Day 22 – The Science of Ignoring Science

The majority of the proceedings on the twenty-second day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four centered around the testimony of Trooper Lance Dahlke.

scienceisbadDahlke was introduced as a witness to attack the credibility of the Alaska State Troopers who handled the investigation into the original case and testified that their investigation, conducted under the supervision of Adrienne Bachman, and ultimately testified that their investigation supported the innocence of the Fairbanks Four. Their testimony was a huge blow to the State’s case. The troopers were the state’s own investigators and they not only testified to the defects in the original case, that their investigation supported the innocence of the Fairbanks Four, guilt of the others named, improbability of the original eye witnesses testimony being correct, but also implicated their own supervisor and State prosecutor Adrienne Bachman in misconduct during their investigation. Some time into their investigation, as it became clear to Bachman that they were not going to produce a conclusion in her favor she allegedly terminated the investigation. In apparent anticipation of the trooper’s damning testimony the prosecutors brought in Dahlke to review the work of the troopers.

So, why would Dahlke be the right man for the job? He does not seem like a corrupt man, just one with a morally insurmountable bias. Dahlke was the trooper who investigated and ultimately arranged for considerable leniency in the murders Jason Wallace committed. As such, Dahlke certainly has a vested interest in confirming his original conclusion – that Wallace was a one-time offender whose crime was largely circumstantial and who was a candidate for immunity and leniency. In all reality, it was a terrible call, and that was painfully obvious as the Dahlke testimony continued. Dahlke read portions of Walalce’s interrogation when he flattered the trooper transparently

“I have never trusted anyone in my life, but I trust you. I look into your eyes and see a good man, God is telling me to trust you,” Wallace dripped.

The investigator described driving Wallace to the place where he disposed of the hammer used to kill unarmed friend Teacka Bacote. Wallace, he said, pointed to the snow bank, and the bloody hammer was retrieved. Dahlke testified that he then took Wallace out for McDonald’s, as he knew Wallace would be going to prison and not getting a burger for a long time. Um…..wow. You know who will never have another burger ever again? All of the people who Wallace killed. It is truly unthinkable that a serial killer was rewarded with a happy meal for guiding investigators to the bloody hammer he used to kill a woman.

And as for the hammer, Bachman lead Dahlke down a line of questioning that ultimately led to the trooper justifying the hammer as a murder weapon. Petitioner’s attorneys have referenced the murder of Bacote as unnecessarily brutal. But, Dahlke argued, it made sense for Wallace to not use the .40 caliber gun intended for the murder but the hammer, “because it would be quieter in the fully occupied apartment complex.” You know, the one fully occupied with human beings Wallace attempted to burn alive a few hours later. Not only is there not rationale for killing an unarmed woman with a hammer, we will state the obvious: gunshots make noise, but so do the screams of a woman who wakes up to a fatal hammer attack.

It is not surprising that those who worked closely with Wallace were so persuaded by him, perhaps even fond of him. It is because Wallace moved them around like human objects. That is his game. Wallace is a high functioning and manipulative psychopath who manipulated the investigators he was working with in 2002 into providing him very lenient prosecution, immunity, and all manner of favorable treatment. His co-defendant, who killed two adult male drug dealers, received a double life sentence with no chance of parole. Wallace, who killed an unarmed woman with a hammer, stabbed a friend with a screwdriver before returning to the woman’s corpse to set it ablaze in a fully occupied apartment building, and then boarded a plane bound for a campground where he planned to kill a man, woman, and eight year old little girl, may be eligible for release as early as 2025 due to the investigator’s judgement that he was trustworthy. He provided testimony against his codefendant and was handsomely rewarded. The notion that he killed John Hartman, likely killed Mahogany Davis, and threatened to kill several others, demonstrates that Wallace is the most dangerous kind of offender and calls into question the judgment of the officers who judged him rehabilitatable. Dahlke was one of those men.

So…now it is time to use one of Bachman’s favorite terms correctly. Dahlke was very prone to what is called confirmation bias. That is, Dahlke has a desire to confirm his original judgment, and with that bias is likely to seek information that confirms his theory and ignore information which contradicts it. Which is why Dahlke was an obvious yet very inappropriate choice for the unnecessary double-check of the troopers who made the state mad.

What did Dahlke find? One planted but irrelevant ten-dollar bill and “dirt” that labs confirmed was not only irrelevant, but not actually dirt.

Marvin Roberts car was taken apart and tested six ways to Sunday in 1997 and 1998, and then again in 2001. Cold case troopers looked at it again in 2013 and 2014. And then, Adrienne Bachman and Jim Geier, the prosecutor tasked with upholding the convictions and one of the primary detectives who achieved them, led Lance Dahlke back to the car. There, in plain sight, apparently invisible in all previous photographs and inspections, was a ten-dollar bill, and Dahlke “found” it. This was a transparent and pathetic attempt at evidence planting and we are confident that he ten-dollar bill will some day be an important exhibit….in the investigation into the misconduct of Geier and Bachman. While Dahlke was on the stand Bachman pointed to original testimony that John Hartman’s mother had given the boy a ten-dollar bill on the day he was killed. She failed to mention, or perhaps did not realize, that Hartman took the ten-dollar bill to McDonalds and a corner store. The ten-dollar bill was relevant only in an exhibition of how desperately far the state will go. The discovery of the ten-dollar bill was also meant to discredit the work of the troopers, insinuating that they should have found it. Had it been there, we imagine they would have.

