffman – did not testify in person and were therefore not available for potentially impeaching cross-examination on the stand.

The remaining half of Veronica Solomon was played, during which Solomon contradicted much of her earlier testimony, acknowledged that she had no information regarding the guilt or innocence of the Fairbanks Four, but insisted, “I saw something, and that something meant something.” Solomon acknowledged a summary of what she saw was a tan four-door car at the corner of 9th or 10th and Barnette on a day she thought could be October 11, 1997. Precisely what Solomon saw was difficult to discern, and discussed in detail in our previous post.

The State of Alaska has sought throughout the proceedings to undermine the credibility of the Holmes and Wallace confessions by arguing that the fact that they did not confess during other specific windows of opportunity somehow casts doubt on the current confessions. Wallace, Lundeen, and Ledford, appear to have been called simply to say that Holmes and Wallace had not confessed to them.

Jason Wallace’s wife testified that Wallace never mentioned killing John Hartman. She further testified that neither Jason Wallace nor William Holmes ever divulged their longstanding plans to commit the murders that ultimately landed them in jail. If the goal of the testimony was to establish probable innocence based on Jason Wallace not confessing to some people closer in his life than the friend, attorney, and public defender’s investigator he did confess to, it certainly fell short. Michone Wallace’s testimony only established the men in fact have a history of committing murders without discussing it with many people.

Harold Lundeen testified that he saw Scott Wallace and Davison enter the car named in the Davison testimony. It was inside that car, Davison previously testified, that Wallace confessed to killing John Hartman. However, it was clear that the State did not call Lundeen for the corroboration, but to demonstrate another person they believe Wallace would have told. Lundeen testified that he also didn’t have any knowledge of the his high school friend, Jason Wallace’s, involvement in the Hartman murder. In what earlier witness Scott Davison claimed was simply a typo, “Holmes” was referred to as “Harold” in the account of a confession Davison heard from Jason Wallace in 1997. Harold Lundeen, who knew Holmes, Wallace, and Davis in high school, simply testified that he did not know anything of significance.

Retired California Shasta County district attorney who prosecuted William Holmes in the murders and conspiracy that sent him to prison, Brent Ledford, provided conjecture and essentially a cost-benefit analysis on whether or not William Holmes should have disclosed the Hartman killing and turned informant on Jason Wallace at the time Holmes was arrested in 2002.  He described how it may or may not have been advantageous for Holmes to confess to the Hartman killing and implicated Wallace. Mr. Ledford ultimately implied it would not have proved advantageous Holmes to confess at that time. In his testimony, Holmes simply said he did not believe that confessing to another murder would be of any benefit to him while being prosecuted for another murder.

devildealWhen Mr. Ledford was asked about negotiating leniency for Jason Wallace in exchange for his testimony against Holmes he stated, “Sometimes we have to make a deal with the devil,” referencing Wallace.

Ledford’s also testified that from 2002-2006, a time period during which he worked on prosecuting William Holmes, no one to include public defender Jeff Wildridge and investigator Tom Bole, brought up allegations of Jason Wallace’s involvement in the beating death of John Hartman.  So far the “devil” has received leniency on murder, arson, and attempted murder charges from his 2002 arrest. He was most recently granted immunity in the beating death of John Hartman in exchange for his testimony for the State of Alaska.  The “devil” knows how to work the judicial system to his benefit – he’s only honest when he can benefit from doing so.

State prosecutor Bachman  built on her consistent assertion that no one tells the truth without benefit to themselves.  Holmes did not receive any leniency or personal gain for telling the truth. Coming forward without incentive has consistently been cited by the state as a reason to doubt Holmes’ credibility.  Holmes testified earlier in the proceedings that the decision to come forward was about his own spiritual journey.

After a string of witnesses who were largely forgettable or did not testify to any substance, the most outrageous testimony of the day was given by Margareta Hoffman aka ‘Crystal’  – an ex-girlfriend of Kenny Mayo. Hoffman’s testimony contradicted all police interviews from the original investigation and previous trial testimony regarding the time or circumstances when Marvin Roberts returned to his home the night of the Hartman murder. The testimony of the occupants of the home and Marvin Roberts himself has consistently been that no one was awake when Roberts returned home. Kenny Mayo is Marvin Robert’s step father’s brother. Hoffman claimed that the night Hartman was killed she was at Marvin Robert’s home with her then-boyfriend and contrary to all previous testimony, that there was a wild party afoot at the home. Hoffman provided a hearsay account of a conversation allegedly had between Roberts and Mayo. Petitioners attorneys countered that Kenny Mayo, whom the state was reluctant to call, must be called and was expected to testify that none of the events described by Hoffman took place.

