Alaska reviewing documents seeking to overturn convictions

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — State lawyers are reviewing documentation filed by the Alaska Innocence Project in its efforts to overturn the convictions of four men in the fatal beating of a Fairbanks teenager in 1997.

Department of Law Criminal Division Director John Skidmore said it’s too early to say if the documents will affect the case, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Friday.

John Hartman was found severely beaten on a Fairbanks street corner and later died at a hospital. Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease and George Frese were convicted in Hartman’s death and are serving lengthy prison sentences.

Critics say the convictions were based not on evidence but police interrogations and the confessions of two of the suspects, who later recanted.

Project Director Bill Oberly on Wednesday filed for post-conviction relief for the four, claiming new technology will help prove the men’s innocence. He also filed an alleged confession of a California convict who claims he and others killed John Hartman 16 years ago. The state has 45 days to respond, but it may seek an extension.

Skidmore said they are looking at the paperwork but noted the prior convictions of the so-called Fairbanks Four provided compelling evidence that the correct individuals were held responsible.

It’s not unusual for defendants to present alternative suspects, but that usually happens during a trial, Skidmore said.

This case is unusual since the “‘some-other-dude-did-it’ defense is being presented more than a decade later,” Skidmore said.

“If there is additional investigation needed, we will make the appropriate requests (to the police),” he said.

Fairbanks Police Chief Laren Zager said his department has received no direction from the district attorney’s office.

“I was kind of wondering myself when we might get some feedback from the courts and the D.A.’s (District Attorney) office, but as we speak right now, not so much as a rumor,” Zager said.

The convictions have been a hot topic in the Alaska Native community. Gov. Sean Parnell, who was in Fairbanks for a speech Thursday, told the newspaper that people have been contacting his office since Oberly’s Wednesday announcement.

“We have had some comment, but at this point our Department of Law is reviewing the filing and determining what steps need to be taken to review the information,” Parnell said.

As governor, Parnell could pardon the men, but he told the newspaper it’s too early to discuss that possible action.

“To my knowledge, no request has been made for clemency, but in this case it is at the stage where they really have to review the new information and see,” Parnell said. “There are a lot of steps before that.”

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