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

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

 

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

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

kevin drivers license

Newly licensed driver Kevin Pease

 

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

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

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

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

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

Eugene and grandma annie

Eugene Vent reunited with his Grandmother Annie, who raised him

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George and his mom

George and his mother, Veronica

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Marvin agrees.

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

 

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

Eugene believes it all comes down to love as well.

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

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

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

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

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

Fairbanks Four attorneys

Marvin and Fairbanks Four Pro Bono Legal Team

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Life Behind Bars – Interview with the Fairbanks Four Part II

* In part two of a three part interview Kevin Pease, George Frese, Eugene Vent, and Marvin Roberts discuss life before their recent release, and what it was like to spend 18 years in prison as innocent men. Donations to support the men as they reintegrate can be made HERE.

prison razor wire.jpgPrison is just a few short weeks in the past for the four men who served eighteen years for a crime they did not forget. With freedom has come the opportunity to begin what will surely be a lifelong task of reflecting on their experience. They like to focus on the victory and its blessings more than the difficulty of enduring eighteen long years of incarceration. But today, the men discuss what it felt like to be locked up.

“Freedom was surreal,” Eugene says,  “but nothing like getting locked up for something we didn’t do.”

Marvin agrees. “That was way more unbelievable. It was unreal. We just could not believe that it was happening. Being freed made sense, it was crazy, but it made sense because we are innocent. Being locked up? That was just unbelievable,” Marvin adds.

George, who says he passed time and coped with imprisonment largely by reading history, business, and psychology texts, adds a more academic answer.”You do get used to it. That is the human mind, you can adjust to almost anything. From a psychological perspective, they say human brains can adjust to almost any conditions in two weeks.”

The others look skeptical.

Fairbanks four“Yeah,” Kevin interjects, “But it didn’t take no two weeks. It took years and we had to force ourselves to get used to it. So we wouldn’t go crazy. When you’re in there innocent it’s all unreal.”

For the most part, the men say, they avoided discussing the hardship of their time in prison because they did not want to worry their families and friends. But with prison behind them and freedom ahead, they are more willing to discuss the suffering contained in the eighteen years of incarceration.

George says that 2008 marked the most difficult year of incarceration for him.

“It was a bleak time, ” he recalls. “I had 97 years, earliest possible release date of 2050, I had just lost the last of my appeals and was told basically that I had to start the entire process over. That was the point for me that I wanted to check out. Kill myself. And that lasted a few years. I wasn’t talking to anyone on the outside. Everyone was worn out, you know, it had been long for them too. I couldn’t talk to my daughter, I would dial the number and call and call but the phone was always off. I felt totally alone.” George pauses to gather his thoughts, the weight of recalling such a dark time evident on his face.

george in yellow“And then to think, ” George continues, “I had to face another eleven years, or more, it almost did me in. The attorneys meant well but once they lose they are gone too, during the appeal process they were people I spoke with, they provided hope and I relied on this hope, and it fell through, and they disappear. Just extreme isolation. The hopelessness. But I know why I pulled through – easy. My daughter. I didn’t want to hurt her, and that was my only reason. It was enough for me at that time I was willing to keep going, even if all that was ahead was suffering, if it spared her. I read about suicide, and it discussed the impact suicide has on other people and the psychology that fuels you. It underscored that my actions could affect her. So I stayed. I survived.”

For Kevin, one of the biggest blows came in 2006 when his mother died suddenly in a home accident.

“The hardest time for me is when I lost my mom,” Kevin says. “She was all I felt I had at the time. We had developed a different relationship with me being in. I had grown up some, a lot, and we were close. She was all I had. And when she passed away it was sudden, and very unexpected. I spoke with her before she died every other day, damn near. She was out there fighting for me, believing in me, and she was my only link to the outside world. When she died it just felt like I lost the entire world, and I lost all hope.”

“You will never feel more alone in your life than in a prison,” Kevin continues. “You fight thinking about it, but hell yeah you think about your situation. Distraction is one thing during the day, but night comes. Or you get thrown in solitary in a tiny cell with nothing but the walls and your thoughts. How did I get here? When will this end? One minute can be an eternity in there.  In some ways the hardest, longest part of the experience was those dark minutes. So you keep the faith, but it is a struggle.”

