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.

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 8 – These Are OUR Streets – Alibis Return

October 14, 2015

On the eighth day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four case, alibis returned, or appeared in court for the first time.

bookertwashingtonConan Goebel came from his home in Washington to testify for the first time in this case. Despite having seen three of the four accused that night, and his very solid police interviews, Goebel was never called to a previous trial. Goebel reconfirmed the information in his police interviews – that Eugene and Kevin had been paging him from Kevin Bradley’s house party until they left Bradley’s near 1:30am. Goebel recounted having seen Frese, drunk but uninjured, late in the night, as well as Vent. Kevin Pease slept at Goebel’s house that night. Goebel discussed the police interviews at length, describing how he was threatened and bullied. “I realized that what I said really didn’t matter, that there was something he specifically wanted me to say, and if I didn’t I felt like he was threatening me,” Goebel said.

Goebel remains one of our favorite witnesses because he is a bit of an anomaly. The Reid Method of interrogation, by and large, works on almost everyone. Very occasionally it simply does not work, and creates this emperor’s new clothes situation. Conan Goebel’s police interviews demonstrate that the method is failing to work on him, and he remains very clear. His testimony was simple and clear as well – he knew that Eugene Vent and Kevin Pease were at the Bradley residence until between 1:30-2am. He saw George Frese after 3am and he was not injured. Kevin Pease slept at his house and likewise there was no indication he had been involved in a fight. When Detective Aaron Ring interviewed a teenage Goebel he threatened him, threatened his family, turned the tape recorder on and off, and said, “if you don’t tell me what I need to hear, I’ll see to it that you are arrested,” as well as insinuated that Goebel’s baby sister and mother could come to harm.

(Read portions of Goebel’s police interview HERE)

Kevin Bradley, now a civil engineer based in Montana, corroborated the other alibi testimony and confirmed that Pease and Vent had spent the critical hours of the night at his home. Bradley’s parent’s were away for the night, and the teen hosted a small party. He confirmed that Joey Shank, who testified the day before that he had driven Vent and Pease home from the party near 2:00am, was sober and driving Bradley’s mother’s vehicle. He also described being terrified at questioning and threatened by police officer Aaron Ring, and that the police were turning the recorder on and off.

Shawna Goebel, sister to Conan Goebel and attendee of the party, was fourteen in 1997 and testified to the details of the night as well and confirmed that Vent and Pease were at the Bradley party during the time the Hartman murder was committed. She described the threats and terror she encountered being questioned alone in her bedroom with no parent present.

Christy Moses testified to the same effect – the threats of investigators, the traumatic experience of being threatened and attacked by officers alone at the age of sixteen, without a parent, and confirmed the details of the night.

The witness testimony regarding police misconduct was corroborated by troopers McPherron and Gallen, who conducted the 2013-2015 investigation into the original case and convictions, who in earlier testimony confirmed that it appeared the confirmed that the officers turned tape recorders on and off, interrogated and threatened alibis instead of using standard questioning practices.

housepartyArlo Olson also testified in person at the state’s request, but maintained that his original testimony had been both entirely fabricated and the result of pressure and threats from Officers Aaron Ring, Jim Geier, and Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant. Despite the prosecutor’s many attempts to get Olson to say he had been threatened by the Fairbanks Four or their supporters, he maintained that he had not.

Cross examination accomplished little except to reveal that the witnesses did not have precise times, but estimations – ie., “between 1:30 and 2:00 am” instead of “1:42am.” The witnesses maintained that their timeframes, given in 1997 and reiterated under oath in court, were honest and accurate.

All witnesses testified that they were with the men accused at the time of the murder and that the police threatened and bullied them when they came forward.