Hoffman has a long history of drug an alcohol abuse and a significant criminal record. She went by “Crystal,” a nod to her significant crystal meth use, for years. Hoffman testified that she did not come forward until 2013 after seeing coverage of the Fairbanks Four exoneration efforts on television.  She expressed extreme difficulty remembering even general times of significant events in her life stating, “I have a hard time remembering years.”  When asked how long she dated Mr. Mayo she replied, “Six to eight years, give or take a year.”  Mrs. Hoffman isn’t sure if she dated Mr. Mayo five to nine years, which exhibits the kind of extreme memory loss associated with heavy drug use. Yet, testimony that Hoffman could provide details of a specific date in 1997 were submitted by the state as reliable.

Mrs. Hoffman testified that on the night in question she was drinking alcohol and using cocaine at the home of Art and Hazel Mayo, whom she said she had only met a handful of times, while her boyfriend Kenny went out to a dance.  She testified that Kenny Mayo returned some time between 12-2am and that Marvin Roberts returned an hour or two after Kenny Mayo.  Hoffman’s testimony claims that Marvin Roberts returned home between 1-4am.  Hoffman testified that when Roberts came in, he and Kenny Mayo went into a back room to talk.

Mrs. Hoffman asserts that Kenny exited Marvin Roberts’s room with some black leather “professional-looking” shoes and told Hoffman they had to go.

“It was daylight/twilight when we left.”  According to Mrs. Hoffman’s time line the very latest she would have left the Mayo house was at 4:30am. National weather records indicate that sunrise would have been after 9:00am. Hoffman further testified that Kenny Mayo told her they had to get rid of the shoes because Mr. Roberts and some friends had beat up some kid.  She reported seeing dried orange brown blood on the black leather shoes. This piece of testimony elicited immediate public skepticism, as it is impossible for a person to see an orange stain on a black shoe.

In addition to impossible visual descriptions, memory issues, and time frame inaccuracies, the questioning directed to Hoffman by the State often seemed leading.

Bachman asked, “How long was this before Mr. Roberts was arrested?”

Hoffman answered, “It was the morning before.”

Bachman quickly corrected her, “It was a day or two before.”

Without pause for thought Hoffman immediately replied, “Yes.”

Bachman routinely uses behavioral and linguistic manipulations in her questioning. This was particularly apparent in the videotaped deposition of Hoffman.

Hoffman asserted that Kenny Mayo made mention of John Hartman being sodomized with a lightbulb or a flashbulb, testimony that does not comply with the forensic findings of the case.

addupHoffman was asked on cross-examination about her drug use and testified that she started using cocaine in 1994 or 1995 and began using methamphetamines in 2004-2005.  Mrs. Hoffman reported recent sobriety on a timeline discredited by arrest records.“I’ve been sober a couple of years – yeah, two years.”  Petitioner’s attorneys also cross-examined Hoffman about her criminal record, which included three DUI’s, harboring, aiding, and abetting two individuals in escaping Fairbanks Youth Facility, an assault against Kenny Mayo in 2001, and theft. It was ultimately revealed that Hoffman has an extensive history of drug and alcohol abuse, was most recently charged with a probation violation in May of 2014 (which the prosecutors declined to prosecute), and exhibits memory issues. The most significant factual issues with her testimony were:

  • Hoffman testified that the latest they could have left the Mayo’s home was at 4:30am, and that it was daylight out when they left. This is factually impossible, as sunrise was many hours later.
  • Hoffman testified that she was at the Mayo residence, but the statements of all others in and around the home state Hoffman was not at the Roberts/Mayo residence during the time frame she describes.
  • Hoffman had a volatile relationship with Kenny Mayo, which ended for the last time when she was arrested for assaulting him. There was the undeniable “scorned woman” element to her testimony. Her testimony would, it is important to remember, implicate ex boyfriend Kenny Mayo in a serious crime and therefore is a vehicle for both public condemnation and accusation.
  • Hoffman testified that she has been sober for “two years” when in fact she has been arrested for crimes related to alcohol or drug use as recently as May 2014.
  • Hoffman claimed that the night in question she was using cocaine and alcohol, and that she was a regular user of cocaine and crystal meth from 1994 to 2013. Both substances alter brain chemistry, amnesia, psychosis, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, mood disturbances, changes in brain structure, and more, casting doubt on the general cognitive functioning of Hoffman given her prolonged use.
  • Hoffman has a history of crimes of dishonesty and abuses of the justice system for personal gain.
  • Hoffman testified that she saw orange stains, presumed to be blood, on black shoes. As readers can extrapolate themselves, it is not possible to see a colored stain on black leather.

In the end, it was clear that the State of Alaska strategy is to muddy the waters at any cost, including on the backs of those with altered functioning, ulterior motives, and the trick not yet seen but as common and likely, the bargained-for testimony of criminals.

The proceedings should have citizens asking big questions. Why do we “have to make a deal with the devil?” Is using the testimony of the incapacitated a form of institutional abuse? Does our justice system seek justice? And most importantly, what can we do to change it?