It isn’t easy for the men to watch each other recall the darkest hours of their experience as innocent men in prison. They look at the ground as each in turn recalls the specifics of their individual hardships. For Marvin, it was those first days, months, and years.

“The hardest point of my prison sentence was the first five years while I was adjusting to prison and trying to accept that it could be years before I saw freedom,” Marvin says. “It’s a miracle, it really is, that we survived. Because you can’t even describe it. No one will ever really know who hasn’t been there. No words, no movie, no book, no interview, could describe the suffering.”

Eugene

Eugene Vent, a short time before he was wrongfully convicted of murder.

Eugene watches Marvin intently as he speaks and after some says, “Me, too. The beginning. The hardest part for me was from like the time I was arrested to our conviction. I was the youngest when we went in, and I was just this little kid taking big hits. Arrested for something I didn’t do. Indicted. Tried. Convicted. And then in the midst of that I lost my brother, my cousin Corwin, but we were raised together. And everything I ever knew or counted on in the world was crumbling apart. You know after that I just became used to the environment, but it’s not like that was better because now I was in prison. I was innocent, but I had this void from not knowing my father. I was vulnerable. I grew up in there, made decisions an adolescent would make”

“But it has all been a blessing,” Eugene adds after a moment of reflection.”We all  know we are blessed, like we don’t want to complain.”

The men agree unilaterally that beyond all hardship, they feel blessed. Each insist that they had absolute faith they would see freedom someday.

George laughs at what he sees as the good fortune inside their worst nightmare. “What’s clowning is that we hardly knew each other when we went in. But we were perfect people for this, for each other, there was no better combination,” he says. “And even in the beginning I would thank God, for real, because he chose us so perfectly for each other. The anguish we faced, and yet he let us face it with three people we each needed. Perfectly formed. I always knew God had his hand on us, was guiding our path.”

The other men shake their heads in agreement.

“I kept faith, always,” Marvin says. “They couldn’t take that away.”

Eugene agrees. “I always believed, even during the worst times, I knew someday we would be free.”

“I never lost faith we would get out,” Kevin agrees, “When? How? I didn’t know that. But I always knew we would get out.”

George echoes the others. “I never lost faith,” he says. “I mean, there is a voice of doubt that tries to say ‘never,’ but I kept faith. I knew we were innocent, the case was a bad case, no DNA, alibis, all of that. I knew that Brian (O’Donoghue) was writing about the case, I knew you (April Monroe) were, and I knew people were reading. I knew someday, someone would do the right thing, that someday, something would happen. And that’s faith right there, because even after watching people do the wrong thing over and over, I knew that God is good, his children are good. I knew someday we would be free.”

The men are ecstatic to be out. This is, they say, a dream come true. Gratitude and excitement dominate all conversation about freedom or the future. But they acknowledge that there is a lot of adjustment after eighteen years of incarceration, and that nothing could have fully prepared them for the transition.

Civil Rights Activists Under Attack in Fairbanks Four Case

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

And so on…

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

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

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

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April and her gang

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

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Shirley Performing A Baptism, Like a Boss

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

 

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

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Ricko and his actual gang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We are blessed.

I Am Spartacus – Prosecutor’s Hate Speech Backfires in Fairbanks Four Case

fairbanksfour4Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant, in cooperation with lead detective Aaron Ring, was without question the driving force behind the conviction of the Fairbanks Four. They pursued the conviction with a strange zealotry that to this day remains hard to understand.

By the time the cases went to trial it is impossible to conceive that the two men driving the court action could have possibly believed that the Fairbanks Four were guilty. In fact, they fabricated court exhibits, coached testimony they knew to be false, and attempted to intimidate defense witnesses, threatening them with arrest if they testified. They do not appear in this story as men who believed incorrectly that the four young men were guilty. They do not come across as men making a mistake – in reality it is clear that their actions were deliberate and calculated. And someday, we hope they are imprisoned for the crimes they committed.