We hope that seeing these witnesses can underscore their humanity to the community of Fairbanks. These are not “Natives lying for other Natives” like Spartacus, as original prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant argued in the original trials. These are regular people – engineers, waitresses, counselors, homemakers, teachers. These are citizens of the United States of America who, as children in 1997, had their most basic rights denied and were threatened when they stood up against injustice by accident. Today they are adults who understand more about what this means, but they are no more believable. They should have been seen and heard in 1997, and they should have been protected from men who sought to use or harm them. Eighteen years of being dismissed, not seen individually but as a stereotype or group, and eighteen years of attack have left each of them somehow just as kind, calm, and willing to speak up as they were as children. Our community owes them an apology, and we owe the next generation of children better.

Day 8 News Coverage:

Testimony Focuses on Night of Killing

Listen to Testimony – NPR Coverage

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.

 

 

 

 

State of Alaska Seeks to Delay Response in Fairbanks Four Case Until May 2014

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Yesterday the State of Alaska filed their response to the post conviction relief application filed on behalf of the Fairbanks Four by the Alaska Innocence Project. In their response the State of Alaska asked for the court to extend their allotted 45 day response time to May 15, 2014 – over seven months from the date of the Alaska Innocence Project filing. 

The filling by Innocence Project contained two matching confessions, one given by Jason Wallace in 1997, the second given in 2011 by William Holmes, and alluded to the existence of a third confession filed under seal for court consideration. These confessions represent only a fraction of the evidence contained in the filing supporting the innocence of the Fairbanks Four and the guilt of the other men. William Holmes and Jason Wallace implicate themselves, Rashan Brown, Shelmar Johnson, and Marquez Pennington – all men with lengthy criminal records. Three of the five named are behind bars for unrelated multiple murders, and the remaining two reside in the greater Fairbanks area.

State Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman, who is the prosecutor assigned to the case by the state, filed to motion requesting an extension until May 2014 and made the unusual and striking choice to list one of her reasons for delay as her personal long-standing vacation plans. She also went on to explain that it would take the state time to familiarize themselves with the original case (their case) and that after the lengthy review of their original files they would look at the new information presented in the filing.

When the state of Alaska was handed information that strongly implicated their own employees in conduct that resulted in the death of at least six people, the 16-year long wrongful imprisonment of four young men, a complete breakdown in public faith in the system, they made a press release assuring the public that they were sure they were right, but would “independently’ investigate themselves. When this press release came out there was a significant response from the citizens of Alaska and their leaders, concerned that the tone of the press release was dismissive. The State was then handed resolutions from the largest tribal organizations in Alaska and a letter from the Senator Lisa Murkowski, all containing polite but direct requests for the case to be given the full attention of the State. With all of this in hand, they ASKED FOR A SEVEN MONTH EXTENSION.

For the first month following the filing by Alaska Innocence Project, the state did nothing. Literally nothing. Thirty-seven days into their allotted forty-five day response time, the State announced that they had just begun their review.

On the last day remaining in their response time, the State of Alaska asked for the lengthy extension, which contained their plans for the second month of the seven months the requested to investigate: NOTHING. Nothing, that is, pertaining to the case. The second month will be used to accomadate the long standing vacation plans of Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman.

The state of Alaska has at their disposal the investigative might of the Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Bureau of Investigation, City Police, the Attorney General’s office, hundreds of attorneys, boundless access to the prison system, and virtually unlimited spending capacity. Clearly, the State of Alaska can use the tax dollars its citizens contribute to expedite the handling of this case to a timeframe that reflects the seriousness of the charges levied in the Alaska Innocence Project Filing. 

Their response is obscene. The idea that a state paid attorney is perhaps at this moment fanning herself on a sandy beach while four innocent men sit in prison is offensive to humanity. I wonder, while she watches her own children play, if she ever considers the children of other women. I can think of a few.

John Hartman, for example, who was kicked so brutally that he was left nearly unrecognizable, thrown on the side of the road, and died a unthinkably painful death. 

Teacka Bakote, whom Jason Wallace beat to death with a hammer before he lit her on fire.

Hakeem Bryant and Christopher Martin. William Homles left them on the side of the road, dead, just five years after they left Hartman the same way.

Julie Ann Wilde. Rashan Brown shot her in cold blood. 