The next portion of Dahlke’s testimony was even stranger. Dahlke also testified that when he examined John Hartman’s pants he saw dirt. No previous investigators, nor the troopers currently assigned, had ever seen the dirt in the photographs. But Dahlke felt certain that there was dirt visible in the photos of the young victim’s pants. Dahlke also saw, under eighteen years of dust, markings on the hood of Marvin Robert’s car that he believed matched the corduroy pattern of John Hartman’s pants. He testified that he saw these things, the other two troopers did not, and that they were not willing to send the car hood and pants to a lab for trace soil matching forensic testing. Ostensibly, this testimony was meant to hint that there may be missed physical evidence, and that the cold case troopers ignored that. But the train of argument fell apart in a rather complete fashion when the petitioners revealed that the hood and the pants had indeed been tested. The “dirt” Dahlke saw on the pants? Not dirt, the lab concluded, just a discoloration in the blue pants because of wear. It did not match the dirt on the car because it was not dirt. There was, of course, no new physical evidence linking the Fairbanks Four to the Hartman crime, just as there has never been physical evidence, because they are innocent.

sciencedenialBachman argued against the admission of the lab results from the test she herself had ordered. The state does not want science in the courtroom when the forensics of police officer’s imaginations are available. Not a new strategy, just a crappy one.

Previous to his testimony, Dahlke had not seen the lab report. It was a strange and sad scene, and left the impression that the state had encouraged and validated Dahlke’s theory to strengthen his testimony but withheld the forensics from him. In all, it was just another wasted day. And Dahlke did not come off like a bad guy. He came off like a guy who is easily manipulated by people like Jason Wallace or Aaron Ring, and had been used by Bachman in a rather pathetic attempt to dodge actual science and replace it will contaminated and biased theory.

And that is the science of pretending there is no science.

And that is the art of pretending that killing a woman with a hammer is okay, if the person talks nice afterward.

Day 16 – State of Alaska Calls Margaretta Hoffman, Others

Day 16, October 27 2015

collage2The third day of the State of Alaska’s case against the exoneration of the Fairbanks Four featured the completion of the videotaped Veronica Solomon testimony, Margaretta Hoffman, Jason Wallace’s wife Michone Wallace, Harold Lundeen, and Brent Ledford. The testimony generally brief. The only witnesses thus far who have incriminated the Fairbanks Four – Veronica Solomon and Margaretta Hoffman – did not testify in person and were therefore not available for potentially impeaching cross-examination on the stand.

The remaining half of Veronica Solomon was played, during which Solomon contradicted much of her earlier testimony, acknowledged that she had no information regarding the guilt or innocence of the Fairbanks Four, but insisted, “I saw something, and that something meant something.” Solomon acknowledged a summary of what she saw was a tan four-door car at the corner of 9th or 10th and Barnette on a day she thought could be October 11, 1997. Precisely what Solomon saw was difficult to discern, and discussed in detail in our previous post.

The State of Alaska has sought throughout the proceedings to undermine the credibility of the Holmes and Wallace confessions by arguing that the fact that they did not confess during other specific windows of opportunity somehow casts doubt on the current confessions. Wallace, Lundeen, and Ledford, appear to have been called simply to say that Holmes and Wallace had not confessed to them.

Jason Wallace’s wife testified that Wallace never mentioned killing John Hartman. She further testified that neither Jason Wallace nor William Holmes ever divulged their longstanding plans to commit the murders that ultimately landed them in jail. If the goal of the testimony was to establish probable innocence based on Jason Wallace not confessing to some people closer in his life than the friend, attorney, and public defender’s investigator he did confess to, it certainly fell short. Michone Wallace’s testimony only established the men in fact have a history of committing murders without discussing it with many people.

Harold Lundeen testified that he saw Scott Wallace and Davison enter the car named in the Davison testimony. It was inside that car, Davison previously testified, that Wallace confessed to killing John Hartman. However, it was clear that the State did not call Lundeen for the corroboration, but to demonstrate another person they believe Wallace would have told. Lundeen testified that he also didn’t have any knowledge of the his high school friend, Jason Wallace’s, involvement in the Hartman murder. In what earlier witness Scott Davison claimed was simply a typo, “Holmes” was referred to as “Harold” in the account of a confession Davison heard from Jason Wallace in 1997. Harold Lundeen, who knew Holmes, Wallace, and Davis in high school, simply testified that he did not know anything of significance.

Retired California Shasta County district attorney who prosecuted William Holmes in the murders and conspiracy that sent him to prison, Brent Ledford, provided conjecture and essentially a cost-benefit analysis on whether or not William Holmes should have disclosed the Hartman killing and turned informant on Jason Wallace at the time Holmes was arrested in 2002.  He described how it may or may not have been advantageous for Holmes to confess to the Hartman killing and implicated Wallace. Mr. Ledford ultimately implied it would not have proved advantageous Holmes to confess at that time. In his testimony, Holmes simply said he did not believe that confessing to another murder would be of any benefit to him while being prosecuted for another murder.

devildealWhen Mr. Ledford was asked about negotiating leniency for Jason Wallace in exchange for his testimony against Holmes he stated, “Sometimes we have to make a deal with the devil,” referencing Wallace.

Ledford’s also testified that from 2002-2006, a time period during which he worked on prosecuting William Holmes, no one to include public defender Jeff Wildridge and investigator Tom Bole, brought up allegations of Jason Wallace’s involvement in the beating death of John Hartman.  So far the “devil” has received leniency on murder, arson, and attempted murder charges from his 2002 arrest. He was most recently granted immunity in the beating death of John Hartman in exchange for his testimony for the State of Alaska.  The “devil” knows how to work the judicial system to his benefit – he’s only honest when he can benefit from doing so.

State prosecutor Bachman  built on her consistent assertion that no one tells the truth without benefit to themselves.  Holmes did not receive any leniency or personal gain for telling the truth. Coming forward without incentive has consistently been cited by the state as a reason to doubt Holmes’ credibility.  Holmes testified earlier in the proceedings that the decision to come forward was about his own spiritual journey.