Jeff O’Bryant was the man who tried and convicted George Frese, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, and Marvin Roberts. He went to trial with very little evidence of any kind, a few jailhouse snitches in his pocket, one fabricated exhibit presented as scientific, and absolutely no physical evidence. In addition to the lack of evidence indicating the men were guilty, there was a tremendous amount of alibi testimony indicating that the men were innocent. To convict the Fairbanks Four, O’Bryant knew he would have to convict the alibis, the witnesses, and in reality, all Native people. He had the ideal stage. Overt, extreme racism against the Native people of Alaska is the norm in the northern state. Persuading an all-white jury that being guilty of being Native was guilty enough was not as difficult as we hope it will be someday. So, Jeff O’Bryant argued that the alibi witnesses in the Fairbanks Four case should be ignored because they were simply Indians sticking together the way Indians do, a la “Spartacus.”

Fortunately for ol’ Jeff, the jury must have met the demographic of people who have seen the movie Spartacus. In order to fully understand the reference we did some research into the Spartacus mythology, and the pop culture “I Am Spartacus” moment that Jeff O’Bryant compared Native people to. And, wow, Jeff. He got it all wrong. He really misunderstood Spartacus. And he really misunderstood Native people. He really misunderstood a lot of things, and the jury misunderstood with him. But at the end of the day, he may be right about the Spartacus-Fairbanks Four Supporter connection.

spartacusThe mythology of Spartacus has taken many forms, and made its way into American pop culture in the 1960 movie “Spartacus” starring Kirk Douglas. According to that account, Spartacus was born into a corrupt Roman empire, where the poor were regularly enslaved as soldier in a never-ending series of wars. Spartacus was born a soldier in that world, but eventually refused to fight and escaped. He was hunted down and arrested, then turned over as a slave in a labor camp. While enslaved there, Spartacus led a small band of other slaves to freedom with a brazen escape plan. Shortly after escaping, the enemy army located Spartacus and his fellow slaves in a camp. They fought off the soldiers sent to recapture them, and went on to free many more slaves and win many battles. At its height, his army born from a slave uprising is said to have reached over 100,000 men. As the leader of the most notable uprising of the lower class against the government in the history of the Roman empire, Spartacus was most-wanted man in the ancient world and there was a huge price on his head. When the Roman army eventually circled around and outnumbered the escaped slaves they made the recaptured soldiers a simple offer: all of the slaves would be pardoned. They would not be killed, but would remain slaves. All of their lives would be spared so long as they handed over Spartacus. If they failed to hand over Spartacus, they would all be crucified.

Spartacus heard the offer while they all sat surrounded and stood up. To spare the lives of his friends and fellow warriors, he said “I am Spartacus.” But one after another, more slaves stood up and proclaimed “I am Spartacus.”

i-am-spartacus-2The rebel army that stood behind Spartacus met a bloody fate. Most were killed that day in 73 BC and in the days that followed. 6,000 escaped followers of Spartacus were hunted down and crucified. The government lined the streets with their corpses as a warning to any other citizens considering rising up against the empire. Yet, the men died free, and the rebellion has inspired humanity ever since.

The story of Spartacus is told as a story of loyalty. Bravery. Of the perseverance of the human spirit and the ability to defeat enormous enemies in the face of oppression if not logistically, then spiritually.

With that in mind, it is a strange and poignant irony that Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant chose this story as the metaphor for the Fairbanks Four alibis and witnesses. O’Bryant argued, apparently persuasively, that the witnesses were all somehow simultaneously fabricating their testimony in an effort to protect other Natives. Slaves. Unruly slaves were what came to mind when O’Bryant wanted to undermine an entire race of people.  According to the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer, O’Bryant told this version of the Spartacus story in closing arguments:

“It reminded me,” he told jurors, “of the movie where the Romans have a bunch of prisoners, slaves, and there’s an uprising amongst the slaves because of the conditions. And the leader of the uprising, apparently, was Spartacus.”

When the Romans came looking for Spartacus, O’Bryant observed, “much like the witnesses here” slaves stepped forward declaring “I am Spartacus,” one after another.

When the jury announced a guilty verdict, Kevin Pease turned to Jeff O’Bryant and said, “How does it feel to convict an innocent man, Jeff?”