Victor Torres. He was only 19 years old when Rashan Brown murdered him.

All of those people were human beings, who will never take a family vacation. Their mothers will never hear their voices again. They will not be coming home for Christmas.

George Frese, who will fall asleep tonight behind the concrete walls of Alaska’s highest security prison. George’s daughter, Tiliisia, who has celebrated 16 birthdays without her father. 

Marvin Roberts, a high school valedictorian who was headed to study engineering in college on scholarship when he was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Eugene Vent, who was only 17 years old when he last saw his family. He is in his thirties now.

Kevin Pease, whose mother Carol died in a fluke accident in 2006. Kevin was, of course, not able to take a quick vacation from prison even to bury his mother.

And the faceless. The missing. The victims not yet named. 

ImageThe State of Alaska is an institution, but it is a human institution. The Governor, The Attorney General, The Prosecutor, The Lead Investigator – these are all just titles. Surely, at home, someone calls these people Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Auntie, and the like. They are all human beings, and I wonder, does it ever cross their mind that the words and names and numbers and deadlines on their desk are just titles, and that behind them, human beings? That these are other people’s children?

Behind the cry for justice is a simple proclamation: we are human beings. Just as significant as you, our children just as precious and loved as your own.

We are all human beings. And when human beings are at stake in every possible sense, there isn’t time for vacation. It is time for as many hands a possible. This investigation should be handled with as much precision, care, accuracy, and urgency as possible, because human lives are at stake. That doesn’t mean that they investigation should be rushed or done poorly. It doesn’t mean that no one should take a vacation or get to enjoy their family. It simply means that this case should be handled in a manner which reflects the seriousness of the situation, the stakes, and the resources the state has at hand.

We wish, for these people in power, that they may come to understand the importance of the work they do, and with that understanding, proceed into their work with dignity as well as perfect memory for their own humanity and the humanity of those around them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

State of Alaska Fails to Investigate ‘Fairbanks Four’ Case In 45 Days, Says They WIll Take “Many Months”

 

ImageWhen the Alaska Innocence Project submitted an application for Post Conviction Relief on September 25, 2013 the clock began ticking on the State of Alaska. They were given the standard forty-five days to respond to the filing. Many residents of the interior Alaska community of Fairbanks wished that they would act more swiftly, given that the contents of the filing indicated that not only had four young men been wrongfully incarcerated for sixteen years, but three of the five men named as the true killers of John Hartman had gone on to commit brutal murders of unarmed civilians within a small handful of years following Hartman’s death. Perhaps more disturbingly, the other two alleged by the filing to have viciously beaten John Hartman to death for Saturday night amusement are free and still roaming through the streets of Fairbanks, Alaska. The gravity to the allegations – that the state had wrongfully imprisoned four innocent men for sixteen years, that in doing so had allowed killers to go free, and that a slew of brutal murders came as a result of the state’s actions – left hope among many in the community that the state would respond to the grave allegation swiftly.

The first indication that the State of Alaska did not intend to act with a sense of urgency came a few hours BEFORE the filing, when Police Chief Laren Zager indicated to reporters for KTUU Channel 2 Anchorage that the filing was not credible and would not gain traction, BEFORE having read the filing or seeing the evidence it contained. This concerningly early statement was an early indicator of how the powers that be were likely to respond. These early remarks were uninformed and dismissive. Supporters remained hopeful that the future official response would show more awareness of the gravity of the issues at hand and take a more informed position.

Just over a week after the filing, with 37 days remaining until the state’s response to the Innocence Project would be due, the State of Alaska issued a press release  through the Department of Law regarding the post conviction relief filing.

“Although there has never been any credible or serious allegation about the integrity of the investigation, or the prosecution, which led to these convictions, the department will conduct an independent review,” the State said in its press release. They went on to reassure the public that they were confident the right people were in jail, and that they would soon begin an “independent review” of the case themselves.