After a string of witnesses who were largely forgettable or did not testify to any substance, the most outrageous testimony of the day was given by Margareta Hoffman aka ‘Crystal’  – an ex-girlfriend of Kenny Mayo. Hoffman’s testimony contradicted all police interviews from the original investigation and previous trial testimony regarding the time or circumstances when Marvin Roberts returned to his home the night of the Hartman murder. The testimony of the occupants of the home and Marvin Roberts himself has consistently been that no one was awake when Roberts returned home. Kenny Mayo is Marvin Robert’s step father’s brother. Hoffman claimed that the night Hartman was killed she was at Marvin Robert’s home with her then-boyfriend and contrary to all previous testimony, that there was a wild party afoot at the home. Hoffman provided a hearsay account of a conversation allegedly had between Roberts and Mayo. Petitioners attorneys countered that Kenny Mayo, whom the state was reluctant to call, must be called and was expected to testify that none of the events described by Hoffman took place.

Hoffman has a long history of drug an alcohol abuse and a significant criminal record. She went by “Crystal,” a nod to her significant crystal meth use, for years. Hoffman testified that she did not come forward until 2013 after seeing coverage of the Fairbanks Four exoneration efforts on television.  She expressed extreme difficulty remembering even general times of significant events in her life stating, “I have a hard time remembering years.”  When asked how long she dated Mr. Mayo she replied, “Six to eight years, give or take a year.”  Mrs. Hoffman isn’t sure if she dated Mr. Mayo five to nine years, which exhibits the kind of extreme memory loss associated with heavy drug use. Yet, testimony that Hoffman could provide details of a specific date in 1997 were submitted by the state as reliable.

Mrs. Hoffman testified that on the night in question she was drinking alcohol and using cocaine at the home of Art and Hazel Mayo, whom she said she had only met a handful of times, while her boyfriend Kenny went out to a dance.  She testified that Kenny Mayo returned some time between 12-2am and that Marvin Roberts returned an hour or two after Kenny Mayo.  Hoffman’s testimony claims that Marvin Roberts returned home between 1-4am.  Hoffman testified that when Roberts came in, he and Kenny Mayo went into a back room to talk.

Mrs. Hoffman asserts that Kenny exited Marvin Roberts’s room with some black leather “professional-looking” shoes and told Hoffman they had to go.

“It was daylight/twilight when we left.”  According to Mrs. Hoffman’s time line the very latest she would have left the Mayo house was at 4:30am. National weather records indicate that sunrise would have been after 9:00am. Hoffman further testified that Kenny Mayo told her they had to get rid of the shoes because Mr. Roberts and some friends had beat up some kid.  She reported seeing dried orange brown blood on the black leather shoes. This piece of testimony elicited immediate public skepticism, as it is impossible for a person to see an orange stain on a black shoe.

In addition to impossible visual descriptions, memory issues, and time frame inaccuracies, the questioning directed to Hoffman by the State often seemed leading.

Bachman asked, “How long was this before Mr. Roberts was arrested?”

Hoffman answered, “It was the morning before.”

Bachman quickly corrected her, “It was a day or two before.”

Without pause for thought Hoffman immediately replied, “Yes.”

Bachman routinely uses behavioral and linguistic manipulations in her questioning. This was particularly apparent in the videotaped deposition of Hoffman.

Hoffman asserted that Kenny Mayo made mention of John Hartman being sodomized with a lightbulb or a flashbulb, testimony that does not comply with the forensic findings of the case.

addupHoffman was asked on cross-examination about her drug use and testified that she started using cocaine in 1994 or 1995 and began using methamphetamines in 2004-2005.  Mrs. Hoffman reported recent sobriety on a timeline discredited by arrest records.“I’ve been sober a couple of years – yeah, two years.”  Petitioner’s attorneys also cross-examined Hoffman about her criminal record, which included three DUI’s, harboring, aiding, and abetting two individuals in escaping Fairbanks Youth Facility, an assault against Kenny Mayo in 2001, and theft. It was ultimately revealed that Hoffman has an extensive history of drug and alcohol abuse, was most recently charged with a probation violation in May of 2014 (which the prosecutors declined to prosecute), and exhibits memory issues. The most significant factual issues with her testimony were:

  • Hoffman testified that the latest they could have left the Mayo’s home was at 4:30am, and that it was daylight out when they left. This is factually impossible, as sunrise was many hours later.
  • Hoffman testified that she was at the Mayo residence, but the statements of all others in and around the home state Hoffman was not at the Roberts/Mayo residence during the time frame she describes.
  • Hoffman had a volatile relationship with Kenny Mayo, which ended for the last time when she was arrested for assaulting him. There was the undeniable “scorned woman” element to her testimony. Her testimony would, it is important to remember, implicate ex boyfriend Kenny Mayo in a serious crime and therefore is a vehicle for both public condemnation and accusation.
  • Hoffman testified that she has been sober for “two years” when in fact she has been arrested for crimes related to alcohol or drug use as recently as May 2014.
  • Hoffman claimed that the night in question she was using cocaine and alcohol, and that she was a regular user of cocaine and crystal meth from 1994 to 2013. Both substances alter brain chemistry, amnesia, psychosis, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, mood disturbances, changes in brain structure, and more, casting doubt on the general cognitive functioning of Hoffman given her prolonged use.
  • Hoffman has a history of crimes of dishonesty and abuses of the justice system for personal gain.
  • Hoffman testified that she saw orange stains, presumed to be blood, on black shoes. As readers can extrapolate themselves, it is not possible to see a colored stain on black leather.

In the end, it was clear that the State of Alaska strategy is to muddy the waters at any cost, including on the backs of those with altered functioning, ulterior motives, and the trick not yet seen but as common and likely, the bargained-for testimony of criminals.

The proceedings should have citizens asking big questions. Why do we “have to make a deal with the devil?” Is using the testimony of the incapacitated a form of institutional abuse? Does our justice system seek justice? And most importantly, what can we do to change it?