How did it feel, Mr. O’Bryant?

fairbanksfour6In 1997 there was no army. There was no conspiracy, there was no massive decision by dozens upon dozens of Native people to lie for the benefit of other Native people. There were only people, telling the truth in a court of law, where they were dismissed at face value because of their ethnicity. Kids. Living out a role they were born into. They hadn’t had that moment yet. That moment when you realize some kinds of discrimination are bigger than the individual. Those kids walked into the courtroom believing justice was blind, and they walked out with their eyes wide open.

billfairbanksofurBut today, there is an army. There are thousands of people willing to stand behind these wrongfully convicted men and say, if you take one innocent person you take us all. To say no, we will not quietly allow you to take a few people in exchange for a life where we are complicit in our own continued enslavement. Thank you for pointing us to this inspiring bit of history. But remember, never take heavy words for granted. Never forget words have a power all their own, that once they leave your mouth there is always the risk that they will be truly heard. Cause guess what, Jeff? Can you hear them now? They’re saying, I am Spartacus. We are all Spartacus.

fairbanksfour5 fairbanksfour3 fairbanksfour4 fairbanksfour2 secrethearing1 IMG_1857 courthousecrowd 415 (1024x683) IMG_7093 IMG_7092

The “Secret Confession” Alaska Courts Failed to Unwrap this Christmas

statueThe snow-covered courtyard that stretches from the doors of the Fairbanks Superior Courthouse to the meandering bank of the Chena River twinkles with Christmas lights throughout the late winter months. The clock tower chimes the time. In the shadow of the clock lies the cernterpiece of the plaza – a large bronze statue of an Inuit family. It is meant as a tribute to the first peoples of Alaska who for years have gathered at the courthouse doors asking for justice. In summer months the statue is the centerpiece of a busy downtown, but in the silence and snow they appear determined, but alone.

Inside the courthouse, on the desk of Paul Lyle, sits what is likely to be one of the most controversial court rulings in the history of Alaska. The ruling is another layer in the web of bureacratic secrecy that has troubled the Fairbanks Four case for many years.

Judge Lyle has made a ruling on the “secret confession,” and that ruling now sits hidden from public view while the appeal courts consider the secret appeal to the secret ruling on the secret document contained in the Alaska Innocence Project filing from September 2013. The document is widely assumed to contain a murder confession by Jason Wallace in the 1997 death of John Hartman, the crime for which the Fairbanks Four have been imprisoned for over 17 years and which they have claimed to be innocent since their arrests.

In recent weeks, a long-awaited sign of activity on the Fairbanks Four case appeared on the docket of the Fairbanks Superior Court. The court records available to the public are scant, but have put the community on notice that there is indeed activity behind the closed doors.

Court documents released in early January indicated that Judge Paul Lyle has indeed made a decision on some element of the case, but the decision has been stayed – the legal equivalent of a pause button. The reason for the stay is to allow for a person named only as “The Affected Party” to perfect an appeal. Although the nature of sealed proceedings is inherently vague, the press was quick to deduce that the affected party was Jason Wallace, a man whose “secret confession” is at the heart of the sealed brief, the closed courtroom proceedings, and much controversy.

jason wallacLittle is known about the details of the statements made by Jason Wallace and filed under seal. But enough is known about Jason Wallace, his crimes, his actions, his habits, and circumstances, that coupled with the reporting surrounding the issue, that supporters have long been able to read between the lines.

Jason Wallace currently resides in Spring Creek Maximum Security Prison in Seward, Alaska, where he is serving a 60 year sentence for the 2002 murder by hammer of Fairbanks woman Teacke Bacote, the stabbing of Fairbanks resident Corey Spears, and his part in the conspiracy that led to the killings of Hakeem Bryant and Christopher Martin. The bloody crime spree planned by Wallace and his associate William Holmes was interrupted before they were able to kill thier last three intended victims – Michale Keys, Jaqueline Godfrey, and Godfrey’s young daughter.

