State of Alaska Responds to Fairbanks Four Claim of Innocence

clockTick, tock. Tick, tock.

Life is about time. Time is all we have, really. And time is what the State of Alaska has stolen from so many, and what they are always wanting more of.

In the last hours of the last day remaining of the six month extension the State of Alaska was granted to review the Alaska Innocence Project’s motion for post conviction relief based on actual innocence for the Fairbanks Four, the State of Alaska has finally responded.

In September the Alaska Innocence Project and attorney Colleen Libby filed motions claiming that George Frese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts, and Kevin Pease were innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. The state responded to that claim (which spanned some 131 pages) with a 23 page response which focuses largely on legal technicalities and little on the inherent accuracy of the claim that the Fairbanks Four are innocent, and that five other men are actually responsible for the violent beating death of John Hartman.

In general the response by the state reads like a typical attack by a prosecutor made on the arguments of opposing counsel. The response appears to be hastily written, with typos and a very conversational tone. It is not an thorough nor is it an independent review of the case and the claims of innocence by the Fairbanks Four, which is what the State of Alaska assured the Alaskan public is what they would receive at the end of the long extension (HERE).

In fact, the complexity of the case and the need to be thorough were cited as primary reasons for the long extension request. Senators Begich and Murkowski both wrote open letters to the governor (HERE and HERE) stating the importance of a thorough and independent review. Murkowski demanded that “no stone be left unturned.” In response, the State of Alaska overturned no stones. In fact, they only attempted to bury the stones. Begich asserted that “there can be no excuse for not having acted quickly in pursuit of justice and fairness for all involved.” In response, the State of Alaska acted slowly in pursuit of vague and poorly crafted arguments that this case should be kept out of court, with no indication that these arguments were in the interest of justice nor fairness.

We will highlight some of the most important and striking statements made by Alaska Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman on behalf of the State, and respond to them here. In this post we will focus on a few of her most important and central arguments. In the days to come we will continue to provide specific responses to the many statement made by the State. For tonight we will highlight the principle attacks on the Holmes confession. Quotes from the filing are in bold.

“As reported at the court’s last status hearing, investigation into the allegations made in the petitions is not complete.”

Let us begin by clarifying the roles of the State and Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a legal non-profit. They function as a neutral third party who conducts independent reviews and investigations of cases that are referred to them and pass the initial screening process, during which it is determined that there exists a credible indication that the case may be one of wrongful conviction. They then complete a review and investigation and produce findings. In the case of the Fairbanks Four there has only ever been one independent investigation. That investigation was done by the Innocence Project, and the findings of that investigation were made public through the filing of a post conviction relief motion.

The State of Alaska was tasked only with reviewing and verifying the information in the PCR filing made by Alaska Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is staffed by one attorney, run by a volunteer board, and funded through donations and grants alone. They investigated a case that originated in 1997, reviewed all original materials, investigated the assault of Hartman, procured at least one direct confession, and filed their findings in less than eighteen months. By contrast, the State of Alaska has scores of attorneys at their disposal, access to the use of Alaska State Troopers, police, Alaska Bureau of Investigation, and millions of dollars in their budget for this fiscal year alone. Yet, they were unable to thoroughly review the work of one attorney in an eight month period. This is cause for concern. Furthermore, they failed to even scratch the surface of the task given them, which was to complete a review of the Alaska Innocence Project findings and investigate the evidence contained within. Instead of investigating the information to verify its accuracy they simply crafted an argument to keep the information out of court.

Let us also clarify what exactly the Fairbanks Four are asking for. They have filed a motion for post conviction relief that asks the state to vacate their convictions. It does not ask for immediate exoneration and release. It asks for convictions that were obtained with incomplete information, fictional information, fabricated testimony, coached and bribed testimony, and junk science to be vacated. The state could comply with that request and proceed into a trial. If the State of Alaska could convict them today with all available information admitted into trial, they could vacate these convictions and return to court to have an honest and fair trial, kinda like the one promised to all Americans in the constitution. It is not the release of the Fairbanks Four the State of Alaska is arguing against, it is their right to have a jury of their peers determine their guilt or innocence in a court of law. For eight months the State of Alaska has, with its virtually limitless resources, produced a document that not only fails to fulfill its expressed purpose, but is by their own admission “not complete.”

 

Bachman makes numerous and vigorous assertions that the testimony of William Holmes (HERE) is not in fact a confession, but hearsay.

“What the petitioners present amounts only to hearsay allegations that a third person, Jason Wallace, made incriminating statements about assaulting John Hartman…and hearsay is not admissible evidence.”

Webster Dictionary defines the two words in question here as:

Hearsay. noun. information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate; rumor.

Confession. noun. a written or spoken statement in which you say that you have done something wrong or committed a crime.

The confession by William Holmes is a firsthand account of his actions, motivations, intentions, movements, and observations the night John Hartman was killed. He confesses to driving into downtown Fairbanks that night with a group of friends for the express purpose of assaulting someone. He expresses that he intended to harm someone, and to drive the car necessary for all parties to flee the scene of these assaults. He further states that after learning John Hartman had died from the assault that he told his accomplices to not talk about the assault.

