One week after the Alaska Innocence Project
filed court documents citing new evidence that may suggest that four men who were convicted of the 1997 deadly beating of a classmate are innocent, the Alaska Department of Law ordered an independent review of the case.
Hours after Alaskan teenager John Hartman was found dead by a Fairbanks roadside in 1997, two of his high-school classmates — George Frese and Eugene Vent — confessed to killing him. They also implicated two other boys, Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease. All four were convicted of the murder. The group of boys became known as the “Fairbanks Four.” In the years following their convictions, Frese and Vent recanted and claimed their confessions were false.
The Alaska Dispatch reports that Frese, 36; Vent, 33; Roberts, 35; and Pease, 35 “have maintained their innocence in prison ever since, first serving time in Arizona, Colorado, and now back in Alaska.”
According to new evidence presented by the Alaska Innocence Project, another man — William Holmes — said in a sworn affidavit that he and another group of Fairbanks teenagers killed Hartman. Holmes is serving a life sentence for the murder of two people in California that happened after the Fairbanks crime.
The Department of Law assigned the review of new evidence to Alaska State Troopers who will work with the Fairbanks Police Department and the District Attorney before submitting their findings to the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals. According to the Alaska Dispatch, Bill Oberly, executive director of the Alaska Innocence Project, said “ ‘These things can go on a long time … Sometimes they get addressed right away, sometimes it’s longer.’ ”
Criminal Division Director John Skidmore said it could take months for the facts presented by the Alaska Innocence Project to be verified. The state attorneys “ ‘wouldn’t be doing [their] job to make sure people have confidence in the system’ if they did not investigate the claims in the new filing, Skidmore said.”
The Fairbanks Four have all appealed their convictions and lost, and the Alaska Supreme Court has declined to take up the case.