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

elephantsfight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Introducing The Big Bad Wolf I – Officer Clifford “Aaron” Ring

justicequoteThe decision to fight for the Fairbanks Four has not come without hardship. Many of us who chose to take a stand have, and will continue to, come under attack. One of the hardest things to do is speak out against people who we know are powerful, at least in the worldly sense. However, it is also one of the most important things we have done and will do. This is one of those difficult posts.

We are not fighting against an accident. We are not rallying against an injustice of coincidence. The Fairbanks Four were not the unfortunate four harmed by chance. They were the victims of deliberate actions taken by human beings. We do not believe that means they were forsaken by their maker or tossed aside. Instead, they came under the hardship they were born to bear, and we were given the responsibility of freeing them and exposing the anatomy of injustice in our hometown so that a greater good could come of it.

We have discussed some of the noteworthy corruption in a previous post HERE  and we do not plan to stop talking about corruption in this case until it is fully revealed, until those who committed the crime of deliberate injustice are exposed, and until amends are made to all who were hurt.

We will never be able to make a completely comprehensive post about the players in this case whose mistakes or deliberate actions led to this injustice. It is not possible to know the heart and mind, and therefore the intentions, of another human being. But we can tell you what we know and what we have been told about the men and women whose actions and choices paved the road to this injustice. It is not our wish to enact revenge on them. It is only our wish that the whole truth be known someday so that there may come a time when there is indeed justice for all.

We will post a series of pieces on individuals who played a critical role in the arrest, investigation, wrongful conviction, and illegal incarceration of the Fairbanks Four.

Clifford “Aaron” Ring

aaron ringIt seems fitting to make Aaron Ring first in the “Big Bad Wolf” recounting of the key players in the wrongful conviction of the Fairbanks Four. If this was a movie, he would be the bad guy. He was extremely active in the case, from the initial arrests to the court trials, and touched almost every aspect of the case.

George Frese, Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, and Kevin Pease have spent most of the last 18 years in 5X8 concrete prison cells, often for 23 of 24 hours in a day. For the duration of their time in prison, and indeed since their arrests, all four have procalimed their innocence in a case that has long been one of the most contested and controversial in Alaska’s history.

AaronRingsHouseBy contrast, Aaron Ring lives here. The only thing these accommodations have in common is, of course, that both are funded by the State of Alaska. The retired FPD officer lives in Florida now on a comfortable pension where apparently he can wake up every morning, put his shoes on one at a time, eat breakfast, and apparently go about life with no outward betrayal of regret, if it is there at all.

The goal of this case-specific wrongful conviction blog has been to tell a wrongful conviction story in great detail to create a broader awareness of the issue at large and this case. We have long implored the public to come forward with any information related to this case and enter a public dialogue. What we receive in response to that request perhaps more often than anything else is information on or complaints about Officer Aaron Ring. We have had multiple source accusations of race-based hate crimes by Aaron Ring as a juvenile and young adult at Lathrop High School, two accusations of sexual assault on an underage victim, one while a uniformed officer and one not. We have had many unsolicited reports by people who had contact with officer Aaron Ring as juveniles that they consider abusive. These range from actual assaults (being thrown on the ground, hit, tripped, knocked off a bicycle, slammed on a car door, etc.) to pseudo-assaults (being cuffed in the back of a police car while the breaks are repeatedly slammed), to psychologically abusive contact. Keep in mind, these accusers all have one thing in common –  they were CHILDREN when these events occurred.

This is not the first time that dozens upon dozens of alleged adult victims of child abuse have come forward to finger an individual who held a trusted position in the community. The Catholic Church had a whole scandal. Teachers, boy scout troop leaders, favorite coaches, priests, pastors…….this is recognizable territory. A scandal tends to deepen as more and more alleged victims surface with their claims. In general, mounting accusations are often perceived as confirmation that there is after all “something to it.” We have all seen that before, and on our side of the internet we are seeing it again here.

We are neither qualified nor prepared to evaluate or determine the veracity of these statements. But we want to acknowledge that they have been made.

What we can document and verify is the conduct and speech on record by Officer Aaron Ring as he investigated the Fairbanks Four case, and we have. These pages ultimately together just tell a story, and Aaron Ring is a character that appears over and over. Here are some of the more stand-out moments of his conduct.

  • Aaron Ring lied to the people being interviewed and threatened them. He made up evidence, told people that their friends or families had placed them there or told the officers they were lying, threatened people with jail or other harm if they failed to agree.
  • Aaron Ring, according to multiple witnesses, turned the tape recorders off and on during police interviews. Ring used the times the recorder was off, according to these witnesses, to threaten them more directly, provide more extreme false information, or reassure them that if they just said what he wanted them to say it would not be a big deal. Alaska law requires interrogations be taped in their entirety.
  • When George Frese said, “I want to go home,” Aaron Ring claimed he had said it alone in an empty room. Ring would have been obligated to stop the interrogation if George (which he indeed did) asked to go home.
  • When Eugene Vent, drunk and only seventeen, said “I want my mama,” Ring downplayed the statement and continued with the interview.
  • Played the major part in some of the most harrowing interviews in the case, including Shara David, Edgar Henry, Antonio Sisto, Eugene Vent, George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts, and conducted the first interview with Chris Stone, which is “missing,” and with EJ Stephens, likewise “missing.”
  • Aaron Ring made a damning and misleading exhibit with the help of prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant. This exhibit was called “totally unscientific” by the only expert who saw it in trial, but he was not called to testify. The exhibit was not to scale, and consisted of an overlay of George Frese’s boot print overtop of a photo of the victim. The size had been adjusted to create an appearance of a match. The lab logo was left on the boot print, creating the misleading impression that the exhibit had been created by scientists.

