Days 20 and 21
Ring, the lead detective during the original investigation, has come under severe scrutiny during the hearings in the proceedings the Fairbanks Four hope will lead to their exoneration. A former FBI agent testified that Ring used improper interrogation techniques and failed to investigate the murder properly. Two cold case Alaska State troopers who investigated directly under the prosecutor Adrienne Bachman turned on the state and provided damning testimony. The troopers criticized ring’s work as well, and were especially critical of the aggressive prolonged interrogations of alibi witnesses. The three weeks that preceded Ring’s testimony not only undermined his original work but painted a picture of an investigation so off track that it reinforced the long-held belief by Fairbanks Four supporters that the wrongful conviction was a result of misconduct, fraud, and corruption as opposed to error.
Ring took the stand to defend his work. He testified that he remained confident in the quality of the investigation, and that he was a calm and patient man who kept a respectful demeanor while questioning suspects or witnesses. He reiterated that he was sure he had the right people, based on the information he gained in interrogation, and specific clues. Eugene Vent, he reminded the court, admitted to having gum. An unopened pack of gum was also found at the crime scene. Ring admitted to using “portions” of the Reid Method, and generally insisted that his demeanor had been nonthreatening and that the children being interviewed had supplied him the information.
The cross-examination of Aaron Ring was methodical and almost painful to watch. Cross-examination followed the case in chronological order and walked through Ring’s participation in the investigation from the beginning moments through the eventual convictions of the men. It was death by a thousand cuts, as Dorsey and Whitney attorney Jahna Lindemuth painstakingly revealed one inconsistency after another – the officer’s statements of his qualifications or training versus reality, his recounting of order versus the record, the hours long interviews he admitted to and witnesses testified to versus the recordings that sometimes spanned only minutes, and aggressive questioning of how Ring came to be so certain.
Ring came under relentless questioning regarding his misrepresentation of the physical evidence in order to achieve an indictment in the case. He attempted to defend his false grand jury testimony, during which he testified that there was physical evidence linking the four to the crime. It was one of many attacks regarding Ring’s false characterization of evidence in the case.
“We saw the match,” he said, insinuating that his belief there was a match between wounds and footwear was itself physical evidence.
“Yeah, but there are forensics to back that,” Lindemuth countered. “And there were no forensics on the sexual assault yet either were there?”
“Uh..there had been a sexual assault exam and I think there was findings,” Ring answered.
“There were no forensics. And you said, ‘forensics.'”
But perhaps most damningly, audio of the actual interrogations which provided a sharp contrast against the calm demeanor and subject-directed interviews Ring had described. In the audio Ring can be heard yelling at witnesses, threatening them with arrest, demanding that they not interrupt him, that they agree with him, and so on. The audiotapes verified the accounts given by the now-adult alibi witnesses that they were threatened and harassed.
Lindemuth played interviews with three teenage girls, questioned alone and without their parents present. Audio revealed what these now grown women testified to earlier in the trial – that they experienced threatening and terrifying accusatory interrogation performed on children. It confirmed the testimony of the FBI agent and Alaska State Troopers. In fact, the only witness who seemed to think Aaron Ring was calm, investigated appropriately, or professional was Aaron Ring.
Many of the young people who were interviewed during the original case, now on the cusp of middle age with teenage children of their own, sat in the gallery of the courtroom during Ring’s testimony. If he recognized them from the witness stand or had any grasp on the impact he had on their lives, his face did not betray it.
“I spent more than half of my life now thinking about that man, having the bad dreams, and the hard memories of this man,” one of the alibi witnesses said. “And he was just a man. Not a good man, but just a man. I have been afraid for, what, eighteen years? Afraid of seeing him again. So I kept wondering why I wasn’t scared after all when he walked in. And I think it’s because I am an adult now. I thought back then I was grown, but I was a little girl then. To hear the tapes I didn’t feel like this happened to me, I felt like it happened to a little kid because it did. And we cannot allow people in power to do this to our kids. It was good to see him, because I think all I wanted was to see him when he didn’t have power over me. It’s not a little girl and a police officer. It’s a strong woman and a weak man. I have the power now.”