Wallace and Holmes had a relatively simple plan – the two were involved in a planned $80,000 drug purchase, along with a handful of friends. Wallace was to stay in Alaska to kill the two people in Fairbanks who knew the details of the buy, Teacka Bacote and Corey Spears, while Holmes flew to California with their fellow buyers, Hakeem Bryant and Christopher Martin, to kill them. Then, Holmes and Wallace would reunite in Washington to make the purchase and kill the last targets – Michael Keys and Jaqueline Godfrey along with her young daughter (presumably to prevent witnesses) -allowing them to keep the drugs and cash. William Holmes and Jason Wallace were willing to kill their own friends, women, and an innocent child for $80,000 in cash and another $80,000 worth of cocaine. The plan did not end as planned and fate spared the lives of the last three victims.

William Holmes, 1997

William Holmes, 1997

Holmes killed Martin and Bryant in California. He shot them execution-style on the side of the freeway on Christmas Eve. Their bodies along with the charred remains of the rental car the three were travelling in were discovered the same day.

On December 27, Jason Wallace went to the home of Teacka Bacote, an unarmed 22 year old woman and friend, and killed her with a hammer. He then went to the house of friend Corey Spears and stabbed him in the neck with a screwdriver as the man slept. Although it was Wallace’s intention to kill him, Spears survived the brutal attack. After attacking Spears, Jason Wallace returned to the home of Teacka Bacote to set her body and fully occupied apartment building on fire.

Wallace was apprehended at the Fairbanks International Airport when he arrived burned and reeking of gasoline and attempted to board a flight. He confessed nearly immediately to his crimes. He cried and talked often of his mother and God in his interviews with troopers. His tears were not for his victims, but for himself. Having planned the deaths of seven people, stabbing his friend, and murdering a woman by hammer, Jason Wallace was overcome with self-pity. It is clear in transcripts that Wallace wanted to do as little time as possible, and he immediately began providing information on his codenfendent as well as many other associates. He, for example, names Shelmar Johnson as the man who supplied the weapons for the crime spree he and Holmes planned. He named many individuals as drug users, sellers, and showed an extreme willingness to provide any kind of information he could to negotiate for leniency.

Sometime between the night he was arrested and early 2004, Wallace said something else. The Alaska Innocence Project refers to “statements of Jason Wallace” that corroborate the written confession to the Hartman beating death by William Holmes, and goes on to say that the court must determine whether these statements are still subject attorney client privilege.

Given that Jason Wallace only had one attorney, public defender Geoffrey Wildridge, and only had communication with the attorney from spring of 2003 through the end of his trial, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that Wallace must have confessed to killing John Hartman to his attorney. Because Jason Wallace provided so much information, and so openly negotiate information for leniency, it is easy to imagine that Wallace may have confessed only in an attempt to trade the information for more leniency. It seems not only possible but very likely that many people under State of Alaska employ inside the justice system may have known about alternative confessions in the Hartman case as far back as 2002 or 2003.

Do Not EnterYet, unless and until the words of Jason Wallace currently buried inside a secret filing and caught up in a secret appeal are ever released, the truth about Jason Wallace remains a carefully kept secret.

As always, Alaskans, remember that there are many who walk among you with secrets about this case. Sadly, that includes some members of society we are told to trust the most. But it also includes scores of individuals who heard directly from William Holmes, Shelmar Johnson, Marquez Penningotn, and Jason Wallace about the killing of John Hartman. If you or anyone you know has information about this case please contact the Alaska Innocence Project at (907) 279-0454.

Want to read more? Do!

Local Reporters Visited Wallace at FCC in 2004. In this article, they describe his response to their questions about the case. Read that HERE

Local reporter Brian O’Donoghue released an article recently in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer. It is as detailed as any article is likely to be regarding the appeal process.HERE.

HERE, HERE, and HERE are a few articles on the murders Wallace and Holmes committed in 2002.

Wallace was hardly the only one talking. Bill Holmes confessed to the murder of John Hartman first in 2011 to an officer at the correctional facility where he is serving a double life sentence, who sent the confession on to the Fairbanks Police Department, who passed it on to the District Attorney. They then worked together to hide the confession, but it was eventually revealed. Read about that HERE. Holmes eventually got a confession to the Alaska Innocence Project as well. Read about that HERE.

State 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.