Day 12 – FBI Agent Attacks FPD Methods and Eugene Vent Under Cross Examination

October 21, 2015

Gregg McCary took the stand on the twelfth day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four bid for exoneration and testified that the original police interrogations were deeply flawed. McCary is a former FBI agent, who was with the burea from 1969-1995. While with the FBI McCary worked as a criminal profiler and was a contributing author to the FBI’s primary manual – Crime Classification Manual. McCary’s resume is lengthy and he is considered on of the country’s leading experts in criminal profiling and false confessions. The petitioner’s attorneys pointed to McCary’s testimony to argue that the statements of Frese and Vent, the cornerstone of the convictions, were classic false admissions produced after flawed and unethical interrogation. McCary attacked the original police interrogations from nearly every angle, asserting that the tactics employed in the investigation were so troubled that the flawed outcome was predictable.

“They didn’t hunt for any other suspects,” McCary said, “They limited the universe of suspects to these four individuals and never went beyond that.”

McCary focused heavily on the flaws in, and overemphasis upon, the interrogations conducted by Fairbanks Police. He noted that Eugene Vent and George Frese were both in a suggestible state with suggestible personality attributes, and reiterated that the aggressive interrogation style know to lead to false results was essentially the bulk of the investigation.

“The investigators here substituted an interrogation for an investigation,” McCary said.

McCary noted that the interrogations were based false-evidence ploys, and that the interrogations were conducted with intoxicated and sleep deprived subjects. Throughout his testimony he essentially listed the known factors in false confession, explained them, and identified how every single one of them impacted this case.

Prosecutor Ali Rahoi  on behalf of the state objected to the admission of the testimony on the grounds that McCary (the guy who literally wrote the book) was not a qualified expert, that behavioral criminology is not a real profession. So….we cannot really mock that. It kind of does the job itself.

EugeneVentCourtEugene Vent took the stand for his extended cross-examination by special prosecutor Adrienne Bachman. Ironically, after a morning of testimony by a renowned expert in the field that aggressive false evidence based questioning is not effective, Ms. Bachman essentially took that approach in her cross-examination of Vent. Bachman stacked compound leading questions on screaming accusations on disjointed lines of questioning.

Vent maintained a calm demeanor, even as questioning escalated to a level some observes found so unbearable they left the room, one describing it as the most horrific bullying she had ever seen.

Vent seemed less rattled by the behavior than most others in the courtroom. Here are few highlights from his interrogation  cross-examination:

  • Bachman accused Vent of being too drunk to remember whether or not he was scared during interrogation based on his blood alcohol test, yet maintains he was sober enough for interrogation.
  • State introduced some notes that Eugene Vent passed to a girlfriend while he was a sophomore in high school. In once, Vent said of his weeked that he and his “boyz” got “smoked out and loced out.” Bachman insisted that the “boyz” referred to were his codefendants and that “smoked out and loc’ed out” means to smoke marijuana and carry a gun. Bachman has tried her hand at gangsta slang quite a few times during the proceedings and the results are mortifying to watch. Like one of those moms who shops in the junior’s section and says “OMG” too much. Vent clarified that loc’ed out does not mean to carry a gun. Eugene’s writings were a trip down 90’s-slang memory lane. For those of you who missed the decade, “loced out” was a term derived from the Spanish word “loco” and was used essentially to mean….well chilled out? Stoned? Super stoned? Maybe crazy? We don’t know. We didn’t really know then, either, we were pretty far away from the rap scene that proliferated the expression but it was a cool thing to say in a time when we were trying really hard to be cool, and so we used it, almost always associated with getting stoned. And it definitely had no relationship to guns of any kind. Through introduction of this evidence the state reminded us all of a time when people didn’t have text so they wrote notes, and when people got “blazed” and this line of questioning would be called “bunk” and we could give “mad props” to anyone who kept a straight face through that, and of a time long past where apparently Eugene wrote some super dorky notes. Make that hella dorky.
  • Bachman established that while Eugene Vent was being interrogated in 1997 he burped without saying excuse me. The audio introduced reflects that Eugene is likely guilty of the crime of burping without saying “excuse me” in 1997, but we feel that eighteen years of hard time may be a tad overboard for the crime of mediocre manners in a seventeen year old drunk boy.
  • Bachman hammered Vent on his poor manners. “I wasn’t being respectful,” Vent answered, then referring to Detective Aaron Ring, “Neither of us were being respectful.”
  • Bachman also established through a gotcha-vibed series of questions that Eugene Vent had gum in the night in question. “And you left that gum at murder scene at 9th and Barnette, didn’t you?” she said. In a serious anti-climax, Vent replied that no, the gum was collected from him at the police station, and logged in his property report.

The cross-examination was not funny. Human lives are at stake here. If this wasn’t so horribly, tragically, relentlessly tragic, it might be funny. At the least it is a parody of itself because the conduct of the state attorneys is just so painfully ridiculous. What is becoming evident is that these tactics are probably effective on juries (a scary thought) but play poorly to rooms filled with professionals.

Day 11 – Testimony of Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent

KevinCourtTwo of the Fairbanks Four, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent, took the stand during the 11th day of proceedings. The two men spoke to a packed courtroom and recounted the events of the night of October 10th, the early morning of October 11th, and the series of interrogations and events that lead to their wrongful arrest and conviction for the murder of John Hartman,.

Pease and Vent joined Marvin Roberts at the petitioners table, dressed in street clothes and flanked by attorneys. It was clear the three were happy to see each other, but the mood quickly turned somber. Pease and Vent were chained at the waist, and barely able to lift their hands high enough to be sworn in. They are aged. Both men look old enough now to be the fathers of the boys pictured in the photographs the last time they appeared in a Fairbanks Courtroom some eighteen years ago.

Pease took the stand first and described, as his alibi witnesses described in initial 1997 police contact, the original trials, and recently on the stand again, a night spent mostly at a party across town. Pease also described his background, life in 1997, and the police interrogation.

