We could tell you ourselves that we believe the Fairbanks Four could not have been convicted without the testimony of Arlo Olson. But that sentiment is more convincing coming straight out of the mouth of district attorney Jeff O’Bryant, who tried and convicted all four men.
“Simply put,” O’Bryant said to jurors during the last trial, “if Arlo didn’t see what he saw, and you throw out some of the state’s evidence, the state doesn’t have a case. No doubt about it.”
In this post we want to explain exactly what Arlo Olson claimed he saw, and what Arlo Olson actually saw.
On the night of October 10, 1997 Arlo Olson was an (uninvited) guest at the wedding reception at the Eagle’s Hall. That October he was also awaiting sentencing on multiple assault charges. He had severely beating his pregnant girlfriend a few months earlier, violating probation, and was looking at the possibility of a year or more of jail time.
Before arriving at the reception Arlo had spent nearly 24 hours drinking Wild Turkey and getting high. He attended the reception, commented to no one about witnessing any kind of crime, and went home without attracting any attention beyond being noted by a few other wedding attendees as extremely intoxicated. When news hit the papers that the Fairbanks Four had been arrested for the beating death of John Hartman and the assault of Frank Dayton, Arlo didn’t contact the police or comment to anyone that he knew anything about the case. Then, a few weeks later, Arlo emerged as the only witness who placed the Fairbanks Four together, and the only witness in the entire case.
Immediately following the arrest of the Fairbanks Four the police held a press conference to essentially brag about the fast and incredible speed of their investigation and arrests. The crime was solved so quickly that it was truly incredible – in the sense that it completely lacked credibility. In that moment we can only speculate that the officers involved may have actually believed that they had the right people, and that all the needed evidence would simply fall into place. Yet nearly immediately, their fragile case constructed out of speculation and the vague admissions of terrified drunk kids started to crack. First, a major alibi issue cropped up when the time of John Hartman’s assault was determined (READ ABOUT THAT HERE). Once the police knew the time that Hartman was assaulted a quick review of all of their original interrogations and interviews demonstrates that the accused, the people who were with them that night, and scores of other alibi witnesses provided ample evidence that the four were scattered across town, nowhere near the crime scene, and not together at the time of the crime.
Within a few short weeks the case the police had so boldly touted as an example of their expert investigative skills threatened to fall apart completely when the lab results came back. Despite testing hundreds of items – fingerprints from the car, DNA from the crime scene, scrapings from the victim’s fingernails, all of the clothes and footwear collected from the Fairbanks Four, fingerprints from the scene, and so on – there was absolutely NO indication in ANY of the lab results that linked the Fairbanks Four to the victim, the crime scene, the car, or to each other. The police had taken their victory lap in the press, claiming to have solved the brutal and bloody stomping death of a young boy in a matter of hours, and were now faced with a case that consisted of virtually nothing. Scores of alibis, no witnesses, and NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE. Their only chance at convicting the Fairbanks Four was to produce an eye witness. And so, they did.
The police tracked down Arlo Olson. They brought him in for questioning, and suddenly two things happened at once: Arlo Olson claimed to have seen The Fairbanks Four assault Frank Dayton. And, just like that, the jail time he was facing for beating a pregnant woman multiple times disappeared.
Arlo claimed he saw them all together in Marvin’s car, jump out to assault Frank Dayton, and speed off. He testified in trial that he was “110% sure” that he had seen the four. This made Arlo the only witness to claim to have ever seen the four together, link them to Marvin’s car, and the only person in the world who has ever claimed he saw any of the four accused participate in a violent group assault.
Arlo Olson testified that he saw all of this while standing in a group of other people, none of whom saw or heard anything. He also claimed that he saw all of this from over 550 feet away, in the dark.
Again, we could go on and on about why we are sure that Arlo lied. BUT perhaps it is best to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Since the trials of the Fairbanks Four Arlo has recanted over and over. He says he was pressured to say what he did, that he was wasted, that he didn’t see any of them, that the “questioning’ by the police included them showing him Marvin’s car in the police garage and asking him to identify it, telling him exactly what to say, and plainly offering him a get out of jail free card if he complied. He claims that later, when he attempted to recant, Aaron Ring would visit him again and threaten him with jailtime based on perjury.
Arlo also recanted his recantations a few times. When he was convicted, over and over again, for beating women, he sometimes elected to once again ask for leniency since he had testified in the trials against the Fairbanks Four.
Listen to Arlo recant his testimony HERE.
Read about his many recantations and download transcripts HERE.
For a long time we wanted Arlo to speak for himself here, and he went back and forth. But the time has come to bring him up. Remember that in 1997 Arlo was young, deeply troubled, and probably subjected to the same pressure that so many caved under. We want to approach him with as much love and compassion as we cab. The 44-plus entries for Arlo Olson in the Alaska Court Database tell the troubling story of the life Arlo lead following 1997. He went to jail over and over, and most of his crimes involved violently victimizing women. The juries who heard Arlo’s testimony were not allowed to know about his criminal history, or have any details of the “deal” he was offered in exchange for it. Ultimately, he may have done it under pressure, but Arlo traded one year of his life for the lifetimes of four other men. And he also cost himself the opportunity for early intervention that he probably desperately needed. Who knows how many crimes of violence and addiction that Arlo has committed through the years could have been prevented if he had entered jail for his crimes and received help with his problems.
On that fateful October night in 1997, Arlo Olson saw exactly what the human eye is capable of seeing from 550 feet away in the dark – nothing. Arlo saw blackness. But a few weeks later the police reached out to Arlo in his darkness and showed him something else – an opportunity to escape accountability for his own crimes.
In our next post we will unveil the scientific study into Arlo’s eyewitness testimony and show that not only is there any indication that Arlo was telling the truth, but that it is scientifically impossible for him to have seen it.
There is no doubt that this case has brought tremendous pain to many. Arlo is just one more person who has suffered in this situation. We have forgiven him, and hope that someday he can take the weight of these lies off of his own shoulders and find peace, happiness, hope, and forgive himself.