 

 

 

 

Rise From The Ashes – Audrey George – Albis and Witnesses XI

Audrey“Love one another and you will be happy.  It’s as simple and as difficult as that.”  ~Michael Leunig

Location became central to the investigation into the night of October 10, 1997. No location is mentioned more frequently in study of the case than the wedding reception that took place at the Eagle’s Hall that night.

A wedding is a time for celebration. The joining of hearts, of families, of paths. The beginning of children, futures, sorrows and happiness unknown – and a promise by two people to stick together through whatever may come. A wedding is a a time when people gather to witness love, to share in love, to be a part of that hopeful moment when two lives are woven into one.

We have spoken before about the pain and the shame that came with this case and how it touched so many in our community. When the Fairbanks Four were wrongfully accused, investigated, interrogated, and convicted of the murder of John Hartman, what should have been a night remembered as all brides remember their wedding was transformed into a criminal investigation. One wedding guest, while being interrogated for hours and hours, answered simply when he was being pressed about why he wanted to attend the reception, “Because Audrey is my family – because, I love her.” And it should have been love, after all, that was remembered of that night, without the shadow of pain and a complicated web of deception and hardship.

For Audrey McCotter and the late Vernon Jones, whose wedding became central to the Hartman investigation, there would always be something in the background of those happy wedding photos. No one knew, as they danced and laughed, smiled and cut cake, reunited with friends and family gathered there to celebrate – no one knew that this night would change lives. That a series of events was about to be set into motion that would change the Native community of Fairbanks and force the examination of society, of the concept of justice, and ignite a struggle to assert a place in it. That night, it was just a wedding between two people who loved each other dearly. Yet by morning, things had changed. In the police theory the Fairbanks Four were accused of having met up at the wedding reception, left briefly to commit a murder, and return to dance as if nothing had happened. On the day that her wedding announcement should have appeared in the local paper, Audrey’s wedding reception was referenced over and over in articles about a brutal killing.

Audrey speaks out below for the first time publicly about how her life intertwined with this case, about her wedding night, her personal struggle with the events that unfolded, and the heartbreaking loss of her late husband Vernon Jones.

We applaud Audrey for her courage. She is taking a brave step onto a new path. Knowing her personally I can assure all of our readers that Audrey’s hardships have made her a person of incredible strength and compassion. The gifts she has given to those around her after rising from the ashes of her own pain are incredible. We are grateful for her support, and humbled by the strength it took to share this deeply personal part of her life with the world. Here is her story, in her words:

My marriage began and ended in blood. Our wedding was in Fairbanks but we lived in Unalakleet so it was hard to plan long distance but we did it. A lot of special family members were there that are passed on now such as Teddy Luke, Morris and Thelma Thompson, and James Grant, Sr. My whole family and my husband’s whole family from the Koyukuk River area were there. We planned it during dividends so our family could afford to fly into Fairbanks to celebrate our happy day. It was precious to us, but that day has been remembered for something entirely different. It was October 10, 1997 the day John Hartman was murdered and subsequently when the Fairbanks Four were found guilty of murder.

One year and eleven months later my husband committed suicide. Life is not fair. I started a battle the day he died. I battled depression, alcoholism and thoughts of suicide. I’ve been sober eleven years now, I’m remarried, my two children are happy and healthy. I consider my life to be blessed and I’ve not only survived trauma but I’ve excelled.
I want the Fairbanks Four to rise from the ashes of loss and destruction and be blessed and excel as well, but they are still in the battle. I am no legal eagle, so my support of the Free the Fairbanks Four Movement will have to be my weapon.

Public humiliation and shame will now be turned around back on the courts. We did nothing wrong. I got married and my guests were happy young people celebrating with us. An important and less known fact is that Marvin Roberts, one of my guests at the reception, had a reputation as a responsible young man who was sober that night and he wasn’t known to get into trouble the way kids occasionally do.  We will continue to celebrate when they all walk again as free men. I’m tired of death and injustice when it’s within our power to stop it. Treat others as you wish to be treated and we have not treated these four men well.
~Audrey (McCotter/Jones) George

We know this much is true: the story of the Fairbanks Four will ultimately be remembered as a story of the power of love and truth. Someday, a story of the enormity and power of love will be the one in the background of those wedding photographs, as it should be. It is love we fight for and with. Thank you Audrey for being part of the fight.