We must preface the following with a statement that we have no comment as to the veracity of the accusations made below. We have no idea if the accusations below are valid, but can only report that the following accusations have been made against Aaron Ring in statements to us by others.

  • A woman contacted us to tell us that she had known Aaron Ring as a young man, from adolescence to his late teens. She was substantially younger than him and claims he sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions.
  • Several individuals claiming to have known Ring in high school have contacted us to claim that Ring was widely known as a racist, and was extremely and overtly racist against Native students.
  • A woman contacted us to tell us her now-deceased daughter claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Aaron Ring as a teenager and while Aaron Ring was on duty as a police officer. According to this woman, Ring made contact with her teen daughter and picked her up for underage consumption of alcohol, but agreed to let her go in exchange for sex acts, and threatened her with severe legal consequences if she did not comply. Her story was apparently taken and preserved by a local journalist.
  • A man contacted us to tell us that as a young person he was arrested by Aaron Ring and was physically assaulted during the arrest. The man claims that while he was in the back of the squad car Mr. Ring repeatedly and deliberately slammed on the breaks to cause injury to the him.
  • More than a dozen individuals have contacted us to report that Aaron Ring used unnecessary force.
  • A Fairbanks resident alerted us to the existence of the Henry Kettendorf case – a young man named Henry Kettendorf was shot and killed by Aaron Ring in downtown Fairbanks. The case created some controversy at the time. An eyewitness to the shooting described it very differently than the officers at the scene. A transcript was later published by reporter Gene George of “The Athabascan Report,” in which officers can be heard mocking Kettendorf, his death, and threatening to conspire against the witness to the shooting. After years of searching for this particular edition of the publication and finding it was removed from nearly every library in the state, we finally procured a copy.

There was a time when we believed, or at least wanted to, that this was all one big mistake. But the more information that surfaces about the case, the more it seems that the wrongful conviction of the Fairbanks Four was not a mistake so much as an event on a timeline of terrible deeds committed against the young and vulnerable of Alaska for minimal personal gain. We can choose to believe, and for now we will, that the actions that harmed so many were not so much intentional as they were the byproduct of a kind of thinking so ingrained that it produced great harm. If someone as a young person believes an entire race to be animalistic or below them it is not hard to imagine that deep seeded thought growing into a tree of injustice as the person’s schemas hardened and their power grew. Whether a source is corrupted or bad is impossible to say, but there is wisdom in the verse that says “Ye shall know them by their fruit.”

To change the landscape of our community or country as it relates to biased thinking inside the justice system it is not enough to attack the tree or judge the fruits, we have to ensure that the seeds of racism and bias are not sown into the minds of the next generation and find a way to articulate their visibility in our current social structures. There comes a point where an individuals intentions in a series of actions do not matter nearly as much as the fact that they were capable. In other words –  maybe didn’t know better. And if that is the case perhaps the people most responsible for the damage he did are those who surrounded him, knew better, and stayed silent.

Many children were harmed in the making of this wrongful conviction. The players in this game who moved them like pawns failed to calculate the outcome now at hand – they didn’t crush ALL of those children. Some persevered. Some found self-worth against the odds. Some of those kids didn’t fall into addiction,early graves, fold into the small town inside a small town and disappear into the familiar. Some did not bow down under shame. Some of them grew up. And they remembered.

As for Aaron Ring, accountability is not ours to assign. As is often the case, there is probably not as much peace inside the beautiful Florida home as there appears to be from outside. All we can do is wish him well, hope that if he indeed struggles with the demon of pride or racism or rage that he wrestles it and prevails, and that if he is guilty of any actions that were illegal that the justice system may find him and treat him fairly. After all, our wish is the same for him as it is for you, or for the Fairbanks Four. Justice for all.

Race in the Case – The Hartman Murder was a Hate Crime

bookertwashingtonJohn Hartman was killed in the commission of a premeditated racial hate crime.

 “A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a ‘criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.’” – F.B.I.

According to William Holmes who confessed in detail to his role in killing John Hartman, he and four friends went out onto the streets of Fairbanks the night they attacked Hartman to physically assault Native Alaskans.

Holmes and his fellow conspirators “decided to go downtown and have some fun.” Their idea of “fun”?