In initial questioning about family background Pease testified that he is an orphan. His father was murdered some six months before Kevin was sent to prison. His mother passed away while he was in custody. In 1997 he was living with his mother in downtown Fairbanks and both of them were grieving the sudden loss of his father. The mood in their house, he said, was tense. Different. Kevin was spending most of his free time with girlfriend Jessica Lundeen, who had to babysit the night of October 10th. So Kevin agreed to attend a party with friends, among them Eugene Vent, Kevin Bradley, Shara David, and Joey Shank. Kevin testified, as have many others, that they remained at a party in the Bradley residence until near 2:00am, then returned to downtown. Kevin was dropped off at home. When he went inside he woke up his mom, who was angry at him for making noise, and even angrier when she saw he was drunk. In his testimony, Pease described an argument that escalated into yelling, with Pease eventually punching the wall. He took off on his three-wheeler and his mother called the police on him. It was this call that led police to bring Pease into the investigation.

Pease described riding the three-wheeler to the home of friends Conan and Shawna Goebel, who both testified to the same series of events and the police behavior during their eventual questioning.

A large amount of testimony and cross-examination was spent on Kevin’s interrogation – specifically his initial choice to lie to detectives. By the time the police picked him up late on October 12, 1997, Pease had already heard rumors that Vent had been implicated in the a serious crime and that police wanted to speak to him about it as well.

“I was scared. I didn’t know what time I came back to town, I didn’t know what time this happened to that kid, I didn’t know what time it was when I walked home alone,” said Pease, his voice cracking into tears. “I was scared.”

It was fear, Pease testified, that motivated him to lie and deny having been out drinking or driving around that night. His girlfriend Jessica Lundeen had suggested he say he was with her all night, and he did. She testified to as much just days before Pease took the stand. Much of cross-examination focused on what State Special Prosecutor described as Pease’s “big whopping lie.” Pease remained adamant that he had lied to detectives out of fear, knew right away it was a mistake when he understood the seriousness of the charges, asked for an attorney, and corrected it.

As cross-examination continued, Pease was asked if he knew a James Wright. Pease testified that he did not, but that he saw that he was aware of his reputation as a snitch due in part to the words “James Wright is a snitch” being carved into the wall of Fairbanks Correctional Center.

Bachman used this line of questioning to accuse Pease of understating his understanding of prison politics.

Pease countered that he understood but preferred not to take part in prison politics, and that it was “common knowledge” that snitches are thought poorly of in prison culture. The line of questioning was interesting in that it likely points to an upcoming snitch witness for the Sate. Perhaps they found him after reading of his snitching abilities on the prison walls.

Kevin Pease was followed by Eugene Vent. Vent was seventeen and had a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit when Officer Aaron Ring interrogated him for nearly 12 hours. Vent eventually agreed that he “probably” assaulted Hartman. Eugene Vent’s interrogation was the focus of cross-examination by Bachman.

EugeneVentCourtVent testified that a lack of confidence in his memory due to intoxication, police insistence that his “footprints were in the blood” and fingerprints at the scene, that witnesses placed him there, and other lies police used in interrogation eventually persuaded him he could have been there.

“I was listening to everything he told me. And eventually, I just believed him, Vent said. “I was feeling terrible, guilty.”

“Why?” Vent’s attorney, Whitney Glover, asked.

“Because I believed I had done something real bad,” Vent said, breaking into tears.

Vent went on to describe in greater detail how the Reid Method interrogation he endured led him to a state of such confusion he didn’t know what happened. Although he maintained innocence for many hours, he said, by the end of the process he was confused, felt obligated to help the officers any way he could, and ultimately followed their lead in agreeing he had “probably hit and kicked” a young John Hartman, and that he “guessed” he had been with George Frese, Kevin Pease, and Marvin Roberts.

“I’m responsible for dragging Marvin and Kevin and George into this and there’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about that,” Vent said, again becoming emotional.

Adrienne Bachman made it clear that she expects his cross-examination to be long and continue through the twelfth day of proceedings.

Although Vent’s eventual acquiescence to the police officers and subsequent implicating statements are often touted by the State of Alaska as the smoking gun in this case, experts in false confessions have called his statements a “textbook false confession.” Experts on the Reid Method, the method of interrogation used on Vent, caution that the method should not be used on minors, people who are intoxicated, or people who have any gaps in their memory. Under any of those circumstances, of which Vent had all three, the method is known to lead to false confession.

Vent’s attorney is expected to call a false confession expert to testify as to the psychology behind Vent’s statements. Continued cross-examination of Vent and the false confession expert testimony are likely to consume the twelfth day of proceedings.

Although revisiting imperfections and bad decisions is embarrassing – discussing a decision to lie to the police, a decision as a teenager to drink, and all the small sins that surface in this case – it is necessary. Because the whole truth is that no one is perfect. The whole truth is that being drunk, poor, Native, and in the wrong place at the wrong time made this possible. The whole truth is what needs to be told, even in moments that it makes the Fairbanks Four or their alibis look imperfect, because the whole truth is that no one is perfect. It is high time for the courts to recognize the truth, for the family of John Hartman to receive the truth, and these men to have opportunity to tell it. Nothing but good will come from that.

truth

Jason Wallace Granted Immunity in Hartman Murder

devildealThe State of Alaska has offered Jason Wallace immunity in the murder of John Hartman in exchange for his testimony as a witness for the state. According to Adrienne Bachman, the Attorney General’s office simply sent a letter to all parties to the case stating that Wallace had been granted immunity and would be testifying, although the conduct of those involved hints to a more complex series of events.

“The attorney general forwarded a letter to the parties, the lawyers, that Mr. Wallace will be granted immunity for his important testimony in this case,” Bachman said.