The press release was met with disgust by supporters of the Fairbanks Four, who found the statements attacking the credibility of Tanana Chiefs Conference, Alaska Federation of Natives, and the Alaska Innocence Project disheartening. But the content of the release that drew the most criticism was the promise of an “independent review.” The offer for an “independent” review was misleading, since the State of Alaska investigating itself is of course not an independent investigation, but an internal investigation. The complete dismissal of the independent review that had taken place was also poorly received.

The National Innocence Project entered into the Fairbanks Four case as neutral third party tasked with completing an independent investigation of the convictions of the four men. As with any other case that the legal nonprofit decides to complete a thorough investigation and review of, the Innocence Project enters the situation as a completely neutral party well qualified to review the prosecutions in a case, the original investigative materials, evidence used to obtain convictions, and any pertinent new information. When the State issued their press release they failed to acknowledge that the one and only independent investigation ever launched in the Fairbanks Four case had already been completed, and its findings filed in the form of an application for post conviction relief claiming complete innocence, thereby verifying that the Fairbanks Four had been wrongfully convicted.

The tone of the press release was once again uninformed and dismissive. The press release further indicated that the State intended to take longer than the allotted 45 days, and restated the continued confidence the State had in its original convictions. 

In an email to Alaska Dispatch in response to the State press release, Executive Director of the Alaska Innocence Project Bill Oberly said the state’s tone was disappointing. “We hope the negative tone of their press release is not indicative of their approach to this case.”

In response to the tone and content of the State response supporters of the Fairbanks Four and concerned Alaskans flooded the Governor’s office with letters asking for Governor Parnell to expedite the review. The governor’s office was sent over 4,000 signatures on a petition asking for clemency or the timely review of the allegations of corruption and wrongful conviction in the case. The Alaska Federation of Natives, the largest organization of its type in the Alaska, unanimously passed a resolution  on October 27, 2013 asking the State to review the new evidence in the filing immediately. Crowds of hundreds of protesters gathered at at least four separate events to protest the continued wrongful imprisonment of the Fairbanks Four and urge the state to act swiftly in the case.

ImageFour days after hundreds of protesters gathered to demand an expedited response from the State that was in line with the seriousness of the situation, the state announced that with only eight days remaining in their 45 day response time, they had just begun looking at the case. They further indicated that it would take them “many months” to review the convictions, and that not until they were finished reviewing their OWN investigation and materials they have had in hand for the past sixteen years, that they would begin to look at the new information on the case. (READ ARTICLE HERE)

Supporters are calling for interference from the Federal Bureau of Investigations to investigate the original investigation, the allegations of corruption and institutionalized racism, evidence fabrication, and public corruption that have long flanked the Fairbanks Four case. They are also seeking allies from national and international justice organizations to call for an open and efficient investigation of the case, and an investigation of the state officials, police, and prosecutors involved in all stages of investigating and litigating the case, from 1997 to present.

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We deserve better than leaders who are uninformed.

We deserve better than a justice system that is dismissive,

We deserve to live in a community where transparency is valued.

We deserve to live in an Alaska where there truly is JUSTICE FOR ALL.

We hope that the State investigation is full of integrity, is appropriately swift, and is as independent as an internal investigation can be.

To those who seek to further justice by impartial and ethical practice, we will always support you, and fear not, the light is coming.

To those who still seek to stand in the way of justice – THE LIGHT IS COMING.

 

 

Alaska Innocence Filing Exposes Flawed Eyewitness Testimony

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

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

The Fairbanks Four were convicted primarily on the eyewitness testimony of Arlo Olson, who testified that he was able to identify the four men, two of whom he had never seen before, from 550 feet away in the dark.