Harassing “drunk natives by throwing eggs at them, or 2 or 3 guys from the car would jump out with the driver still in the running car and punch them. We’d laugh at them falling or a cigarette flying from their mouth upon impact. The thrill came from running away, speeding off and messing with these drunks barely able to walk.”

holmesletterOn the night that they killed John Hartman, Holmes describes patrolling downtown looking for Native victims. The group found at least one victim, but their attack was thwarted when others appeared on the scene. When they were unable to find the victim they were looking for – a vulnerable Native person walking alone – they decided to end their “fun.” Sadly, as they were driving out of the downtown area they spotted “a white boy” walking alone and decided he would have to do. The group fell on the young boy with no warning, knocked him to the ground, and kicked him into a coma that would prove fatal.

John Hartman was kicked and stomped to death with violence so callous it defies explanation. He was killed because five young men carried with them a racial hate so strong and dehumanizing that group beatings of vulnerable Natives was a form of recreation. John Hartman was killed by hate directed toward a race of people he did not belong to in life. But in death, he joined a long list of the persecuted. He is not the first boy to die at the hands of race-based violence, but he may be the only white child to die in the cross-hairs of racism against Alaska’s first people.

In the days after Hartman was killed, when his face and the faces of the young men wrongfully accused of his murder appeared on the front page of the local newspaper, someone bought that paper and brought it back to Midtown Apartments, where a group of people acquainted with the four accused gathered around to read in disbelief. An elderly woman looking over our shoulders said, “I bet they were looking for a Native boy, I wish they had found one.”

For the majority of Fairbanks residents the idea that a young person could be attacked at random and assaulted simply for walking alone was unfathomable. Yet, for another sector of the community, it was routine. The other side of the story in a community where violent beatings are a form of recreation, and a person’s ethnicity is what makes them a target, and in turn makes them invisible to the rest of the community, was that there was a legion of kids who were familiar with the attacks. Scores of boys who were on guard, who slipped into the bushes when a car approached, who ran like hell when they heard the sound of tires slowing down behind them because those kids knew it was the cops or the people who jumped Natives, and that both were dangerous. Kids who curled into a ball and protected their heads if they didn’t run fast enough. If they had found the victim they meant to find, maybe no one would have died.

Eugene. Eugene was walking alone that night. They wanted Eugene, but the timing was off.

George. George walked downtown the very same evening, and George was exactly who they were looking for.

Pick a name off the witness list. Pull a name from the wedding guest book. Nearly every person whose life would intersect with the wrongful arrest, trials, conviction, and decades long fight to overturn it was guilty of the crime of being Native that night, and it was hate directed at them that motivated the men who killed John Hartman. It was that same hate, woven into the fabric of the community and its institutions, which allowed for the immediate arrest and wrongful conviction of people who were guilty of nothing besides being Native.

This hate is alive and well, virtually unchanged since 1997. Ask any Native man if they have been physically attacked in the streets of Fairbanks at random, and you will hear the stories. Read the crime statistics, sexual assault statistics, human rights reports. Read. Open your eyes, look. Open any Alaskan Craigslist and word search the term “Natives,” and you will read the thoughts of the community members who carry this hate. The posts below are chosen at random, and simply some of the most recent posts on the topic in the local Craigslist. We include them simply as a reminder that this hate remains, and offer it as “proof” of racism to those readers who believe that racism does not exist, or that conversations about race undermine the credibility of our cause. We are not playing the race card. We are playing the had we were dealt.

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The newspapers continue to describe the assault as random, when in reality the assault that killed John Hartman was premeditated, and the motivation was racial hate. The fact that he was walking at that moment, at that intersection, that the men responsible had not been able to find their ideal victim, that the assault proved fatal – perhaps all of that can be considered the product of coincidence. But his murder was not random violence – it was very specific and intentional violence.

The two most common pieces of advice we receive in writing this blog are to avoid writing about race or John Hartman, because it makes people uncomfortable. But we are not here to make anyone comfortable, we are here to tell the truth. And the truth is, race was a huge factor in this case.CL6

Racial hate motivated the crime, it motivated the wrongful arrest and conviction of innocent young men, and it was the overtly stated factor used to dismiss the testimony of many witnesses.

John Hartman deserves justice. He was killed in hate and denied justice in hate, and that is not an acceptable legacy for a loved and innocent child. Nearly every person who speaks of this young man in life emphasizes his kindness and open-mindedness. He deserves better than this. His family deserves the truth. The community that rallied around his memory and his family to demand justice deserve the truth.

The answer to hate is not silence. The answer to hate is not fear. The answer to hate is not regret, grief, shame, and it certainly is not hate. The only counter to hate is love. So with love, we think it is time to start an honest conversation about race in this case, race in our community, and what we can do to change the future for the better.

Readers, we want to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment, tell your story, share your thoughts.

We heard the advice loud and clear to stay away from the topic of race so that people feel comfortable, and it reminded us how very important it is to make people uncomfortable. This post will mark the first in a series about race in this case, because if we can’t even say the words, we will never be able to change the story. We welcome contributors.