William Holmes confesses his crime. He confesses his sins. In fact, Holmes first attempted to provide this confession to the Fairbanks Police and through them, the District Attorney and state. They then hid the information and did nothing with it. Read about that HERE.

When the State of Alaska interviewed William Holmes about his involvement with the Hartman murder he maintained his guilt and the guilt of the other parties named. Without the ability to disprove his claim it appears that Adrienne Bachman chose the only method left to her in attempting to uphold the Fairbanks Four conviction, which was not to address whether or not the confession was true, but simply to craft an argument that it was technically not a confession.

The legal definition of hearsay is more complex, but in essence the same in spirit and application. Bachman’s assertion that the Holmes statement is purely hearsay is absurd. If her version of hearsay were to be applied that would mean that essentially a person could agree to drive their friend to go stab someone. They could wait outside until the friend came back out, bloody with a knife in hand, and said “I just finished stabbing so-and-so, let’s get out of here,” and that person’s testimony would not be allowable in court. I am not attorney, but I don’t need a legal degree to tell you, that is stupid. And if it is the best that the combined brainpower, money, resources, and attorneys at the department of law can produce in eight months, we should all be very concerned.

Bachman goes on to poke holes in the credibility of Holmes and Davison’s statements by explaining that they should not be believed because they did not come forward to get any leniency for themselves. As in, they had nothing to gain by coming forward, so we should not believe them.

Um…….okay, I officially have a headache.

In reality, the fact that neither Holmes nor Davison had anything to gain in coming forward lends credibility to their statements. If they had been offered some kind of leniency or reward or personal gain their statements would be less credible. But apparently at the department of law doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do is unheard of. Somehow, I am not surprised. They themselves seem much more interested in taking action for personal gain or to avoid responsibility for their actions than in doing the right thing. Which is disturbing. Because that means that the State of Alaska is apparently less ethical than a petty criminal and a triple murderer.

Perhaps the most interesting element of this filing is not what is in it, but what is NOT in it.

Bachman makes many personal attacks on Davison. Apparently when she was unable to dismantle the factual nature of his statements she opted to take a stab at intimidating and humiliating him to weaken his will. Remember, this young man had nothing to gain and everything to lose. She attacks him over and over as a person, yet does not bother to attach evidence that her claims are factual.

Bachman makes many comments about interviews and evidence that she does not introduce or include.

Bachman insinuates that she has ‘many’ witnesses, yet does not name even one.

What this filing fundamentally contains is a lot of grasping at straws, and very few facts. It is heavy on attempts to attack the truth through technicalities and light on any actual truth of its own.

Funny thing about the truth – it outlasts us all. Time reveals it. Funny thing about darkness – light banishes it.

The State of Alaska had an opportunity to seek justice instead of ego. Fundamentally, it is disappointing that they did not take that opportunity. No matter how hard they try to make this case go away, it will remain. No matter how hard they try to bury the truth, it will emerge. It is not disappointing because their approach will destroy the truth – it won’t. This battle will be long, but truth will prevail. It is disappointing because life gives human beings opportunities to choose between what is status quo and what is right. Those opportunities are gifts, and they failed to receive it. And at the end of the day, that is sad, because there is nothing so rewarding in life as to listen to your better angels and take a stand for good.

justiceAdrienne Bachman is only a person. In all reality she is just a person with a job, following rules, and taking orders from department heads and bosses. Orders from above.

We are taking orders from above, too. Perhaps it is time that she seeks a power higher than the one whose orders she followed today.

 

 

 

 

Arlo Olson – “Star” in the Case Against the Fairbanks Four

ImageWe 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.

True Murderer Comes Forward – A Letter from William Holmes

story1We have a long tradition of letting people tell their own story.

Today, the Innocence Project walked into the courthouse and filed a motion for Post Conviction Release on behalf of George Frese, Eugene Vent, Marvin Roberts, and Kevin Pease. These men have maintained their innocence for almost sixteen years, and today definitive evidence of their innocence has been made public.

This court motion contained a lot of information – testimony by experts that George’s boot did NOT match the wounds on the victim, proof that Arlo Olson lied, proof that it would be scientifically impossible for someone to have seen what he claimed. But, the most important thing it contained, in our view, is a story. A handwritten confession, by a man named William Z. Holmes who confesses in detail the murder of John Hartman.

We have said many times that we believe people can feel the truth, see it, sense it, recognize it. And that is why we believe so strongly in the power of truth told by those who hold it. We believe the best we can do to help any injustice is to make a space where people can tell their truth. There will be plenty of articles, news, updates, and headlines about this case today, we will let them fill their purpose, and fill ours.

With that in mind, below is the handwritten confession of William Z. Homes. We will let that stand alone for today. You can judge for yourselves if it is the truth. We believe it is.

We believe in redemption. That anyone can do all they are able to change themselves during their time upon this Earth and that no matter how dark or low a place life takes us to that we can still seek light. So, we publish this with a great sadness for the heartbreaking manner in which John Hartman died, but also a hope for the individuals who did kill him, and every single one of those who helped to hide the truth and further lies, that they may use this time to come forward and begin what must be a very long journey toward redemption.

This day could have never come without the faith, hope, and hard work of many, and we thank you all. Our journey to justice is far from over, but today we begin a walk down a new road.

This is a sad story. Listen, listen.

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