We recently posted the details of Olson’s testimony, audio recordings of his multiple recantations, discussed his motivations, inconsistencies, recantations of recantations, and his personal criminal history. (READ THAT HERE) We have also discussed how Olson’s testimony about the assault of Frank Dayton was not even consistent with Frank Dayton’s recollection. (HERE)

 

 

This is a photograph taken 16 years to the date eaglesand time of the night Frank Dayton was assaulted. Arlo testified that he identified the Fairbanks Four from this vantage point and in this lighting. According to his testimony he identified they would have been essentially next to the furthest visible building on the left, there is a parked car with headlights on at the exact location to mark the spot. We have discussed this multiple times. Those posts and conversations have their place. It is important to understand HOW and WHY a wrongful conviction occurs. But the reality is that discussions of how or why Arlo Olson lied in his testimony don’t really matter anymore. The filing by the Alaska Innocence Project filed for post conviction relief of the basis of innocence for the Fairbanks Four contains expert scientific review of the testimony that makes a very simple and indisputable claim: it is impossible for Olson, or any human being, to identify anyone from 550 feet away.

Well known celebrity as they would be seen from 550ft

Well known celebrity as they would be seen from 550ft

The evaluation of Olson’s testimony was completed by an extraordinarily well qualified  scientist who uses this photograph of a well-known celebrity to illustrate what the eye can see from 550 feet away in optimal conditions and daylight.  Can you recognize the face? Obviously, no, you can’t. No one can. Plainly stated, no human being can identify a face from that distance.

 

 

 

 

 

Julia RobertsHere is the photograph, with a representation below of the loss of perception and size at varying lengths. This issue is settled. The sky is blue, grass is green, and Arlo Olson lied in court, simple as that. There was a time when many believed to world was flat. Science sometimes answers these questions, and logic has once again prevailed.

The testimony was absurd to begin with. The idea that four men were sent to prison based on it is astounding and unforgivable. Yet, the state of Alaska considered this their most important evidence, the very prosecutor who convicted them said that without the testimony they had “no case,” and to this day imprisons the Fairbanks Four on the strength of that claim. The entire expert statement is contained in the filing we link to below for readers to review on their own.

The Fairbanks Four were not sent to jail on accident. They were not unlucky bystanders in an unfortunate misunderstanding. We believe they were the victims of irresponsible work at best, and more likely corruption. The lies of Arlo Olson were purchased by police and prosecutors with an offer of leniency in his own crimes, and if his account is to be believed, he was threatened with prosecution for perjury if he recanted. The bottom line is that there is abundant evidence that Olson’s testimony was flawed and untruthful, and now there is clear, concise, correct scientific proof.

The State of Alaska’s current response to this case is that they are sure they are right, but will now do an independent investigation of themselves, by themselves, and until that time will remain silent. We have said before, and will say again, that the enemy of the truth is not a lie, it is silence. In their silence they remain the enemy of the truth.

Application for Post Conviction Relief:

http://www.webcenter11.com/sites/default/files/application_for_postconviction_relief.pdf

The Fairbanks Four in the Press: the 49th Report

ImageThe story of the Fairbanks Four was seen for the first time by many in Anchorage tonight on a KTUU Channel 2 Special called :”The 49th Report: The Fairbanks Four.” This thoughtful program did a good job of scratching the surface of the story of the Fairbanks Four. We hoped that this program would inspire many people to dig deeper, and it did. Over 2,000 people have visited this site in the hour since the program ended.

Because the program led so many new readers to our blog we wanted to take a moment tonight to welcome you. and to express a deep an sincere appreciation of you and your willingness to dig deeper. Justice depends upon the ability of the common man to act on curiosity. To ask questions. To seek the truth. To have watched the program and come to this site shows that you have that ability.

We would also like to ask something of you:READ THIS BLOG. Start at the first posts and read this story.

Later tonight we will repost our very first blog entry. In it we said that we believed that the truth, if spoken, would travel. That people would come to it. That people feel the truth, and see injustice, and that everyday people can indeed be trusted with the truth, and that through their actions, their reading, their gathering, their storytelling, their facebook posts, their phone conversations with friends, simply through their existence, that the truth would travel with them, beyond us, and would ultimately right a terrible injustice.

We still believe that. We KNOW that.

Thank you for coming, for reading, and for carrying with you a truth that will someday defeat thousands of lies.