Appeals Court Reveals Second Murder Confession in Hartman Murder

In a ruling made public today, the Alaska Appellate Court has shot down the efforts of inmate Jason Wallace to keep his confession to the murder of John Hartman out of court.

Although the exact statements of Jason Wallace related to his participation in the 1997 murder for which the Fairbanks Four were convicted and remain incarcerated have yet to be revealed to the public, the ruling confirms that Jason Wallace made statements to “an investigator working for his attorney which, if true, would tend to exculpate four defendants who were previously convicted of the same crime that J.W. described.” Wallace, currently incarcerated for another murder and represented by Fairbanks attorney Jason Gazewood who was most recently in the news after being held in contempt of court, has fought the release of his confession since the Alaska Innocence Project entered them under seal as part of a Post Conviction Relief filing based on actual innocence on behalf of the Fairbanks Four. Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease, and George Frese were arrested and convicted of the Hartman murder in October of 1997. the four young men were convicted despite a wealth of alibi evidence and with no physical evidence of any kind linking them to the victim or each other.

Jason Wallace has been fingered as an alternate suspect in the Hartman killing since at least 2004, but a substantial statement related to his involvement proved elusive. Finally, in a sworn affidavit to the Alaska Innocence Project dated in 2008, high school acquaintance of Wallace Scott Davison detailed the statements about the killing Wallace had made to him just days after the murder. Davison was absolutely bullied and berated by the State of Alaska for coming forward.

According to oral arguments made during a recent misconduct hearing on the case, in 2011 William Holmes, a Fairbanks man serving a double life sentence in a California prison for unrelated murders, developed a relationship with correctional officer and chaplain Joseph Torquato. Holmes told Torquato about his life in Alaska and his troubled past. On December 5th, 2011 Holmes detailed to Torquato his role in the stomping murder of a young boy for which four innocent men were imprisoned. Torquato was so compelled by the statements of William Holmes that he went home the same night and used the internet to research similar murders in Alaska. He came upon the Hartman case, and the next day when he saw Holmes he asked him, “Does the name Hartman mean anything to you?” to which Holmes replied, “Do you mean John Hartman?” The inmate confirmed that the murder he had confessed to the previous day was indeed the Hartman murder. Torquato implored Holmes to come forward to Fairbanks authorities, but he refused.

The correctional officer then took the information to his supervisor and together the two composed what is now referred to in proceedings as the “Torquato Memo.” Torquato sent the written account of the confession by Holmes to the Fairbanks Police department. They forwarded it to the District Attorney’s office. Ultimately, neither party took action.

The State’s failure to disclose the confession of Holmes when first received was the subject of the July 30th hearing in Fairbanks Superior Court, where the state argued that the wording of the Code of Ethics as written in 2011 should have allowed the prosecutor to withhold the confession, although they conceded that such conduct would not be acceptable in 2014. They further argued that because the Fairbanks Four had been convicted by 2011 that they did not have any remaining constitutional due process rights.

Counsel for the Fairbanks Four argued that there were indeed state and federal constitutional rights violated through the withholding of the Holmes confession, and that the ethical obligation to disclose the confession was so clear that it was “offensive to justice” to have withheld it. Attorneys for the Fairbanks Four discussed the harm that had come to the four men’s case as a result of the State’s decision to hide the Holmes confession. Among other things, they cited the 2014 deaths of two witnesses who had heard confessions from Marquez Pennington. Had the State revealed the confession as obligated, the argued, the witnesses may have been alive to testify that Marquez Pennington made admissions in the case as well. This small comment was the first reference to yet a third confession – the confession of Marquez Pennington. 

A decision as to whether the actions of the District Attorney violated the rights of the men known as the Fairbanks Four is forthcoming from Judge Paul Lyle.

Despite the State decision to withhold the confession, it eventually came out. Holmes confessed directly to the Alaska Innocence Project. In 2012, Holmes mailed a detailed and handwritten confession to his role in the killing of John Hartman in which he named Jason Holmes, Marquez Pennington, Shelmar Johnson, and Rashan Brown. The five teenagers, according to Holmes, went out that night hoping to assault “drunk Natives” for fun, and after being unable to find the ideal victim happened upon John Hartman. According to Holmes Jason Wallace was the ringleader of the vicious assault, but all four of the other men he named attacked and killed Hartman, while Holmes served as driver. (Read the Holmes confession HERE). IMG_7092

The Holmes confession provided answers long-sought by the Fairbanks Four and their families and friends who for nearly two decades have insisted on their innocence. It also corroborated the affidavit of Scott Davison, and became the centerpiece of the 2013 Alaska Innocence Project filing for Post Conviction Relief on behalf of the men. Also contained in the filing were statements made by Jason Wallace said to “corroborate the confession of William Holmes.”