Wallace has been implicated by many, including his former attorney, high school classmate, and William Holmes, who confessed to his own role in the 1997 beating death of Hartman and fingered Wallace as the primary aggressor. William Holmes passed a lie detector test and provided chilling but credible testimony under oath to the details of the killing. Public Defender Investigator Tom Boles testified that he would “never forget” the tearful confession Wallace made to him about having killed Hartman. High school friend Scott Davison described how Wallace confessed to him as well just days after the murder, and reiterated that although he was relieved that he came forward, believed his testimony against Wallace would ultimately cost him his life. Considering that those who have testified against Wallace believe the retribution may be death, it is likely that there are many more witnesses opting not to come forward.
jason wallacWallace currently sits in maximum security prison for stabbing a friend with a screwdriver, charges related to his part in the conspiracy that left two men dead, the interrupted plan to kill an entire family, and the murder of Teacka Bacote. Wallace beat and bludgeoned her to death with a hammer, then returned to her apartment to set her body on fire in a fully occupied apartment complex. Murder victim Mahogany Davis‘ family believes he may have killed her or participated in her murder. Wallace’s pattern of past behaviors and crimes indicate that he suffers from psychopathy and is a true danger to society. He is already serving an extremely lenient sentence because he has been an informant and testified for the state in the past. It is morally reprehensible that the State of Alaska would offer him immunity. Multiple individuals have testified that he killed Hartman in a frenzy and went on to laugh and brag about it. If any of the individuals involved in Hartman’s death were to receive immunity, Wallace seems like the last pick. He should never be out of prison. John Hartman deserves justice, and denying that in pursuit of anything in this case is not okay.

In a perfect world, Wallace would confirm his role in the Hartman killing, implicate Rashan Brown, Marquez Pennington and Shelmar Johnson as William Holmes did, the State of Alaska through the attorney general would dismiss charges and release the Fairbanks Four and charge every single one of the men who actually killed Hartman with the murder. That would be the RIGHT THING TO DO. It would also represent an illogical and sudden reversal of the State of Alaska’s position, and we think the intentions with Wallace are far more likely to be sinister.

nepotismThe attorney general for Alaska, Craig W. Richards, is our Governor’s former law partner. He did not come to the position through experience or promotion, and certainly owes his appointment to his close relationship with Governor Walker. Walker perpetually hints that he knows the Fairbanks Four were wrongfully convicted but doesn’t know what to do about it. Given Walker’s close relationship to the sitting attorney general they have likely discussed the case and options. Walker recently commented to Anchorage station KTUU, “I really am anxious to see what comes out in the testimony under oath, it’s really what they’ve been fighting for, their day in court. So for me to reach in the middle of a process and sort of influence that process inappropriately, I’m gonna wait until the end of next week and see.”

Walker has been hinting in commentary and rumors abound that he is waiting for the Wallace testimony. Based on that we can hope that Wallace gets on the stand, repeats the confession he has been repeating to others since he killed Hartman in 1997, the Governor and/or Attorney General take action, and the case is over. That would represent an absolute turnaround of the state’s position. However, we tend to see a lot of business-as-usual from the state, and no meaningful indication that we will see anything else.

Captain_ObviousIf the state tactics continue as they have since 1997 it is easy to guess how Wallace will be used. The State may not have honesty, ethics, or the law on their side, but they really shine in predictability.

Our prediction?

  • That Jason Wallace is going to provide “snitch testimony” – information given in court to bolster the case of the prosecution which is received in exchange for some kind of reward for the witness, often sentencing leniency or immunity.
  • That the State of Alaska has been in below-board negotiations with Jason Wallace directly and through his attorney and has negotiated exactly what Wallace will say for that incentive.
  • That when Adrienne Bachman sat through the deposition of Wallace and was gag-worthy sweet to the killer as he answered “I plead the 5th” over and over, effectively providing no information beyond an unwillingness to incriminate himself, she already knew what Wallace was willing to testify to in court.
  • That Wallace will not be made available for deposition to the petitioner’s attorneys.
  • That Gazewood, as the Wallace attorneys before him, has shopped Wallace’s testimony around for a while hoping to broker a deal.
  • That the State of Alaska would rather make a deal with a psychopath and set him free knowing that more people will be killed than admit they made a mistake in this case.
  • That Wallace will have very rehearsed and groomed testimony that deflects as best as possible the testimony of the witnesses who have already spoken. He will have a story that attempts to dodge every piece of information which incriminates him – a reason Holmes would lie about him, a rehearsed denial of confessing to the high school friend, a denial of confessing to the public defender, his investigator, the other witnesses, and all others.
  • That what Wallace gets out of this is immunity in this crime (already given), that he has been assured that his cooperation with authorities will help him come parole time, and that ultimately his psychopathy which put him in jail, enables him to lie convincingly and with small incentive, and will propel the violent crimes he commits when free again, will again assist him in securing minimum punishment for his crimes. That a system where bribing child killers with the offer of time, and the opportunity to kill again, is business-as-usual needs to be brought to its knees and overhauled.
  • That the state is desperate and delusional enough to think this will work.

We are sitting here hoping and hoping that our prediction is dead wrong. Perhaps the State of Alaska as had an incredible change of heart for the first time in eighteen years and are offering immunity to seek the truth not an advantage at any price. Time will tell. Whatever story Wallace tells on the stand, he would have to be very creative to outrun the evidence of his involvement. Below is a timeline of the evidence against Wallace.

  • October 11, 1997, Wallace attends a party at a high school acquaintances apartment with Bill Holmes, Marquez Pennington, Shelmar Johnson, and Rashan Brown. Epperson testimony, Holmes testimony, Duty testimony, Nutt testimony.
  • The five youth leave the party to “beat up drunk Natives,” commit a few attempted assault, but ultimately find and beat Hartman instead. Wallace goes into a frenzy during the assault and stomps the young boy to death. Holmes testimony
  • 1:30 am October 11, 1997, Hartman is beaten into brain death at the intersection of 9th and Barnette.
  • October 13, 1997, Wallace shows Holmes a newspaper story about Hartman’s death, and they see that their victim has died and that “four Natives” have been arrested. Holmes testimony.
  • October 13, 1997, Wallace and Holmes approach the others involved in the Hartman killing at school (Marquez Pennington, Shelmar Johnson, and Rashan Brown) and threaten to kill them if they ever discuss the Hartman murder. Holmes testimony.
  • October 13, 1997, Wallace confesses to killing Hartman to high school friends Matt Ellsworth and Scott Davison. Davison testimony.
  • December 2002, Wallace is arrested for murdering Teacka Bacote, attempted murder of Corey Spears, his involvement in the murder of two more men, the conspiracy to murder a family, and setting an occupied apartment building ablaze. State of Alaska v. Jason Wallace
  • Spring 2004. Wallace snitches on his co-conspirators and provides snitch testimony against them. He turns informant on many other past criminal associates. In an attempt to trade the information for leniency, he confesses to killing John Hartman to his public defender. The public defender sends his investigator, Tom Bole, to interview Wallace. He confesses again. Bole testimony.
  • September 2013. Innocence Project files a post conviction relief on behalf of the Fairbanks Four. It contains a sealed element for consideration of the court that contains “statements made by Wallace” about killing Hartman. With the assistance of attorney Jason Gazewood, Wallace fights the release of the statements for two years. Attorney Gazewood accidentally  leaks the statements to the press. Roberts, Pease, Vent, Frese v. State of Alaska
  • September 2015. Wallace is deposed and refuses to answer any questions, invoking his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. Wallace deposition.
  • October 15, 2015. Midway through proceedings for exoneration in the Fairbanks Four case and on the eve of the State’s opportunity to present, Adrienne Bachman announced for the state that Wallace had received immunity and would be a state witness.

