In an op-ed in the Alaska Dispatch News, former Anchorage police chief Ronald Otte called for a new trial—if not exoneration—for the four men who were convicted in 1997 of the murder of an Alaska teenager.
Hours after 15-year-old John Hartman was found dead on the side of a road in Fairbanks, his high-school classmates George Frese and Eugene Vent confessed to his murder. They also implicated two other boys, Marvin Roberts and Kevin Pease. All four were convicted. In the years following, Frese and Vent recanted, saying their confessions were coerced.
Since then the four men, who are represented by the
Alaska Innocence Project
, have maintained their innocence and have fought to overturn their convictions through the courts. A prison inmate in California has taken responsibility for Hartman’s murder, but police have not followed up on his claim. The latest development in their fight for a new trial came last week when prosecutors offered to vacate their convictions and release Pease, Frese and Vent (Roberts was released on parole in June) as long as they abandon their post-conviction relief motion and agree not to sue the state or any other party for their wrongful conviction. A superior court judge canceled a hearing to discuss the agreement, however, questioning the legality of it.
“What we have learned in the years since the murder of a 15-year-old boy is that process and justice are probably not one and the same, at least not in this case. Justice for John Hartman and for the Fairbanks Four requires the commitment and courage to acknowledge mistakes and the resolve to find the truth. The only outcome worse than not solving a murder is convicting the wrong person while the real killer goes free.”
Read the full op-ed