The statements by Wallace, potentially subject to attorney-client privilege, were filed under seal and it was never known if they would be made public. Jason Wallace can, and likely will, appeal the decision to release his confession to the Alaska Supreme Court, although it seems unlikely that they would opt to hear the case. The decision by the Court of Appeals only applies to the narrow issue of whether or not the judge CAN consider it for admission. It is still possible that Judge Lyle will not declare it admissible. It is possible that he may admit it and keep it confidential.

This wins a battle, but the war is long.

story1Whatever the legal meanderings of this case through the maze of a truly sick justice system, we have as much faith today as we did when we wrote our first post. The first time anyone ever used the term “Fairbanks Four” we used it with this promise beside it  –  “This is story of injustice, a plea for help, for understanding, and above all a story of faith in the power of stories, of the truth. Writing this blog is an act of faith, a testimony to the power of the truth, spoken, read. We may not be experts in journalism, in law, or many other things. But the contributors here come from Alaska, from a culture that has a long tradition of storytelling, and a belief that the truth holds incredible power. This is a long story, and we will have to tell it the old way, the slow way, in pieces as they come.”

This story is unfolding as we knew it would and know it will because we have known the ending since the beginning. This blog is still a story, told in pieces as they come. Today, this is a new piece of a long story. This movement is still a plea for help. We need you to share this story and do what you can to right a wrong.

Above all, it is still an act of faith and we have absolute faith in the good of people like you and the power of the truth.

State of Alaska Responds to Fairbanks Four Claim of Innocence

clockTick, tock. Tick, tock.

Life is about time. Time is all we have, really. And time is what the State of Alaska has stolen from so many, and what they are always wanting more of.

In the last hours of the last day remaining of the six month extension the State of Alaska was granted to review the Alaska Innocence Project’s motion for post conviction relief based on actual innocence for the Fairbanks Four, the State of Alaska has finally responded.

In September the Alaska Innocence Project and attorney Colleen Libby filed motions claiming that George Frese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts, and Kevin Pease were innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. The state responded to that claim (which spanned some 131 pages) with a 23 page response which focuses largely on legal technicalities and little on the inherent accuracy of the claim that the Fairbanks Four are innocent, and that five other men are actually responsible for the violent beating death of John Hartman.

In general the response by the state reads like a typical attack by a prosecutor made on the arguments of opposing counsel. The response appears to be hastily written, with typos and a very conversational tone. It is not an thorough nor is it an independent review of the case and the claims of innocence by the Fairbanks Four, which is what the State of Alaska assured the Alaskan public is what they would receive at the end of the long extension (HERE).

In fact, the complexity of the case and the need to be thorough were cited as primary reasons for the long extension request. Senators Begich and Murkowski both wrote open letters to the governor (HERE and HERE) stating the importance of a thorough and independent review. Murkowski demanded that “no stone be left unturned.” In response, the State of Alaska overturned no stones. In fact, they only attempted to bury the stones. Begich asserted that “there can be no excuse for not having acted quickly in pursuit of justice and fairness for all involved.” In response, the State of Alaska acted slowly in pursuit of vague and poorly crafted arguments that this case should be kept out of court, with no indication that these arguments were in the interest of justice nor fairness.

We will highlight some of the most important and striking statements made by Alaska Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman on behalf of the State, and respond to them here. In this post we will focus on a few of her most important and central arguments. In the days to come we will continue to provide specific responses to the many statement made by the State. For tonight we will highlight the principle attacks on the Holmes confession. Quotes from the filing are in bold.

“As reported at the court’s last status hearing, investigation into the allegations made in the petitions is not complete.”

Let us begin by clarifying the roles of the State and Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a legal non-profit. They function as a neutral third party who conducts independent reviews and investigations of cases that are referred to them and pass the initial screening process, during which it is determined that there exists a credible indication that the case may be one of wrongful conviction. They then complete a review and investigation and produce findings. In the case of the Fairbanks Four there has only ever been one independent investigation. That investigation was done by the Innocence Project, and the findings of that investigation were made public through the filing of a post conviction relief motion.

The State of Alaska was tasked only with reviewing and verifying the information in the PCR filing made by Alaska Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is staffed by one attorney, run by a volunteer board, and funded through donations and grants alone. They investigated a case that originated in 1997, reviewed all original materials, investigated the assault of Hartman, procured at least one direct confession, and filed their findings in less than eighteen months. By contrast, the State of Alaska has scores of attorneys at their disposal, access to the use of Alaska State Troopers, police, Alaska Bureau of Investigation, and millions of dollars in their budget for this fiscal year alone. Yet, they were unable to thoroughly review the work of one attorney in an eight month period. This is cause for concern. Furthermore, they failed to even scratch the surface of the task given them, which was to complete a review of the Alaska Innocence Project findings and investigate the evidence contained within. Instead of investigating the information to verify its accuracy they simply crafted an argument to keep the information out of court.