Although Wallace could muddy the water, it is hard to imagine coming up with an excuse for all of that. Prayers and good thoughts as always for all involved. May a desire to tell the truth for redemption and the sake of the truth strike Jason Wallace and the leadership of Alaska’s justice system. Until that day comes, may the truth ever find a way to shine through the clouds cast by lies.

Day 10 – Bootprint Exhibit from Original Trials Debunked

October 16, 2015

On the tenth day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four bid for exoneration, George Frese again took the stand to finish cross-examination. Frese was followed by former State crime laboratory forensic expert Lesley Hammer.

Frese22Special Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman asked for early recess the previous day and to recall George Frese in the morning so she could “que up audio” to complete his cross-examination. When Frese was back on the stand for a large part of Friday’s proceedings Bachman did not play any audio, despite having cited her need to do so as the reason for recall and delay. Instead, she relentlessly asked Frese about the false confession he made to investigators and his level of intoxication that night. Frese, who had provided very emotional testimony the previous day, was very composed and clear on the stand during cross-examination. Frese testified, as multiple witnesses testified to in the original case and as he stated during all original police contact, that he drank heavily with friends the night in question and that although he can thoroughly account for his whereabouts until around 2:00 am, his memories of the last hours of the night are compromised by blackouts and extreme intoxication. During original interrogations officers capitalized on his level of intoxication, and after hours of questioning and threats from detectives that if he failed to acknowledge some involvement they would use his lack of memory to ascribe more severe involvement,  Frese eventually admitted that it was possible he had been involved. On the stand, Frese reiterated claims of innocence and rehashed the events October 10 and 11, 1997 through a prolonged and aggressive cross-examination.

bachmanvfreseBachman focused heavily on the same tactic as original investigators, insinuating throughout her cross-examination that because Frese could not account for his movements during the entire night, he could not make a claim to innocence.

“Because you didn’t know what your motive was that night, did you?” Bachman demanded.

“Because there isn’t any, because I didn’t do it.” Frese countered.

“Well, you don’t actually have a memory of whether or not you did it, do you?” Bachman said.

“I know the facts of the case, I know this boy was attacked between 1:28 and 1:33 am, and that I left my house at 1:30.” Frese replied.

Bachman also focused on the original interrogation and the statements made by Frese implicating himself.

“What you are trying to say is that I broke down and started confessing to something,” Frese said to Bachman’s leading line of questioning. “I just started agreeing to whatever they were telling me the entire time…I just started agreeing to it.”

bootpost1Frese was followed on the stand by Lesley Hammer. Hammer is a forensic scientist, and expert in causative instrument forensics. Her testimony related to a court exhibit used to convict the men in their original trials. The exhibit, created not by a crime lab but by Detective Aaron Ring and Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant, has long been in question, and reporter Brian O’Donoghue’s investigative reporting on the case unearthed significant issues with the exhibit in 2008. Hammer confirmed that the original exhibit was totally unscientific. Dr. Falico, the state medical examiner at the time of the original trials, bolstered the perceived validity of the exhibit used to obtain convictions. Hammer testified, however, that Falico did not appear to understand “even the most basic” tenants of forensic science, including the importance of scale, the elastic nature of skin and basic examination of markings, and was entirely unable to evaluate the nature of the victim’s injuries. “There didn’t appear to be some of the basic understanding of the discipline itself,” Hammer said.

Hammer went on to discuss the nature of footwear impression comparisons to injuries and her own evaluation of the case evidence. She pointed out that skin’s elasticity and the motion involved in kicking or stomping make it generally impossible to identify the causative instrument in as simple a fashion as was described in the original trials (holding a boot up to a face).

Hammer’s testimony then focused on the injuries sustained by Hartman and what caused them. She testified that the “I found no correspondence between the injuries I observed, the feature shapes of the injuries, and any of the shapes of the shoe lugs on that partial impression.”

Hammer was able to entirely debunk the original exhibit, plus testify definitively that none of Hartman’s injuries matched the footwear of the Fairbanks Four. The original prosecutor argued that the exhibit proved the injuries to Hartman had been caused by Frese’s boot, but Hammer testified that not only were the injuries not caused by Frese’s boot, they were not caused by any boot. Tennis shoe type footwear could not be excluded.

Hammer was a longtime employee of the State of Alaska Crime Lab and now owns an independent forensics consulting firm. Her testimony, much like the brave testimony of the Alaska State Troopers, represents some significant dissention in the rank and file of the prosecution’s own people. Hammer has made a long career testifying FOR the State of Alaska, which makes her testimony all the more compelling.

Kevin Pease is expected to take the stand Monday, October 19 2015, with Eugene Vent and Marvin Roberts to follow in the days afterward. The case was originally scheduled to only take a month, but as prolonged cross-examination and procedural bickering instigated by the state continue it is becoming clear that proceedings will last longer than anticipated. It is also worth noting that the State has a standing objection on record to the admission of Lesley Hammer, based on the idea that the information presented is not new, and that the exhibit was already questioned during the original trials.

