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