Let us also clarify what exactly the Fairbanks Four are asking for. They have filed a motion for post conviction relief that asks the state to vacate their convictions. It does not ask for immediate exoneration and release. It asks for convictions that were obtained with incomplete information, fictional information, fabricated testimony, coached and bribed testimony, and junk science to be vacated. The state could comply with that request and proceed into a trial. If the State of Alaska could convict them today with all available information admitted into trial, they could vacate these convictions and return to court to have an honest and fair trial, kinda like the one promised to all Americans in the constitution. It is not the release of the Fairbanks Four the State of Alaska is arguing against, it is their right to have a jury of their peers determine their guilt or innocence in a court of law. For eight months the State of Alaska has, with its virtually limitless resources, produced a document that not only fails to fulfill its expressed purpose, but is by their own admission “not complete.”

 

Bachman makes numerous and vigorous assertions that the testimony of William Holmes (HERE) is not in fact a confession, but hearsay.

“What the petitioners present amounts only to hearsay allegations that a third person, Jason Wallace, made incriminating statements about assaulting John Hartman…and hearsay is not admissible evidence.”

Webster Dictionary defines the two words in question here as:

Hearsay. noun. information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate; rumor.

Confession. noun. a written or spoken statement in which you say that you have done something wrong or committed a crime.

The confession by William Holmes is a firsthand account of his actions, motivations, intentions, movements, and observations the night John Hartman was killed. He confesses to driving into downtown Fairbanks that night with a group of friends for the express purpose of assaulting someone. He expresses that he intended to harm someone, and to drive the car necessary for all parties to flee the scene of these assaults. He further states that after learning John Hartman had died from the assault that he told his accomplices to not talk about the assault.

William Holmes confesses his crime. He confesses his sins. In fact, Holmes first attempted to provide this confession to the Fairbanks Police and through them, the District Attorney and state. They then hid the information and did nothing with it. Read about that HERE.

When the State of Alaska interviewed William Holmes about his involvement with the Hartman murder he maintained his guilt and the guilt of the other parties named. Without the ability to disprove his claim it appears that Adrienne Bachman chose the only method left to her in attempting to uphold the Fairbanks Four conviction, which was not to address whether or not the confession was true, but simply to craft an argument that it was technically not a confession.

The legal definition of hearsay is more complex, but in essence the same in spirit and application. Bachman’s assertion that the Holmes statement is purely hearsay is absurd. If her version of hearsay were to be applied that would mean that essentially a person could agree to drive their friend to go stab someone. They could wait outside until the friend came back out, bloody with a knife in hand, and said “I just finished stabbing so-and-so, let’s get out of here,” and that person’s testimony would not be allowable in court. I am not attorney, but I don’t need a legal degree to tell you, that is stupid. And if it is the best that the combined brainpower, money, resources, and attorneys at the department of law can produce in eight months, we should all be very concerned.

Bachman goes on to poke holes in the credibility of Holmes and Davison’s statements by explaining that they should not be believed because they did not come forward to get any leniency for themselves. As in, they had nothing to gain by coming forward, so we should not believe them.

Um…….okay, I officially have a headache.

In reality, the fact that neither Holmes nor Davison had anything to gain in coming forward lends credibility to their statements. If they had been offered some kind of leniency or reward or personal gain their statements would be less credible. But apparently at the department of law doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do is unheard of. Somehow, I am not surprised. They themselves seem much more interested in taking action for personal gain or to avoid responsibility for their actions than in doing the right thing. Which is disturbing. Because that means that the State of Alaska is apparently less ethical than a petty criminal and a triple murderer.

Perhaps the most interesting element of this filing is not what is in it, but what is NOT in it.

Bachman makes many personal attacks on Davison. Apparently when she was unable to dismantle the factual nature of his statements she opted to take a stab at intimidating and humiliating him to weaken his will. Remember, this young man had nothing to gain and everything to lose. She attacks him over and over as a person, yet does not bother to attach evidence that her claims are factual.

Bachman makes many comments about interviews and evidence that she does not introduce or include.

Bachman insinuates that she has ‘many’ witnesses, yet does not name even one.

What this filing fundamentally contains is a lot of grasping at straws, and very few facts. It is heavy on attempts to attack the truth through technicalities and light on any actual truth of its own.

Funny thing about the truth – it outlasts us all. Time reveals it. Funny thing about darkness – light banishes it.

The State of Alaska had an opportunity to seek justice instead of ego. Fundamentally, it is disappointing that they did not take that opportunity. No matter how hard they try to make this case go away, it will remain. No matter how hard they try to bury the truth, it will emerge. It is not disappointing because their approach will destroy the truth – it won’t. This battle will be long, but truth will prevail. It is disappointing because life gives human beings opportunities to choose between what is status quo and what is right. Those opportunities are gifts, and they failed to receive it. And at the end of the day, that is sad, because there is nothing so rewarding in life as to listen to your better angels and take a stand for good.

justiceAdrienne Bachman is only a person. In all reality she is just a person with a job, following rules, and taking orders from department heads and bosses. Orders from above.

We are taking orders from above, too. Perhaps it is time that she seeks a power higher than the one whose orders she followed today.