The Friday proceedings were interrupted twice for closed hearings on an undisclosed matter, though likely related to the testimony of Jason Wallace. It was disclosed this week that Wallace was granted immunity and is expected to testify for the state. We will make a separate and more detailed post about the unusual developments surrounding Wallace, a man and an issue long surrounded by secrecy in this case.

Day after day, the proceedings in the exoneration efforts of the Fairbanks Four function as not only a resounding demonstration that four innocent men have been imprisoned for perhaps the most infamous murder in Interior Alaska, but also as a scathing expose of the misconduct and conspiracy on part of agents of the State of Alaska both then and now that led to the wrongful convictions. It is strange, although in the end perhaps a good thing, to see the State of Alaska continue to flounder so desperately to defend the convictions. The movements of the State, precise and exacting during the original trials, are as seemingly random and impossible to pin down as a fish out of water. Indeed, in a court where truth has been admitted, purchased witnesses exposed, and misconduct unearthed, the State does find itself in foreign territory. They are clearly accustomed to operating with less transparency and accountability. However poorly positioned the State seems now, the case is far from over, and if the past is any indication we can expect a flood of snitches, pretend science, and plenty of smoke and mirrors in the weeks to come.

Newsminer article

Day 8 – These Are OUR Streets – Alibis Return

October 14, 2015

On the eighth day of proceedings in the Fairbanks Four case, alibis returned, or appeared in court for the first time.

bookertwashingtonConan Goebel came from his home in Washington to testify for the first time in this case. Despite having seen three of the four accused that night, and his very solid police interviews, Goebel was never called to a previous trial. Goebel reconfirmed the information in his police interviews – that Eugene and Kevin had been paging him from Kevin Bradley’s house party until they left Bradley’s near 1:30am. Goebel recounted having seen Frese, drunk but uninjured, late in the night, as well as Vent. Kevin Pease slept at Goebel’s house that night. Goebel discussed the police interviews at length, describing how he was threatened and bullied. “I realized that what I said really didn’t matter, that there was something he specifically wanted me to say, and if I didn’t I felt like he was threatening me,” Goebel said.

Goebel remains one of our favorite witnesses because he is a bit of an anomaly. The Reid Method of interrogation, by and large, works on almost everyone. Very occasionally it simply does not work, and creates this emperor’s new clothes situation. Conan Goebel’s police interviews demonstrate that the method is failing to work on him, and he remains very clear. His testimony was simple and clear as well – he knew that Eugene Vent and Kevin Pease were at the Bradley residence until between 1:30-2am. He saw George Frese after 3am and he was not injured. Kevin Pease slept at his house and likewise there was no indication he had been involved in a fight. When Detective Aaron Ring interviewed a teenage Goebel he threatened him, threatened his family, turned the tape recorder on and off, and said, “if you don’t tell me what I need to hear, I’ll see to it that you are arrested,” as well as insinuated that Goebel’s baby sister and mother could come to harm.

(Read portions of Goebel’s police interview HERE)

Kevin Bradley, now a civil engineer based in Montana, corroborated the other alibi testimony and confirmed that Pease and Vent had spent the critical hours of the night at his home. Bradley’s parent’s were away for the night, and the teen hosted a small party. He confirmed that Joey Shank, who testified the day before that he had driven Vent and Pease home from the party near 2:00am, was sober and driving Bradley’s mother’s vehicle. He also described being terrified at questioning and threatened by police officer Aaron Ring, and that the police were turning the recorder on and off.

Shawna Goebel, sister to Conan Goebel and attendee of the party, was fourteen in 1997 and testified to the details of the night as well and confirmed that Vent and Pease were at the Bradley party during the time the Hartman murder was committed. She described the threats and terror she encountered being questioned alone in her bedroom with no parent present.

Christy Moses testified to the same effect – the threats of investigators, the traumatic experience of being threatened and attacked by officers alone at the age of sixteen, without a parent, and confirmed the details of the night.

The witness testimony regarding police misconduct was corroborated by troopers McPherron and Gallen, who conducted the 2013-2015 investigation into the original case and convictions, who in earlier testimony confirmed that it appeared the confirmed that the officers turned tape recorders on and off, interrogated and threatened alibis instead of using standard questioning practices.

housepartyArlo Olson also testified in person at the state’s request, but maintained that his original testimony had been both entirely fabricated and the result of pressure and threats from Officers Aaron Ring, Jim Geier, and Prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant. Despite the prosecutor’s many attempts to get Olson to say he had been threatened by the Fairbanks Four or their supporters, he maintained that he had not.

Cross examination accomplished little except to reveal that the witnesses did not have precise times, but estimations – ie., “between 1:30 and 2:00 am” instead of “1:42am.” The witnesses maintained that their timeframes, given in 1997 and reiterated under oath in court, were honest and accurate.

All witnesses testified that they were with the men accused at the time of the murder and that the police threatened and bullied them when they came forward.

We hope that seeing these witnesses can underscore their humanity to the community of Fairbanks. These are not “Natives lying for other Natives” like Spartacus, as original prosecutor Jeff O’Bryant argued in the original trials. These are regular people – engineers, waitresses, counselors, homemakers, teachers. These are citizens of the United States of America who, as children in 1997, had their most basic rights denied and were threatened when they stood up against injustice by accident. Today they are adults who understand more about what this means, but they are no more believable. They should have been seen and heard in 1997, and they should have been protected from men who sought to use or harm them. Eighteen years of being dismissed, not seen individually but as a stereotype or group, and eighteen years of attack have left each of them somehow just as kind, calm, and willing to speak up as they were as children. Our community owes them an apology, and we owe the next generation of children better.

Day 8 News Coverage:

Testimony Focuses on Night of Killing

Listen to Testimony – NPR Coverage